Writer: Ryan North
Artist: Chris Fenoglio
Letters & Design: Johanna Nattalie
Release Date: September 14, 2022
They’re not the bridge crew…or even the bridge crew night shift. They’re lower deckers. So when they break a holodeck, they really break a holodeck.
If you’re interested in this comic, series, related trades, or any of the others mentioned, then simply click on the title/link to snag a copy through Amazon as you read the Star Trek: Lower Decks #1 Review.
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS, for anyone not familiar with the television show, is an animated series that is simultaneously the most irreverent toward the franchise it’s a part of, yet more heartfelt than perhaps any other. It’s a delicate balance but one that the television writers get right in far more often than not. The question going into STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1 is whether or not writer Ryan North and artist Chris Fenoglio can successfully achieve that same balance.
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1’s story follows the pattern many of the television episodes do: tell a primary story with the Lower Decks officers (in this case a holodeck adventure with Boimler, Tendi, and Mariner) while a seemingly ordinary second story including the senior officers unfolds. The senior officer story, a second contact adventure to the Qvanti System, is played more or less straight–at least as straight as any story in STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS is ever played–but the holodeck adventure is something else entirely. Boiler, Tendi, and Mariner run through a variety of scenarios, primarily because Mariner finds Boimler’s choice of Captain Picard’s Dixon Hill program boring. Ultimately they land on a Sherlock Holmes program, and it’s right about here that any Next Generation viewer will go to red alert. Needless to say, things kind of snowball from there.
Like the television series, STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1 is a goldmine of references to past STAR TREK, in this case mostly The Next Generation. In fact, there is a page at the end that calls out several of those references, telling the reader on what page they appear and what episode they’re referring back to. None of these are necessary to understand the story or the characters, though. These aren’t the editor’s notes pointing the reader to the required reading. Rather, they are signposts toward the origin of the in-universe history informing the story. North conveys essential backstory quickly and efficiently via clever dialogue. STAR TREK is a 55-year-old franchise steeped in fictional continuity. The ability to gracefully deliver necessary exposition without wandering into infodump territory cannot be overstated.
Neither STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1’s story nor the tongue-in-cheek references will matter at all, though, if North can’t deliver characters consistent with the show. This might be a taller order than it initially seems because, despite all of STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS’ comedy, this is still a show grounded in a universe that takes itself seriously and where every character wears their heart on their sleeve. The humor is never mean-spirited, and the characters are amazingly sympathetic. Fortunately North, like the television series’ writers, walks the tightrope of knowing how to have fun with STAR TREK without ridiculing it. The antics and dialogue in STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1 might as well have been a television episode for as faithful to the series’ spirit as North’s story is.
The one place North stumbles is the relative absence of Rutherford. Tendi, Boiler, and Mariner receive the lion’s share of the attention with the Cerritos’s bridge crew rounding things out. Rutherford appears in only a couple of panels, and we feel his absence.
Comic book adaptations of cartoons offer something that adaptations of live action don’t have: an easily translatable reference. This is not to say the art is any less rigorous. In some ways, it may be more difficult because comic panels are static and animation can include very exaggerated action. But characters’ expressions and body language are easy to express in a recognizable way. It also thankfully removes the question of whether or not to try for photorealism.
In STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1, artist Chris Fenoglio replicates the visual feel of the television show to perfection. The issue portrays Freeman’s smirk, Ransom’s self-satisfaction, Tendi’s non-stop awe, and Boimler’s borderline terror with stunning accuracy. Fenoglio captures the characters and environment so well that the book could be a collection of lifted animation cells.
Perhaps most surprising is that the lack of movement doesn’t detract from the art whatsoever. The television series is high energy, even in the quieter moments. That energy is a big component of grabbing the viewer from the start and never letting go. Replicating that in still images presents a challenge, but it’s one Fenoglio is more than capable of meeting. The issue doesn’t lose that energy in transition.
STAR TREK: LOWER DECKS #1 may be the best comic book adaptation of a television show I’ve ever read, and I’m not being hyperbolic when I say that. The issue captures everything that makes the television show special. And the device North adds, delivering occasional tongue-in-cheek commentary at the bottom of the page, works perfectly. The only detraction is the lack of Rutherford. While I’m sure the plot will give him moments later in the series, his absence is a drawback here. But even with that criticism, this book deserves a full-throated recommendation.