Comics I Wish I could find in Paperback

A collection of comic books I wish I could get my hands on, but can’t because they weren’t physically released or have now disappeared from their very limited regional releases. Not that I don’t have enough limited edition doodahs as it is, however, I’m a sucker when I comes to well-crafted expanded narratives, and a few of these comics provide that extra sliver of backstory, showing another side to characters and giving new reason to events in the rest of their universes.

Metal Gear Solid: Sons of Liberty #0 (2005, IDW)

A limited precursor to IDW’s second sell-out Metal Gear Solid comic adaption, this book likely looks at Snake’s past or extra early exposition to set up the series. The content of this issue is available in the compact 552-page omnibus released last year, but that’s no substitute for the full size issue if you find it.

World of Warcraft #0 (2007, WildStorm)

A first look at the original World of Warcraft comic book series, and incidentally WildStorm’s first big video game license under their new ethos of publishing miniseries, licensed projects and select original works. They cut the series at the end of 2009, only for DC to reinstate it in late 2010.

Mirror’s Edge 2008 Convention Exclusive (2008, WildStorm)

Convention exclusives have been a staple part of Comic Con and other events ever since the entertainment biz realised just how serious fans were about collecting every last cover variant, action figure and t-shirt. Mirror’s Edge, written by Rihanna Pratchett, was part of a new wave of video game licensed comics from WildStorm. Yet, living in Europe means I have even less chance of attending some of the bigger conventions than Canadian residents, never mind getting in line or buying tickets when they go on sale. I’d still like to track down this series preface if I can.

Street Fighter IV Limited Edition Comic (2009, Udon)

Ah, don’t you just love pre-order incentives? Because of their supplementary nature, these comics tend to be less engrossing than you’re originally led to believe, lasting no more than a five minute tea break in between bouts. I’m positive this would be no better than the SFIV miniseries story-wise, but Udon’s stuff is always great to look at.

Halo Wars: Genesis (2009, Microsoft)

Included with the limited edition, Halo Wars: Genesis sets up the game by exploring why the Covenant are interested in the human colony Harvest. It was co-written by Phil Noto, Graeme Devine and Eric Nylund, writer of several books for the Halo series and other fiction for Microsoft Game Studios.

Dante’s Inferno 2009 Convention Exclusive (2009, WildStorm)

EA went for a more direct marketing approach for Dante’s Inferno at San Diego Comic Con 2009, releasing this limited edition issue #0 preview comic along with lithograph print. The tainted spirit-like art is by Diego Latorre, who accomplished converting the full gory adaption to comics in the six-issue miniseries.

inFamous: Post Blast (2009, Sony / IGN)

Released physically in very limited quantities as competition prizes, this comic is a direct prequel to inFamous, penned and inked by the team at Sucker Punch. Unlike their previous Sly Cooper comics, Post Blast has never been made available on the Sucker Punch store, though is available for fans to download for free from IGN. DC is also producing a full six-part miniseries to bridge the upcoming sequel.

Batman: Arkham Asylum – The Road to Arkham (2009, DC Comics)

A prequel to the one of the greatest comic book games ever released? Yes, please. Written by Alan Burnett and pencilled by Carlos D’Anda, The Road to Arkham sees Batman returning The Joker, Scarecrow and other villains to the dingy halls of Gotham’s most secure asylum.

Darksiders (2010, WildStorm)

Though I’ve heard rumblings that it’s more of an artbook, this Darksiders comic, released digitally on the PC Hellbook Edition and in a select number of hardcopies (available from UK retailer GameStation as a pre-order incentive), and illustrated by ex-Marvel artist and Vigil Games creative lead Joe Madureira, is one I’d love to track down. However you prefer to see the game, derivative or homage, inspired by the comic book world itself I’d love scoop some of its fiction.

