Lower Decks Comic Issue #3 in Review
From a pair of log entries at the beginning of this issue that brief us on what has happened to the Cerritos’ away team and remaining staff, the expectations for this tale are set high. Captain Freeman’s attempt at second contact has failed by inadvertently violating the Qvanti’s version of the Prime Directive by making first contact with the Yentoa on the wrong side of the planet Qvanti. Not only is the away team in danger, but so is the crew of the Cerritos, which is dealing with a problem of its own: Dracula. This is just the right blend of downright absurdity and Trek-iness that Lower Decks is known for.
One of my favorite parts of this comic is Rutherford’s personal log, the second of the two introductory log entries. Rutherford’s endearing naivety and relatable tendency to info-dump is flawlessly characterized here. Also, having an emotional connection to his personal log, regarding it as “you,” makes perfect sense for Rutherford.
Another highlight of this issue is the medic character Tanowski wearing the generally foregone, early-TNG-era gender-neutral “skant”. The original conceit behind the skant was brilliant, and seeing it brought back here was delightful.
The stakes of this issue are skillfully made clear from the start. Captain Freeman deciding to have Commander Ransom beamed back to the Cerritos with orders not to land or rescue the away team sets everything in motion.
With Ransom on the bridge, the lower deckers are free to deal with Dracula. He continues to anxiously pace the holodeck he’s trapped in, turning most “W”s into “V”s, frustrated with his inability to make use of the computer… until he has a eureka moment.
Realizing that the processing times for their commands are being drained by the holodeck, the lower deckers ascertain that the imminent issue is now the overly powerful holo-Dracula. Another source of enjoyment was Mariner pointing out that Boimler is still wearing a Dracula cape and logically concluding that he has a pro-Dracula bias.
By vampirically assimilating exponentially larger banks of data about the ship into himself, Dracula has become a bit like Barclay in “The Nth Degree”, suddenly knowing all of the things. He’s also had a taste of Rutherford’s real blood, losing his taste for replicated bloodaquiris.
When Boimler offers himself as tribute to Dracula, his pro-Dracula mindset becomes evident. It’s wonderful how Mariner responds when she finds herself trying to convince her best friend to not be vampire food. She reflects on how ironic it is to be the most responsible person on the holodeck. And when Mariner becomes justifiably panicked at the thought of a Dracula having free reign to bite everyone on the ship after Boimler is drained, I felt that!
Lower Decks is at its smartest when it points out Trek’s penchant for plot conveniences, and Dracula only needing ten cubic centimeters of real blood per day is precisely the kind of absurd thing I’d expect to happen. It also cleverly subverts the Trek moral angle by having Mariner learn to trust that there may be good in others but learn this by considering a bloodthirsty holo-Dracula.
With Mariner and crew busy with the Qvanti’s attack, it’s now Captain Freeman’s turn to be the hero. I appreciate that she’s given an admirable arc and an opportunity to stand on her own as a diplomat and captain. While this ending manages to be hilarious, the statement about the Prime Directive made here is a necessary one. Access to “advanced” technology alone says nothing about a culture, its people or, least of all, where its moral compass points. By holding the Cerritos accountable for violating a version of the Prime Directive, this issue shows a fate that Trek crews have miraculously escaped thus far, because Starfleet’s “final frontier” is usually someone else’s home.
Comic author Ryan North and artist Chris Fenoglio truly outdo themselves with this conclusion to a special IDW Lower Decks comic trilogy. Its greatest strength is utilizing the same tools Lower Decks uses in its best episodes: not empty irreverence, but a pointed critique of both Star Trek and Starfleet, balanced with the right amount of absurdism. Lower Decks’ comic tone is on point once again, so I hope the duo is tapped to work on the show itself. North’s understanding of not just the characters but also the show’s point is bulletproof. Fenoglio’s art style never fails to impress here, and his depiction of holo-Dracula makes a solid case for a character that should be featured on the show. The only disappointment I feel is because this trilogy is now over.