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Dead Space Extraction

Posted: Monday, September 14, 2009
By: Shawn Hill

Antony Johnston
Ben Templesmith
Image Comics
Plot: A young doctor is rotated into a short-term assignment on a far away colony - one beset by a hideous infection, unbeknownst to her.

Comments: I'm looking forward to this videogame release later this month. It's been anticipated for nearly a year, and will fill a void on the Wii platform, which doesn't have that many adult horror games. Previous versions of this game have entertained players on other platforms, but it's Wii or nothing for me, so I've been waiting in breathless anticipation.

I'll have to wait longer, as this supposedly promotional comic is almost a complete turnoff. The art is dark and murky, the aliens are indistinct and might as well be Lovecraftian demons (only not very scary ones), and the story is nearly incomprehensible (when it isn't merely uninspired and formulaic as far as sci-fi ship of death stories go).

Okay, I know, it's a videogame; did I really expect something exciting? I'm sure the fact that the enemy doesn't make a lot of sense and can attack from all directions will make for some amusing moments with the joystick, but I don't think the game graphics will even slightly resemble those in this story. There are in fact only two promo pages in this issue for the game itself, the back cover and another page of concept art by Ryan Church and Ian Milham. Though hardly distinctive, those scenes at least have the virtue of realistic shadows and convincing anatomical proportions. The figures are in shadow, but in the sense of waiting offstage for their big debut.

I just thought they might make their debut in this comic. Instead, Templesmith offers emaciated figures who already look like skeletons before anything bad happens, and what few architectural details exist emerge of out of monochrome shadows. It's even hard to tell what the space ships are, as interiors and exteriors are indistinguishable. I'm a huge fan of expressionistic art, but this is ridiculous. Three flourishes with a brush does not a planetary ecosystem create. Faces are barely differentiated (not to mention gender), making identification from panel to panel even harder due to the generic space suits everyone wears. Many of them seem to have some sort of glowing apparatus along their spinal cord (life pack? health monitor?) that is never explained.

It's very hard to identify with such indistinct characters, and they are icons of specificity compared to their foes, the (I think) reanimated corpses of the fallen colonists, who seem to be all teeth and spider-like hook-limbs.

To make matters worse, the intrepid doctor might have seemed heroic had she been caught up in a world that didn't already look like a mortuary. Instead she seems deluded, consoling herself with her expertise while death engulfs her. She even comes up, all on her own, with a possible solution to the microbes, which is tied into the portentous religion of Unitology practiced by some colonists. This belief system is mentioned but never fleshed out except to be characterized once as zealotry. And of course the one thing she needs to make her plan work can't be found. C'mon, even in a videogame, that's exactly the sort of thing you spend three levels looking for!

I can imagine a cult of freaky religious zealots making for a striking big-boss level of a videogame, but this is a comic book. We're not playing along, we're reading and expecting to be told a clear, exciting story. This alternate view on some of the scenes in the game tells us little about the game, yet fails as a story on its own.

And the worst thing is, Image supposedly knows how to tell those. This is a case where more editorial oversight was called for. The big picture was completely lost. Perhaps this dank, ugly world will appeal to some (if they can get past one of the least interesting covers I can ever remember having seen it basically amounts to "some skulls, I think"). Inappropriately indistinct painted comic art fatally entombs a dull story.



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