StarCraft #0 (2010, WildStorm)

Another limited edition pack-in, this time for StarCraft II. Written by Simon Furman and art by Federico Dallocchio, this issue #0 comic chronicles the mech-suited War Pigs first encounter with the Zerg species. WildStorm scraped their planned ongoing StarCraft series after just seven issues.

Driver #0 (2010, WildStorm)

This issue #0 comic, titled ‘The Pursuit of Nothingness’, was released at last year’s Comic Con to promote Ubisoft’s upcoming reboot of the Driver series – I have a soft spot for the original PS1 game. David Lapham is on scribing duty, while Greg Scott handles the inks (above, cover by Mark ‘Jock’ Simpsons). Shadowy, low rider art style? Let’s hope it does justice to the 70’s car chases that have inspired it.

Red Faction: Armageddon #0 (2010, WildStorm)

According to Big Download Blog, there’s a Red Faction comic on the cards from DC. Sourcing images for this post was the first I’ve heard of it. Though I didn’t play THQ’s Red Faction: Guerrilla, it’s combo of salvage and survival received enough acclaim for this comic book accompaniment to be of interest if DC does release a full series this year. The comic team includes Scott Rogers, Pal De Meo, Mike Miller and Jason Masters, and is available from the game’s official site and some digital comic outlets. To my surprise, a one-shot prelude comic was also released for Guerrilla in June 2009.
Books, Culture, Gaming

WildStorm dispersed by DC

I had a feeling dire things were afoot when I took a peek at WildStorm’s release schedule for the early 2011 to find half of their original books and planned licensed releases had been unlisted.

Well, it turns out DC WildStorm is no more.

WildStorm began as an independent comic publisher in 1992, founded by Jim Lee – a prolific comic book artist, writer and publisher. The company created several of its own series, including WildC.A.T.S. and Stormwatch, as well publishing independent works, like Warren EllisTwo-Step and Planetary, plus David Tischman and Philip Bond’s Red Herring.

Lee sold WildStorm to DC Comics in 1998, where it continued as a DC imprint. Since then the imprint has gone through several changes of direction, with the biggest possibly being it’s focus on licensed properties in the latter half if it’s life. Series like A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th, as well as being one of the first comic publishers to be part of the transmedia movement, with novels and miniseries for Heroes, Fringe, Chuck, Push and Star Trek to name a few.

And WildStorm knew how to play things smart, announcing upcoming licensed comics with scarcer-than-Batman’s-utility-belt issue #0 previews to get collectors drooling at Comic Con. I’m still holding out for several of them myself.

It was through their comic book expansions of video games that I found my entry into WildStorm. Back in October 2008, I had my first taste of the brand from their recently released Gears of War series. Since that time, I’ve picked up more video game-based comic books from WildStorm than any other publisher, like Mirror’s Edge, Dante’s Inferno, Resistance, Prototype and Resident Evil.

I still have several of their current video game series on order, including Assassin’s Creed, God of War and Ratchet & Clank. I’m anxious to see these series completed, so it is a relief to hear that WildStorm’s remaining series and possible future ones will be published by DC Comics.

WildStorm may be gone, but it’s ushered in a new era of video game-related tie-ins which looks set to continue. Though a lot of them do end up feeling like shameless merchandise, the occasional bright lights are well worth looking out for.

Zombie hunting the way it was meant to be

When it comes to comics based on games you have to be cynical. All too often you’ll run across cases like Mercenaries or Nier which are no better than pitiful merchandising ammunition for marketers to spin you. Of course, sometimes the cynics are just plain wrong, as with doubting industry analyst and internet celebrity, Michael Pachter, who said Red Dead Redemption wouldn’t be any were near as successful as it has proven to be.

Now it’s my turn to make an admission of my own. All the patterns this fell into told me it should tank. Despite the early signs of a cancellation after the first two issues and the eventual replacement of its main artist that still resulted in a further year’s wait, WildStorm’s Resident Evil comic kicks a whole lot of decaying butt!

