Review: Star Trek Gender Swap Comics “Parallel Lives”

Flashback to this January when IDW’s Trek comic series released two issues with a gender-swapped reboot crew. At the time I was cautiously optimistic and now I’ve finally managed to read it for myself.

When fans gender-swap characters, at its best it helps challenge our preconceptions about our favourite characters. It makes us ask, “Why couldn’t character x be a woman?” (or a man or androgynous). Or “Why does y trait have to be seen as feminine/masculine?”.

But it can go wrong. Sometimes gender swapping just ends up reinforcing stereotypes, as in the reverse patriarchy we see in the episode “Angel One”, or the classic Trek spoof by Carol Burnett (It pains me to say anything remotely negative about Carol Burnett but the sketch relies heavily on stereotypes and makes it look like putting women in charge of the Enterprise would be a hilarious disaster).

I’m really pleased to say the “Parallel Lives” comics did not have this problem. The characters on Jane Kirk’s Enterprise are pretty much the characters we’re familiar with, possessing the same traits in different bodies.

Though there are some differences.

Spoilers ahead.

For example, Jane Tiberia Kirk experiences something James Tiberius Kirk doesn’t: sexism in Starfleet.

Jane Kirk tells off an Admiral

For inspiration, she looks to her mom, who died on the Kelvin:

Jane Kirk looks at a holoimage of her parents and asks, "What would you do, mom?"

Another difference is she worries that her future children might be harmed by Khan’s blood, although Bones jokes she’s such a heartbreaker it’s unlikely she’ll ever have a family.

Basically I love Jane Tiberia Kirk. Maybe Roberto Orci will fall and hit his head and wake up and realize the third reboot movie should take place entirely inside this parallel universe. Maybe we’ll let Zach Quinto have a cameo.

Oh yeah, and this is parallel Khan:

A white female Khan, in a hooded coat and all black, fires large, menacing weapons.

Looks like still whitewashed, so don’t love that.

One of my favourite parts of the first “Parallel Lives” issue is seeing a glimpse of  Spock and Uhuro’s relationship (although like many fans have noted, the creators were a bit laissez-faire with the names – Spock should probably be T’Pock and Uhura could’ve probably stayed Uhura).

Uhuro and Spock flirt

The “damsel in distress” comment feels a bit like it slipped into that territory of reinforcing stereotypes – I certainly don’t see normal reboot universe Uhura being able to make the same comment that she’s a “gallant knight” who wants to save “prince” Spock. But I love how lady Spock is having none of it, and how she gets to be the one who’s totally cool and rational in the relationship – not a role women often get put into.

Near the end of the first book Jane Kirk’s Enterprise encounters James Kirk’s Enterprise and they realize they’re parallel versions of each other that should not coexist in the same universe.

The Prime Universe crew tries to process the situation

So now we’re in Book 2, and the prime universe crew is kind of annoying, especially Scotty. 

Both crews showed mirrored in seats at the conference table

Here’s where I was less sure about how cool the gender swapping was. As I said earlier, I think gender swapping is at its best when it makes us question gender as fixed and immutable. But if your gender-swapped crew is basically a mirror universe version of your other crew, it comes close to reinforcing the idea that there are only two genders and they are fixed. In real life not everyone is born neatly male or female and stays that way for their entire lives. So basically the mirror-style flip as illustrated above, is a little oversimplified. 

But again, the characters are not portrayed as mirror opposites in terms of traits. Marjorie Scott even hassles Montgomery Scott for making assumptions based on her gender:

Marjorie Scott says "I'll have no stereotyping in my section" after Scotty complains her Engineering should be tidier.

As the two crews go about trying to sort out the anomaly that they’re in and get back to their separate universes, they encounter people from other parallel Enterprises, including one where the crew are Klingons and the TOS universe (which I’m sure will make some people happy that they’re theoretically coexisting just on a different plane than the reboot).

They also run into Geordi LaForge, which really makes no sense but thankfully only takes one panel. 

With a solution figured out by the two equally adorable Chekovs, the two ships separate and return to their own universes. 

And Jane Kirk’s crew takes stock:

Jane Kirk and crew take stock

It’s a great ending that really does sum up the idea of gender swapping as a way to make us open our minds to new possibilities.

I can only hope other readers loved the Jane Kirk crew as much as I did, or at least felt like they wanted to learn more. “Parallel Lives” gives a great taste of the possibilities, but we only barely got to see characters like Yeoman Jason Rand, Lt. Hikari Sulu, Nurse Chris Chapel and Dr. Carl Marcus. 

If you read the books, I’d love to know what you thought! 

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