"Dead Space" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Titan Books
Written by Antony Johnston
Illustrated by Ben Templesmith
2008, 192 Pages
Trade paperback published on February 5th, 2013
Dead Space from EA Games brought the scares back to survival horror video games. Resident Evil, the series that arguably defined the genre, had gotten a little stale, so this was a breath of fresh air. Set in futuristic space, engineer Isaac Clarke fought his own madness as well as reanimated corpses called Necromorphs with his trusty plasma cutter. Fans wondering how the spaceship USS Ishimura became infected with such a disease had to fill in the blanks from the information gathered in the game. Fortunately, Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith joined forces to release a prequel comic through Image. Now with Dead Space 3's release, Titan Books have recollected the out of print series.
A driving force of this prequel is the religion of Unitology, which is sort of like a version of Scientology on steroids. This played a role in the game too but not to this extent. A space colony uncovers a strange rock covered in symbols they've called a Marker. The Unitologists see this as a major aspect of their religion. It's like their second coming. Everyone obsesses over it to the point of madness. It's all that P-SEC, the security force aboard the colony, can do to keep everyone in check. Of course, this gets a lot harder when the Necromorph virus spreads through the area, reanimating the dead and turning them into violent monsters. The Unitologists don't see this as a threat at first as because they embrace death. Part of their belief is that the dead are kept frozen instead of buried or destroyed. You can imagine how this can become a problem when the dead begin to rise. It's like they prepared an army for the Necromorphs ahead of time.
Dead Space is rife with background information. The trade paperback opens not with artwork or story, but character profiles. You're thrown right into big blocks of text explaining who each of the main characters are. This is helpful as none of these people appear in the video game, but it's lazy from a storytelling point of view. Johnston didn't spend the time to craft the plot in such a way as to explain these tidbits and honestly, a lot of the stuff isn't even necessary. I don't care how Bram joined P-SEC or what Sciarello's father did for a living. These facts have no bearing on the story.
The pacing of Dead Space is a little off. This was originally released as a six issue mini-series, but I can't imagine reading it on a month-to-month basis. It appears as if it was written as a graphic novel first and then cut up to fit into single issues. As a result, the end of each chapter doesn't result in much of a climax or cliffhanger. It just flows into the next part. Adding to this, Dead Space is a very back heavy story. The first three or four issues are all set up as the Marker is discovered and the crew slowly takes steps to secure their own doom. Fortunately, when things get moving, it happens fast and never lets up. The survivors realize that their options are limited as they're essentially floating in space in a big tin can with Necromorphs closing in from every angle.
The big selling point for this comic is Ben Templesmith's art. This man knows how to draw scary and unsettling and those are two words that easily describe the Necromorphs. Their limbs turn into long scythe-like blades and their mouths tear open into a flurry of tendrils and fangs. Templesmith imbues the main characters with a sense of determination in the face of complete hopelessness. He can also say so much in a single facial expression. You can gather a lot about a character when they're staring down death.
The background setting of Dead Space helps cement the feeling of desperation. Even before the shit hits the fan, these people seem stranded. They're all aboard this space colony looking for minerals or something. It's a pretty bleak existence. The appearance of the Marker creates a glimmer of hope for many of them, which is why so many flock to it. Templesmith brings this forward in the artwork, creating a bleak setting from the get go. Then he paints everything red when the Necromorphs rise. It's a haze of blood and gore for the sprint to the end of the book.
Also included in this collection is the prequel to Dead Space: Extraction, the game that was a prequel to the original Dead Space. So you're getting a prequel to the prequel. This is handled by the same creative team and centers on Dr. Nicole Brennan as she departs on a doomed mission to the Ishimura. Fans of the game will recognize Nicole as Isaac's girlfriend and one of the causes of his insanity. The comic takes you up to the point where she resigns herself to her fate as revealed in the main Dead Space game. It's a nice addition to fill in some blanks and in some ways, it works better with the games than the main mini-series did as it directly linked to the existing characters.
The Dead Space comic is a must-have for die-hard fans of the video games. The same people that picked up the tie-in animated films are going to want to check out this book. It will provide you with more information to totally flesh out the story of Dead Space. Casual fans or those looking for an introduction to the game series will be left wanting more. As a stand alone story, it's a little weak. After playing the video game and knowing that the fates of this crew are sealed, it brings an entirely new level of context.