It was released right around the debut of Resident Evil 5, and many sites list it as a prequel. That’s baloney, in fact they’ve gone so far as to publish a disclaimer in every issue stating that this original story is “not part of the officially recognized Resident Evil canon.” What’s great about this comic is it’s a sidestory within the Resident Evil universe, but you can it enjoy whether you know all about the T-Virus or not. I have a mild interest in Resident Evil, but I love me some zombie goodness and this strikes beat after beat of popular survival horror scenarios in to its pages.

Written by Ricardo Sanchez, the comic tells the story of BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance) operatives Holiday Sugerman and Mina Gere as they investigate the African country Urador for biological weapons. Issues #1 and #2 give the impression that the series will be pretty mediocre, suddenly from issue #3 onwards it just takes off: monster sieges, mutant plants with tentacle-like vines, an eccentric aggressor and legions of fresh-eating zombies.

The character work is also nicely paced, doing just enough in the limited space it has to give it closure. Sugerman is a veteran British operative who loves quoting famous people, rocks a badass moustache and doesn’t take too kindly to being ordered to “babysit” agent Gere. By contrast, the specky, secretary-looking Gere is the brains and beauty of this series. She’s one valiant field agent, and stands up for herself without becoming a nuisance.

Art duties are graciously handled by Brazilian artist Jheremy Raapack from #3 (taking over from Kevin Sharpe), who realises the action and well-crafted characters to tremendous effect. He brings a Latino quality to Gere’s flaming red hair and full lips that bring her on par with the franchises own roster of heroines and is equally skilful at making the belligerent undead every bit as revolting as they should be. Brief two-pages tales, drawn by Al Barrionuevo, also supplement the final four comics with to-the-point backstory.

Like Resident Evil 5, this isn’t scary, but it nails the zombie action genre dead-on. Sanchez has created two delightful characters that Capcom should reconsider bringing into the core canon of the Resident Evil universe. And Raapack’s frizzy art is the essence of character action, though, I’m amazed the heroes managed to keep their combat suits so spotless with all the bloody they spill. A sterling effort that you’ll want to relive as long as you can, before the inevitable zombie apocalypse.


Nier-ly Bonkers

According to Nier’s tag line, “nothing is as it seems.” And the thought that’s been put into its three-part web comic sure amounts to nothing. Nier is a new RPG from Square Enix, and in a decisive move it’s actually got two versions – one produced for its native Japanese audience (Nier Replicant), the other for Western gamers (Nier Gestalt). The comic was produced by WildStorm (Written by Ricardo Sanchez and art by Carlos D’Anda, Pop Mhan and Eduardo Nuñez) and should reveal the “unexplained back stories of Nier, Yonah, Kaińe and Grimoire Weiss.” But after reading all three I can tell you that not only do I know very little, if anything, about the game itself, the comic has pretty much crushed my thoughts of picking up the game.

From what I can gather, Nier seems to be set in a post-post-future world and things seem kind of cyclical, so there are hi-tech robots amid ancient villages. Weird. But the main source of calamity is something known as “black scrawl disease” which appears to have killed off most of the world’s inhabitants. In the first comic we see a scientist going to inhumane lengths to discover a possible cure. Nier’s daughter, Yonah, is also missing and he’s on a hunt to find her with the busty and very foul-mouthed, Kaińe, and the wise-ass magic book, Grimoire Weiss.

What’s disappointing about the Nier comic is it doesn’t make any effort to connect with the characters. It makes a big point of basing its three comics around three separate stories told by the trio of heroes. Yet they are so short and nonspecific that they end up leaving you indifferent about what Nier is. Is it a search to cure a worldwide plague? Is it a hack-and-slash with a potty-mouthed scantily clad vixen with worse dialogue than Killzone 2’s Rico? Or is it a heartfelt tale about a father’s love for his daughter? I don’t know. Even if the game attempts to explain all this, it will likely be just as divisive as this horrible excuse for a marketing effort. Square may have tailored Nier for the West but so far it’s looking nowhere near exciting.


