The Mirror Universe plot line sees an action injection with Issue #14, ‘Behind Enemy Lines!’ After the previous chapter’s exploration of the alternate universe’s societal structure and an introduction to the rebel forces working to up-end it, #14 comes across as a fast-moving and somewhat light piece of connective tissue that covers a lot of ground in what feels like a run-up to the resolution of this story arc.
(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.)
There’s less to work with here than usual, primarily because of how much of ‘Behind Enemy Lines’ is focused on ship-to-ship encounters. This gives artists Tom Sutton and Ricardo Villagran a chance to experiment with more interesting layouts than what we’ve seen so far from the series, starting with the space battle that kicks things off.
I’m always a sucker for seeing a flotilla of starships in action, as it’s something that the various series and movies rarely gave us for more than a few seconds at a time. It’s understandable, given how expensive and complicated practical effects were until very recently in the world of Trek. On the comics page, however, budgets are essentially unlimited, and this very cool opening spread does a great job of conveying the odds that the U.S.S. Excelsior is facing as it defends itself against the Imperial fleet.
Despite taking enough damage to knock its dimensional travel capability offline, the Excelsior is sturdy enough to withstand the attack while Kirk formulates a plan. Actually, both Kirk and his son have a pair of schemes that are acted out during this issue.
Kirk senior’s strategy involves sending Good Spock, Also Now-Good Spock, and Konom (remember Konom?) on a ‘secret mission’ in the Bird of Prey that is currently hovering cloaked inside the Federation ship’s shields.
We get a bunch of fun panels where the invisible Klingon ship slips away from the Excelsior and wreaks havoc among the Imperial ships by, uh, firing while cloaked, something that has been canonically ruled as impossible over and over by almost every Trek franchise until it’s convenient for the plot to allow it.
Am I a bit salty over this flaunting of established lore? Kinda. I mean, firing while cloaked was a big enough deal to serve as a major plot point in the second-best Trek film ever produced, but here, eight years or so before it’s released, it’s just treated as normal by both sides.
It also leads to this amusing panel where Imperial Captain Blaine orders the every ship’s sensors to be set to ‘pierce cloaking devices.’ Uhhh….why wouldn’t you ALWAYS have that setting engaged?
In any case, the Excelsior Warp 10s out of danger after Sulu warns his captain that he might get a little mushed by the acceleration, because we all know that’s how space travel works.
We also get some more cool Bird of Prey panels, because why not? All told, this section of the story moves very quickly, leading us to a prison planet where a bunch of dissident scientists are being held captive.
How do we know that? Because the Imperial forces that built the facility hung up this very convenient sign, which makes it that much easier for Kirk and crew to execute their break-out plan.
So far we don’t really know why we’re here. Is this part of David’s plan? The one that was alluded to in a single panel at the beginning of the issue, but hasn’t been discussed again? Anyways don’t worry about it, because it turns out that the Terran Empire has been using some kind of crazy drug treatment to trick each of its prisoners into revealing their secrets to imaginary loved ones.
Also, we’re about to hit another action-packed set of pages, because Kirk for some reason has included Ensign Bearclaw as part of his rescue crew. You know what that means: he’s about to completely fuck things up.
Bearclaw’s apparent immunity from court martial might protect him from the consequences of his actions when aboard the Enterprise or the Excelsior, but it’s not going to help him much in a corridor that’s suddenly filled with phaser fire. A bunch of guards get punched, a whole lot of trigger fingers get flexed, and suddenly it’s not looking too good for either the scientists being ‘rescued’ or the Excelsior’s crew.
Meanwhile, back on the Bird of Prey we get some more ship-to-ship panels as Team Double Spock is intercepted on their way to the Klingon home world. Barr really amps up the hyper-aggressive characterization of the Klingons on nearly every single page, and it feels like a bit of a miracle that the Federation contingent aren’t shot, stabbed, or otherwise disintegrated from one moment to the next.
Seriously, almost every line of dialogue directed their way from any random Klingon takes the form of a threat, especially Konom who is instantly branded a ‘traitor.’ Even the Vulcans take heat for just being Vulcans.
Fortunately, everyone calms down a little bit when Konom fulfills that time-honored sci-fi cliché of yelling a phrase in his native language that instantly invokes some type of honor-related challenge that cannot be denied even by the leader of the entire planet.
Sadly for Konom, in this case it’s not some type of trial by combat or other test of strength and will. No, this time they’re going to flay his brain open with something called a ‘mind-sifter.’
It only gets worst for the prodigal Klingon, because even after he passes this ‘test of truth,’ the Emperor declares that only proves he’s lying, and that they need to turn the juice up on that terrifying sifter until Konom’s grey matter is a puddle of goo. This goes on until Spock and Spock entice the Klingon leader with the promise of information that will help him consolidate his power over the Terrain Empire. Something they probably could have done right from the start, but who doesn’t want to see a little mind-sifting, especially after traveling all the way to the Klingon home world?
Meanwhile, back at the prison, another timeworn storytelling trope is about to be unleashed as the rescued scientist sacrifices himself in a fit of rage against his former captors, drawing just enough fire for Kirk’s crew to beam back to the Excelsior.
Wait a minute—did I say ‘sacrifice?’ It sure looked like he’d been hit by an unsurvivable level of phaser blasting, but it turns out he’s a ‘tough old bird,’ and medically that’s enough to guarantee immortality. Oh, and that plan that David had? Remember that? Pretty sure you didn’t, so Barr made sure to include him standing immediately above the teaser for the next issue, which simply reads “Victory…?’
All in all, this issue was reasonably enjoyable and relatively devoid of fodder for my cute little jokes and sarcastic asides. Still, I get the strong feeling that some deus ex machina combination of Klingons and scientists is going to come together to save the day for the rebels and somehow end the Terran Empire’s stranglehold on Earth. Then again, that question mark after the word ‘victory’ leaves just enough wiggle room for a morally ambiguous ending to what has been a fairly lengthy sojourn in Imperial space.
Best Retro Ads From This Issue
I’m a child of the 80s, and I don’t understand what Reese’s is going for here. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to eat some Pieces right now.