Lower Decks Comic Issue #1 in Review
This first issue of IDW‘s new Lower Decks comic was written by a well-established and award-winning comic writer, Ryan North. North has a broad range of experience, spanning from Adventure Time comics to a graphic novel adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse–Five as well as the broad appeal of a few Marvel installations. Chris Fenoglio, who is illustrating this series of comics, is a comic book artist already familiar with working on established franchises, like Goosebumps and Star Wars, so hopes were high.
Authoring a Lower Decks comic is a deceptively simple task – a meta-commentary Adult Swim-type cartoon demands an author be aware of not only a great deal of Star Trek, but also the tone in which Lower Decks parodies it. On top of that, they must also have intimate knowledge of how Trek fans interact with the franchise online. A fan writer, Sara Lynn Michener, commented, “A lot of the jokes come directly from Star Trek Shitposting and the members of the group were proud of that.” Colloquially called “STSP”, this Facebook group currently boasts about 150K members who post Trek-inspired memes about past and present Trek. Lower Decks is intended as a love letter to these and other enthusiastic fans. Being confident in knowing Star Trek’s rules before breaking them is crucial to how the series works. Lower Decks also has a distinctive art style. Fenoglio and North make this delicate balance look easy.
The comic’s cold open features one of the oddest alien analogies ever conceived on The Original Series: the cauliflower-eared Catullans, otherwise known as “space hippies”. Their inclusion signaled to this Trekkie that the comic was in good hands. The Catullans provoke an attack by calling the Satarrans (an alien from The Next Generation) “Herberts”, an insult intended to be an analog to the hippie term “square”.
The Cerritos is tasked with brokering peace between the ludicrously underpowered and pouty Satarrans and the boneheaded Catullans who deny their Federation membership, even as the Federation is attempting to save them. Captain Freeman resolves the issue as a mother would: separating the two and warning the Catullans to stop with the name-calling. This promising start makes for a spot-on and faithful interpretation of Lower Decks’ tone. Captain Freeman being captain/mom, separating fighting children, reminded me of what makes Lower Decks an enjoyable series.
The Cerritos accepts a mission in the distant Qvanti system, so the Lower Deckers have a surplus of free time. This portion of the story falls back on the tried-and-true Lower Decks formula of Ensign Bradward Boimler’s activities being interrupted by Ensign Beckett Mariner’s thirst for chaos. Similar to the Catullans, Mariner characterizes Boimler’s choice of a Dixon Hill detective noir holo-novel as uncool.
After a brief interlude where they visit a few of the holographic recreations of starships named Enterprise, Mariner switches things up to play the forbidden “Sherlock Holmes” holodeck program instead. True to his character, Boimler is terrified of creating another “Professor Moriarty situation,” recalling, in detail, the events of the Next Generation episode “Elementary, Dear Data”, where Geordi LaForge commanded the holodeck to generate a character capable of defeating Data… which created a sentient enemy, Professor Moriarty. Mariner, of course, points out that there’s a safeguard from that verbal command and wastes no opportunity to test it, specifically to elevate Boimler’s blood pressure.
When the ship approaches Qvanti, interference from the planet below causes a malfunction on the ship. It disables the safeguard against creating sentient holograms, as often happens in Trek. In this case, the malfunction gives sentience to the Count Dracula that Mariner generated as a joke. As the result of having broken the crew’s trust in her so many times before, Mariner cannot convince Ransom of the scale of the problem, and he orders her to clean up her own mess. In addition, Ransom points out that post-Voyager ethics dictate that a sentient hologram cannot simply be murdered without consequences attached, referencing when the EMH argued for his unimpeded autonomy and recognition of humanity in “Author, Author”. I appreciate when Lower Decks‘ wackiness is rooted in Trek ethics, even fleetingly. Making silly jokes and nothing more makes a story forgettable, but Ransom pushing for respecting the autonomy of sentient holograms stuck out to me.
After the pages of story, the back of the comic features some supplementary content, including several full-page illustrations. Those are cool! The back pages also include a Cerritos replicator ad, which reminded me of something you’d find in a school cafeteria. On another page, Badgey lists the episodes referenced in the comic – a handy guide for those not as familiar with Trek as others.
Lower Decks’ main goal is to be funny, and I believe this debut comic installment accomplishes that. The artwork clearly reads as living in the same world as the show. My favorite parts of the story were the cold open and when Tendi mentions that Orion fairy tales are actually known as “fairy heists”. However, there are two elements that don’t feel entirely necessary – one being the footnotes. Comic books already organically break up text, and some explained jokes simply do not need explaining. The second is a cliffhanger. To become locked into what’s happening next, I would prefer one complete story instead of a serviceable half… although the lunging vampire was fun.