Comic Review: ‘Dead Space: Liberation’ – Lost In Gloom

Comics writer Ian Edgington (“Aliens,” “Terminator” at Dark Horse”) teamed up with illustrator and concept artist Christopher Shy to give readers some background on “Dead Space 3” co-op character John Carver in a dark–murky, even–tale of fear and redemption on the edge of known space. Unfortunately, with “Dead Space: Liberation,” what could have been a interesting introduction to this new character in Visceral Games’ universe instead suffers from and overly-stylized look hampered by a fairly rote plot.

We’re introduced to Earthgov Sergeant John Carver as he stumbles through some kind of ill-defined wastes on the colony planet Uxor, where the Unitologist fanatics have chosen to activate another marker for their still-too-silly-to-understand nefarious purposes (seriously, three games in and their motivations make no sense). This is a major problem for Carver, since his soon-to-be-estranged wife Damara, and son are still in the colony, and anyone within range of the marker… well, you’ve played the games and seen what happens to the human body under the alien monoliths’ necromorphic influence.

What happens next leads to the the physically and now emotionally-scarred Carver joining up with Ellie Langford, who hopes to salvage Damara’s research into the markers in order to shut the damned things off. This is all preamble, and we know it’s leading to the characters needing to hook up with Isaac Clarke by the time the final page rolls around, meaning the bulk of the slim volume is a chase story, with Carver, Ellie, and Ellie’s boyfriend/”Karate Kid” villain Captain Norton evading pursuit by the ponytailed Danik and his band of gun-toting Unitologists, punctuated by brief encounters with a handful of Necromorphs.

You know, what a chase story from points A to B to get the plot to the beginning of C isn’t unsound. Unfortunately, Christopher Shy’s artwork tends towards the concept-heavy, making the dynamics of the chase hard to follow. Character orientation is typically unclear, and many times it’s often a challenge to understand what characters are interacting with (or how). I can’t see any additional credits for lettering or coloring, but in the case of the former, Shy has blurred out much of the character and environmental detail to a simple wash, while the latter with its scribbled-in tails leading to each speaker feels very temp. I can understand the impulse behind the lettering style chose here, done, as it is, without word balloons. Shy wants doesn’t want to interrupt the gloomy spaces in his story with the shock of white of a word balloon, but surely there had to be some better solution.

While the main body of “Liberation” is a challenge to follow, the concept and cover artist in Shy really shines through in parts, particularly when it comes to the Necromorph and vessel designs, which eschew the institutional, basic military look of the ships in the game for something more insect-like and ominous. I would love to just pore through a concept art book from Shy without the burden of a narrative. Similarly, Edgington gets in at least one under explored character beat about Ellie’s attraction to broken men that deserved a second look in “Dead Space 3.” Still the deficits outweigh the credits here.

“Dead Space: Liberation” is available now from Titan Comics.

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