A Walk through the Valley of the Damned

Biblical works have always been a source of controversy. It could be the depiction of a saint, a misinterpretation of a religious text or even simply opening a forum for debate on an important religious issue. Someone, somewhere, is bound to be offended.

So EA set themselves an uphill battle right from the start when they green lit Visceral Games’ interactive interpretation of literary classic, The Divine Comedy. The game itself is a bloody and violent affair, as one would expect for a subject matter that sees Dante deceasing through Hell. Working off of the pretence that “bad news is good news,” EA’s marketing department wasted no time in organising a bevy of bogus protestors at E3 2009 and inviting everyone to “Go to Hell” with launch campaign that caused a bit of a stir.

As with Dead Space before it, EA also commissioned an anime tie-in and a six-part miniseries to accompany Dante’s Inferno when it hit the shelves in March this year. I’ve not had a chance to experience the remorseless torment with the game, but I have locked horns with the comic.

Having not read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, I was apprehensive about how even a small part of it would be condensed to just six issues with any real meaning. But even if the story is too hasty, the art will keep your eyes lingering over pages to take in the decaying scenes. Diego Latorre has captured a feeling of dark Renaissance with his art. Nothing is stable, everything is distorted, deranged and dissolute. For its subject matter, it is pleasant to see panels that capture the divine tragedy at its heart in a way that sets a faint tone for the reader’s own imagination while still bringing the nightmarish human traits to bear.

That said, the moments when Dante slays the oversized residents and gatekeepers of each Circle of Hell is an outlandish concept that becomes no easier to picture after seeing the comic’s interpretations. If you’ve little experience of The Divine Comedy, such as myself, Dante’s Inferno fulfils expectations for a quest of punishment and strife, with clever dialogue from the master-of-all-lies and flashbacks that reveal more of Dante’s sins with each issue. It will hardly drag you to Hell, but it will introduce you to a poem that enthusiasts of biblical fiction (ie Dan Brown lovers) will certainly be interested in discovering more fully.


Psychosis of the Modern Soldier

Whoever thought making a Modern Warfare 2 comic was a good idea needs to adjust their night vision goggles.

At the present time of writing it is mid May, and recent adversities caused by a variety of close people in my life have brought on a recall of this grim, utterly torturous tale.

The comic is told from the perspective of a hard-ass codenamed ‘Ghost’, who also happens to wear a skull in tribute to an old squad mate of his, Simon Riley. The story of how that squad mate was driven to madness is what this miniseries brings to light. Now, I’ve haven’t played Modern Warfare 2, heck I haven’t even played Call of Duty 4, but from what I’ve heard Infinity Ward’s efforts to go hyper-real provide a thrilling adrenaline rush, but presents a seriously warped view of the real world conflicts it is trying to satire.

So it is a real shock – and I mean that – when you open up Modern Warfare 2: Ghost to be led down a slow, callous hellhole with each instalment. It’s addressing some serious psychological pressures that its birth parent doesn’t dare tread near – probably because the act of killing someone in reality is at odds with the point of a commercial first-person shooter.

And it’s amazing just how grotesque and vivid it all is. There are scenes of torture where the captured soldier is hanging from his damaged ribs. There are mind games where his sadistic captor is whispering in his ear, promising everything will be alright. There are allusions to forceful sexual pleasure that later catalysis a rapist, self-serving nature in the man. It’s deep, dark, dirty, self-destructive stuff… and I don’t like it.

When I read the video game comics I buy these days I’m always searching hard to justify whether it was a money-making marketing effort or – just maybe – something of real substance. Unsurprisingly, the Modern Warfare 2 comic fits the former. More to the point, however, I seriously doubt many of its devoted followers would truly understand the gravity of what is inadvertently implied with the production of this ‘mature’ comic. People are out in the world dying for real, being tricked and twisting by heartless demons and the fat cats are going to make money by mediating these stories to the masses.

