Parallel Lives, says writer, 'is very Star Trek in the way it invites an examination of deeper themes'
"It's life, Jane, but not as we know it … " Walking in the footsteps of a thousand fan fictions, the latest Star Trek comic flips the genders of the Enterprise's famous crew, which is now run by Captain Jane Kirk with the able assistance of a female Spock and Scotty.
The first issue in a two-parter storyline from IDW Publishing, Parallel Lives, is just out, and sees "Captain Jane Tiberia Kirk and her crew encounter a never-before-seen enemy in deep space". "Wait... Jane Kirk? What's going on?!" asks the comics blurb. As well as Kirk's switch, the parallel universe storyline sees Pavel Chekov become Pavlona, Hikaru Sulu become Hikari, Scotty turn into Marjorie Scott, and the ship's female inhabitant, Nyota Uhura, become a man, Nnamdi Uhuro. Lt Commander Spock remains Lt Commander Spock, but a female version of the character, with a much sharper hairdo.
The storyline, writer Mike Johnson told Comics Alliance yesterday, is "attention-grabbing and slightly weird, in the tradition of the more daring original episodes". "It is also very Star Trek in the way that it invites an examination of deeper themes in the story beyond just the unusual premise," he said.
He told StarTrek.com that he was "excited by the challenge of writing characters who are both very similar and completely different to the regular cast".
"Uhura is the only female among the main bridge crew, and it's refreshing to flip that ratio and write a crew that's all female except for Uhuro, the male communications officer. By the time I finished they all felt like their own characters, distinct from their male counterparts," said Johnson. "Having written the mostly male crew for so long, it was great to take a step back and think about the characters in a new way. What makes Kirk, Kirk? And Spock, Spock? What aspects of our personalities are influenced by our gender, and what remains the same when it changes? These are interesting ideas to explore, and give the story a larger thematic purpose as befits the great Trek tradition."
Artist Yasmin Liang told Comics Alliance that when she approaches "redesigns and genderbends", she always tries to "determine the main motivations and personality behind the character".
"For instance, Bones as a woman would be just as grouchy and still be taller than Kirk. I just like the idea of Bones being a large, mean-looking woman! And of course, Chekov would be cute as a button," she said. "It's not really a science though and I've done my fair share of genderbends for fun. People get MAD about genderbends. Have you seen how angry they get? I'm actually a bit afraid for when the books are released and people read them."
Laura Sneddon, a comics expert who blogs at comicbookgrrrl, told the Guardian she would "absolutely love" to see the storyline spun out into its own mini series.
"In the progressive and near-utopian Star Trek universe, why wouldn't there be a ship with a mostly female crew? Or even a ship with a more 50/50 split? Perhaps there are, but by taking the most famous ship of all and flipping the genders, readers are reminded that there is no real reason any of these characters need be male or female," she said.
"Gender-flipped stories are always interesting as they challenge our acceptance of male-heavy casts and our suspicion of female-heavy casts – the former is seen as normal, as evidenced by various film and comic franchises, while the latter is seen as being 'for women' and somehow abnormal."
Most Star Trek fans, she predicted, "will be pleased and intrigued by the gender flipping – if less so about any and all continuity errors".
The first part of the story has received a positive reception so far, however, with the second part due out shortly. "Very cool to see the comics picking up the kind of gender-swapping fans have been doing for some time," blogged Trekkie Feminist. "Even though the story will technically not be part of canon, I hope this will challenge some fans who hadn't considered these possibilities to ask questions and not take the characters' gender entirely for granted."
Another blogger wrote: "saw the fic and the art and wanted to join the party you guys I am ALL ABOUT THIS."
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010