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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.