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Monday, 18 March 2013

In Review: Dead Space - Liberation

By Ian Edginton and Christopher Shy
Publisher: Titan Books
Out: Now

Warning: Contains violence and swearing - not for younger readers

The Book: Following the events of the video game Dead Space 2, we follow Earthgov Sergeant John Carver whose wife and son are attacked by fanatics trying to liberate the Marker site where she works. Racing to solve the clues his wife left behind, Carver teams up with Ellie Langford, survivor of an earlier Necromorph outbreak on the Sprawl, and EarthGov Captain Robert Norton. Together they unlock deep secrets about the Markers in an epic adventure that will determine the fate of mankind.

The Review: For the benefit of non-gamers, Dead Space is a series of best-selling games centering on a carefully crafted mythos in which humanity is being influenced - and distorted - by alien 'Markers', whose 'technology' includes the gruesome ability to turn the dead into slavering, murderous zombies. In short, it's Aliens meets Dawn of the Dead, but the makers of the games have, I'm told, taken this concept and made it an impressive saga.

In the games, the chief protagonist, systems engineer Isaac Clarke, takes on not just space zombies but the might of a dangerous religion that has protected and actively sought out the deadly 'Markers', a cult that has backers in high places.

Promotional art for Deep Space: Liberation - an example of all the right things about the art on this book...
This third graphic movel - Titan have also re-released the first two - is something of a curate's egg as it blends an ongoing comic story with the overall narrative. In this prequel to the latest game, Ian Edginton offers more character building to the story's main characters and, as the race to find Marker secrets hots up, there are some great insights into the battle hardened, emotionally-scarred Carver and his companions.

Christopher Shy also delivers an atmospheric take on the tale, with some genuinely impressive scenes, particularly those involving spacecraft and aforementioned 'space zombies'. The panels where the parasitic, visceral zombies spring from some dark corner are truly haunting and visually impressive.

There's a fantastic sequence, also, in which Carver returns from a foray against his enemy bathed in what I assume is the blood of his foe, that emphasizes how far he's prepared to go to defeat them.

-- but the lettering style proves a major stumbling block in terms of best presentation of the tale
Sadly, though, these impressive elements of the art are let down by the static, wooden, possibly photo referenced figure work in scenes where characters discuss tactics or helpfully move the plot forwards. There's little or no animation to the faces - although perhaps this is a deliberate choice, suggesting the human characters are as dead as their enemy. But the results are rather disappointing and stilted.

What really lets down the whole story, for me, is the lettering. In dispensing with traditional word balloons in favour of a chalk marker, which lack much emphasis and sensible placement at times, this jars with the storytelling rather than enhances it. Good lettering should be 'invisible'; that is, it should complement and not distract from the art and story. This design choice fails achieve that objectives and consequently mars the delivery of this Dead Space tale.

A good game tie in? Yes. A good comic? In part yes, in terms of script and some of the art - but largely, could be better.

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