Even if the actual creators, David Lapham and Kevin West, meant well with their representation of a soldier’s life, this is way too serious to be trivialised by the Modern Warfare brand.


Red Herring Watch #6

Here we are at last, the final part of my Red Herring comic book watch. I’ve now read the entire miniseries and I’m ready to let you know what I think of this ‘grand’ conspiracy.

OK, just to put everything in perspective I’ll give a very short run down of a couple key events. Red Herring is told through the eyes of Maggie MacGuffin, our heroine who is attacked in a Washington park and soon finds herself entangled in a political conspiracy. Red (who is introduced as a government agent, but actually turns out to be a conman) isn’t sure how she came to be involved, but he’s willing to protect her – even if most of the time she ends up in harm’s way because of his past actions. Together they’re like a (less stylish) contemporary version of The Avengers. When Maggie goes missing everyone suspects her boss, Congressman Damorge Channel. Things get more confusing when talk of an alien invasion starts circulating. Throughout the story we meet a collection of shady characters, all of whom are hiding skeletons of their own.

So, after six issues of tongue-in-cheek melodrama and candid moments of brilliance, does Red Herring live up to the potential it so gloriously set early on?


Well, no, to be frank.

David Tischman and Philip Bond set the stage with the first issue, and then it looked as though some real eyebrow-raisers could be coming, but sadly issue six failed to give me the satisfaction I was hoping for – and deserved after hanging on to find out the truth behind it all.

This is becoming a ‘thing’ with some of the miniseries I’ve read. They’re good for four issues or so, but by the end they just run out of steam. It’s particularly unusual in the case of Red Herring. All the covers (by Bond) just scream of exciting moments of confrontation or possible exposition, but really they’re only loosely connected.

The characters are good, but it feels as if Red Herring is missing its ace in the hole. Namely, the big moment right at the end where everything gets turned on it is head and you’re left trying to figure it all out. Yes, there are a couple characters that don’t turn out to be who you think they are, but at this point that means very little. The comic doesn’t do anything meaningful with characters in its climax. It’s too neat, too mundane. There’s no ground-shaking payoff, and even the more human moments, such as Maggie saying goodbye to her mother, don’t feel special.

I don’t wish to shoot it down too much, as I do still really like the art style and I get the appeal of poking fun at conspiracy theories. Overall, though, it feels like a missed opportunity. So, Red Herring isn’t really ‘comic gold’, but it is an alright distraction for those who like to take Roswell a little less seriously.


An Experiment with Death

In what can only be described as another frivolous argument of pointless console-owner debate, Prototype – an open world action game, in which you control confused and moody antihero, Alex Mercer – was pitted against Sucker Punch’s PS3-exclusive, inFamous. I won’t get into a debate here about which is better (*ahem* …inFamous), but even I have to admit that the similarities between them are many. They both arrived on store shelves within two weeks of each other, they feature open worlds and superpowered protagonists and… they both have their own comic books.

Much like the bloody, egotistic video game it is inspired by, the Prototype comic* is one that leaves little to the imagination. You’d also be hard pressed to fully understand the point of it all without knowing the setup to the video game at least. The ending itself left me cold, with no real wanting to play the game nor see another graphic depiction of this alternative Manhattan and its horrid mutant creatures.

The creators behind this piece – Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray writing, with Darick Robertson and Matt Jacobs providing art – go some distance in establishing a world with one or two inviting characters, though there’s a very cold hopelessness to the whole thing – right from the start. Moreover, your main ace, Mr Hoodie (i.e. Alex), the guy that you presumably picked up the comic to read about in the first place, is really just a cameo in three out of the six comics. WildStorm’s Prototype provides no real answers, only questions… with distressing amounts of sticky gore around every turn.

* NB: On this occasion I missed issue #1 of this miniseries so have read only five issues of the series, however I have done additional research on the comic.