Written by Antony Johnston. Art by Ben Templesmith. Published by Image comics and Titan Publishing.
Review by Merv Charles.
If there is one thing guaranteed to give me the creeps when I pick up a comic, book, movie etc is the words “Based on the video game”. Tie-ins exist to cash in on the popularity of a game and are often lazy-arsed attempts to milk a captive fan base (Resident Evil: 5 anyone?). So, it was a bit of an immediate let-down when I saw that “Dead Space” was based on a video game. I mean, whatever happened to original literature that stands or falls on its quality and doesn’t rely on name-recognition?
I have no idea where the opening graphic novel “Dead Space” fits in the whole universe (presumably at the very beginning) and I do not care as I’m going to treat this 6 part mini-series, now collected into one edition, as a stand-alone graphic novel.
That is what it deserves as “Dead Space” is a very atmospheric body of work. It is strong enough to stand alone without the props of games, movies and the rest of the bumph that makes up the Dead Space multiverse.
More Aliensesque than Doom or the early Resident Evil movies, this atmospheric tale centres around the discovery of an ancient human religious artefact belonging to a sect called the Unitologists on a newly-colonised planet. At this point the story assumes it is preaching to the converted as there isn’t any explanation about the Unitologists or even their beliefs. The only thing you can gather is that they are not a fringe cult and there is a hint of controversy about the group or its founder, one Michael Altman. Again, as they do not expand on the founder of this movement, I have to assume that the novels are solely aimed at the already converted.
Conditions within the colony rapidly deteriorate with colonists and workers suffering bouts of rage, insomnia and visitations by dead relatives. There isn’t any explanation as to what is causing the psychological problems experienced by the colonists but it could be linked to the discovery of a giant Marker, a symbol of the Unitologists. However, as “Dead Space” is thin on the ground as to anything to actually explain the Unitologists there is a bit of head-scratching as to the significance of the Marker.
Religion and sci-fi tend not to mix and I think that may be a part of the problem I have with “Dead Space”. I often found myself trying to puzzle out the significance of events that were not explained in the comic. Then just when you believe the story revolves around religion and politics, the colony gets exposed to an alien virus that reanimates corpses and turns them into some freaky beasties called Necromorphs. At this point, the comic pretty descends into what it is based on, a shoot-em-up game.
Which in turn leads us to “Dead Space: Salvage”. It starts off in a similar vein to the “Alien” movies with drifting ships in deep space, a salvage crew out to make a killing, lost colonists and shady government agencies or corporate types out to line their pockets regardless of the cost to the human race. There is more allusion to the Unitologists without ever expanding on their beliefs and history and again the story pretty quickly turns into another fight for survival when the salvage crew and shady government types come across the Necromorphs. I found “Salvage” a bit too predictable and the dialogue a little too clunky, whereas “Dead Space” had a lot more drive and depth to it.
Unfortunately, the third in the series “Dead Space: Liberation” has more in common with “Salvage” than with the original. The dialogue again is very laboured and is isn’t helped by the classic painted graphic novel problem of not wanting speech and narrative to obscure the beautiful artwork.
Stylistically “Dead Space: Salvage” and “Dead Space: Liberation” differs from the original collection. They have opted for the painting graphic novel style, illustrated by Christopher Shy, for the second and third instalment whereas the original, illustrated by Ben Templesmith, is more in the classic comic book style. That made the original easier to follow and while Shy’s artwork is undoubtedly the highlight of the second and third graphic novel, it can blur out at times as the dark colours used to capture the atmosphere can too often blend into each other.
Overall, I found “Dead Space” to work as a stand alone graphic novel but “Salvage” and “Liberation” were let downs. It felt like there was something missing in the story, an explanation as to the history of the Dead Space universe and that lack of a backstory left me scratching my head as to the significance of events and people far too often.