Warp Factor Trek

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IDW enlisted the sharp experience and talent of writer Ryan North and artist Chris Fenoglio to release a self-contained Lower Decks comic trilogy. While the miniseries was created to function as a single episode, the second installment is the strongest yet. The first issue planted the reader’s feet firmly in familiar Lower Decks territory, showing that North and Fenoglio have a solid understanding of how Lower Decks should look, sound, and feel. With this second issue, the duo impressively demonstrate the cast of characters’ collective wish: to strive for more.

North’s grasp of the specific tone, pacing, and self-aware humor of Lower Decks alone could carry an issue. It would be a breeze for him to create a comic where hijinks ensue, and I respect that he doesn’t settle for that at all.

The comic deploys the commonly used personal and captain’s log exposition techniques in an introductory page that dovetails the first issue with the second. Like the first issue, North’s writing and Fenoglio’s art style establish trust with this material, starting from the very first page.

Freeman’s and Mariner’s log entries

The writing styles on this page are unmistakable and could only be written by Captain Freeman and Ensign Mariner. The same page also serves as a shorthand way to parallel their storylines and characters. Mariner’s seemingly routine second contact in the Qvanti system has somehow become a disastrous first contact, complete with being chased by an angry mob carrying torches and pitchforks. Freeman is professional and honest about her dire situation. In contrast, Mariner facetiously downplays the gravity of her problem where she and her fellow lower deckers inadvertently used the holodeck to create a possibly-sentient Dracula hologram. Regardless of tone, both Mariner and Freeman are resolute in their belief that these problems are solely their responsibility to fix, which syncs perfectly with who they are. At their core, Mariner and Freeman default to blaming themselves when problems arise but choose to act on that in different ways.

Boimler also functions as intended: to create a lawful-good counterbalance to Mariner’s chaotic-neutral. And he is realized as such when he meekly suggests lying low and giving Ransom jurisdiction over the issue. He’s anxious because making Draculas is generally frowned on in Starfleet and he’d rather not lose his job.

Mariner carrying out her duties

My favorite part of this issue is after Boimler reminds Mariner of the consequences of shirking her duties in favor of Dracula-related activity. This advice from Boimler inspires Mariner to begrudgingly blitz through her rounds even more efficiently than usual. To see her put in effort to be a lower decker, aside from comfortably coasting on her mother’s good will and hyper-competence, is a refreshing change. The visual layout of this scene is also cleverly executed, with as many tasks as possible condensed into a single page. Her rounds are depicted as a slight inconvenience that only a modicum of effort is required for her to wrap up in record time. This shows that Mariner can of course be a great crewmember when she chooses to. It was also entertaining to thereafter see her slowly realize that Dracula was sweet and misunderstood all along; the problem didn’t need her to come to the rescue after all.

Equally as good is Freeman and her away team attempting to reason with the aforementioned mob ready to burn them all at the stake for witchcraft. Being killed for causing fear and confusion with the locals is precisely the type of situation that the Prime Directive is designed to prevent, so this is a worst-case scenario. Freeman doesn’t help their case when she decides to dictate a supplemental log which makes her look like she’s talking to herself (or invisible witches). Echoing the show, the comic satirizes the distrustful locals trope, giving them the least charitable interpretation of everything the crew says or does, which enrages the crowd even further. When Shaxs seems to best the situation using brawn where brains had failed, the civilization they were actually supposed to meet decides to show up. In an ironic twist, it turns out that the Prime Directive is precisely why Freeman’s away team is in even bigger trouble. The Qvanti take the protection of the Yentoa, the distrustful denizens, so seriously that contact with them merits a death sentence.

The Cerritos come under attack, while Rutherford accidentally leaves a small pool of blood on the holodeck

So, with gentile Dracula getting an incidental and intoxicating taste of Rutherford blood as the Qvanti assault the Cerritos, the comic unfortunately closes on stakes similar to the first issue. The Qvanti have essentially put the away team in a similar although more dire situation as before, and the Dracula Problem continues.

Another negative criticism I have is that the narration at the bottom of the pages continues to be unnecessary. To make these notes more central to the story, it would be cool if they were CMO T’Ana’s personal log, but otherwise, the text doesn’t need to be broken up this way.

Rating: 5/5

These two nits, the only ones I have, are minor. Chris Fenoglio’s art style fits seamlessly with the character design and humor of the show, and North’s grasp of the show’s style is uncanny. They have made a wonderful supplement to the show itself, and this second issue is a great installment in the trilogy.

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