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Comic Book Review: Dead Space Liberation

Written by Ian Edginton
Art by Christopher Shy
Published by Titan Books

Dead Space is a popular video game, a third-player shooter where the main character fights ‘Necromorphs’ (human corpses reanimated by an alien virus) aboard a spaceship. The first one was released in 2008 (of note, Warren Ellis was involved in writing some stuff for the original game about two years before the game was released, although not much survived the process) and the second sequel, Dead Space 3, came out last month, which is why this graphic novel has been released in a story that follows on from the events in the first sequel and acts as a prequel to Dead Space 3.

This story follows Sgt John Carver on the planet Uxor, a soldier with nine commendations but who was busted down to a grunt due to his issues with authority. He is stationed with his wife and son at the site of an alien marker that is attacked by religious fanatics, with an EMP causing ships to fall out of the sky and cause a Necromorph outbreak. Carver’s family suffers and he ends up with the woman his wife was secretly working with to understand the carvings on the alien marker and uncover the secrets behind it, while trying to survive attacks from the religious fanatics and the Necromorphs.

The front cover has the artist’s name on the left side, suggesting the importance of the art to this project – it looks hauntingly creepy and beautiful. Shy has worked on film conceptual design (Pathfinder, Conan) in addition to his graphic novel work and it shows – the splash pages and individual panels are atmospheric, exquisitely crafted, with an art style that reminds me of Dave McKean and Jon J Muth and Kent Williams; his faces look like photos incorporated into the artwork, and it is unencumbered by word balloons because the dialogue is dropped on top of the art. I’ve never played Dead Space but the art really gives the ambience of the game – the Necromorphs are suitably unreal and horrific, set against the gritty side of space travel and the close-up action of the gun fights. The only problem is in the storytelling – the panel transitions, especially in some of the action scenes, can be confusing and it’s not clear what is happening.

There are a few other niggles that suggest that an editor needed to look over the book. There is no explanation of what the Necromorphs are or how they are created or what the alien marker is all about – instead, I found out about these aspects from the prequel mini-series (which has also been re-released to coincide with this publication, and which I will be talking about next). This book is aimed at people who know the game and don’t need the explanation, but there is something to be said about setting up each story with everything you need to know within the book itself. Then there are the typos (‘alot’ as one word, ‘loose the weapon’ instead of ‘lose the weapon’, ‘its huge’ instead of ‘it’s huge’, ‘in-putting’ instead of inputting’, ‘a low -level’ instead of ‘a low-level’) and inconsistencies in the dialogue (‘Earthgov’ and ‘Earth-gov’, ‘shock beacon’ and ‘shockbeacon’, ‘shock gate’ and ‘shock-gate’) that demonstrate a lack of attention to detail that took me out of the story.

However, the positives just about outweigh the negatives – the character of Carver is intriguing and not the cliché he could easily be (despite the overused ‘character development’ trope of his wife and child dying), the story provides a sense of the nature and atmosphere of the video game, and the art looks like beautiful storyboards for an eerie space horror film, in a good way.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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