‘The Tantalus Trap’ picks up immediately following the cliffhanger from the previous issue (‘Mind Meld’). The Enterprise crew is trapped on the ‘Mirror’ Enterprise after Evil Kirk remotely activated the self-destruct sequence (which can’t be overridden).
Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before—actually, don’t, because if you walked away from Issue #12 every time writer Mike W. Barr chose to rehash the past, you’d never get through the book. That being said, this is a quick-moving entry in the ‘Mirror Universe’ saga that mostly works based on the action, with only a little bit of plot thrown in to slow things down.
(I’m blogging each and every issue of the DC Comics Star Trek run that debuted in 1984. Why would anyone want to do that? I explain all here in an introduction to this project that includes very first post in this series.)
Barr isn’t afraid to get weird when it comes to his most recent deus ex machina for saving Good Kirk and co. from their about-to-explode (again) Enterprise. Somehow, Kirk deduces that the specifics of the Mirror-destruct sequence (which involves antimatter containment failure) will allow the crew to survive if they evacuate to the saucer section and leave the engineering hull behind. This stands in contrast to the explosive charges scattered throughout the now-gone Enterprise’s superstructure that we all saw go off in Star Trek III (which is a key assumption on Barr’s part).
How Saavik and Kirk came to the realization that the saucer section was safe isn’t clear, nor does it make any sense that a ship would have a self-destruct function that only blasted half the vessel and left 50 percent available for enemy plunder (ESPECIALLY considering it’s a Mirror-verse ship). Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happens as Kirk has Scotty transfer power to the batteries (which I guess are in the saucer section?) and then clear the crew to safety.
It’s also worth pointing out that if Barr had wanted to resurrect the Enteprise for this series, capturing the Mirror equivalent would have been an easy way to do that. Instead, it’s blown to smithereens almost immediately after being taken over by Kirk’s crew. How many times can you blow up the Enterprise before it loses any resonance? We’re definitely about to cross that border in this issue, unless they decide to merge the saucer with some other vessel’s engineering section and create a Franken-Prise.
Before we can see whether Kirk’s decision carries the day, however, it’s back to Vulcan where Evil Spock and Amnesiac Spock are still battling it out, brain-to-brain. There’s a wonderful two-page spread here where the pair compare and contrast their respective upbringings, making it clear that Evil Spock’s turn towards the dark side resulted primarily from never feeling love or friendship.
It sounds hokey, but in the context of this series so far it’s some of the most interesting character development we’ve been given, and I’m quite curious to see how this storyline unfolds. On the page, it seems like there’s a definite victor, but which Spock is that lying on the ground, vanquished?
Back in space, it’s time for saucer separation a full two years before we saw it happen in the pilot for ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ I’m not sure if this is the first example of separation being used as a plot device (outside of perhaps the Pocket Books series of novels), but it works out fairly seamlessly for Good Kirk, who brings his Enter-half about to confront Evil Kirk’s Excelsior with the Tantalus Field from the Mirror Captain’s quarters.
He also, of course, finds the time to micro-manage Sulu’s helmsmanship.
Scotty and Saavik (which is suddenly no longer on the bridge) are jury-rigging the Field so they can use it as a weapon and vaporize part of the Excelsior’s engines.
Does this work? Of course it does, because we’ve only got 22 pages and we have to keep some room for Kirk and Kirk to come to blows. Can’t let Spock and Spock have all the pathos.
After disabling the Excelsior, Kirk decides to space-walk his way into a confrontation with his dimensional clone, which gives us this great moment where Uhura is given command of the ship.
Balanced out by this terrible doctor joke dialogue between Kirk and McCoy.
In case you thought maybe we were done with reviving old tropes, the Kirk-vasion leads directly to the return of poison gas combined with a pithy put-down from Scotty about his counterpart not being able to hold his liquor.
And hey there it is again, the self-destruct sequence.
This time it doesn’t work. It turns out Styles is actually good for something, and Evil Kirk is locked out of blowing up yet another ship. This sets him up for hand-to-hand combat with Good Kirk, where we learn that the latter just feels sorry for his counterpart’s suffering.
With the Mirror-folk in stasis-prison. Kirk is ordered to head back to Earth. Initially, he can think only of Spock.
Here, Barr taps a very dry well yet again, calling back to ‘the needs of the many’ from Star Trek II one more time before having Kirk engage in yet another act of mutiny by breaching the temporal barrier and heading straight to the heart of the Mirror Empire. It’s almost as if as a writer he feels trapped by the cinematic depictions of the Enterprise crew to the point where recycled dialogue and plot points must occupy half of any given issue.
Barr also finds a way to worm his original characters back into the plot in a three-panel sequence where Kirk pretends to remember who they are, and so does the reader. Also, casual Klingon racism.
We get one more look at bizarro-Excelsior before the final page brings some legitimate plot-related heat: the captured Klingon Bird-of-Prey dropping out of warp just before the Enterprise crew heads off into trans-dimensional warp.
It’s a great ending to an otherwise thin-on-story issue that actually makes me what to read on to find out what’s about to happen with the most compelling character(s) thus far in the series.
Best Retro Ad From This Issue
There’s an awesome full-page ad on the back cover for Activision’s ‘Ghostbusters’ video game, complete with a sizable credit to its author, which is something I thought only Sid Meier got in the 80s.
I have never played it (I was a little too young, and had to wait for the ‘Ghostbusters 2’ port), but I am sure it was super difficult and completely frustrating to try and beat, especially on the Commodore 64.