Dead Space: Liberation
Publisher: Titan Books
Page Count: 112
Cost: $19.99 ($12.39) on Amazon.com
Release Date: 2/5/2013
Get it Here: Amazon.com
Dead Space: Liberation is the third graphic novel set in the Dead Space universe. The first graphic novel, by author Antony Johnson and artist Ben Templesmith is up there with Dead Space: Martyr as my favorite pieces in the Dead Space franchise. Dead Space: Salvage was the second book and while it kept Johnson as the scribe, they replaced the artist with Christopher Shy. Back in 2010 when I reviewed Dead Space: Salvage, I felt it was a drop in quality from the first in storytelling and art. Here we are, a little over two years later and there’s now a third graphic novel for Dead Space. This newest hardcover release, Dead Space: Liberation has kept Christopher Shy as the artist but EA and Titan have switched writers (which really surprised me) to Ian Edginton, who I best know for his work on comics like Victorian Undead Dark Horse’s Predator and Aliens comics, and some Warhammer 40,000 work.
In my review of Salvage, I mentioned how I just didn’t care for Christopher Shy’s artwork. Everyone looked alike and the art was too ruddy and blurry. It reminded me of a someone who read Epic’s Hellraiser or IDW’s 30 Days of Nights comics but just couldn’t replicate the style very well. So I admit I was a little disheartened to see Shy returning as the artist. The good news is that his faces and human composition have improved noticeably, but they still lack a lot of detail and at times, what’s on the pages still look like unfinished rough sketches. Shy’s background art is also hit or miss for me. At times, I’m very impressed by what’s on the page, like the two page spread when Carver first comes across The Marker. At other times things just look sloppy and unfinished. My biggest complaint about Shy’s art seems to be a universal one, shared by even those that like his style, and that’s that often times it’s hard to tell who is talking and what exactly is going on in a panel. Basically Shy’s art is very much improved from Salvage, but it is still an acquired taste and not really for me. I’d really like to see them bring back Ben Templesmith for the art duties on these, mainly because his art was crisper, cleaner and hey, he worked on 30 Days of Night, which Shy really seems to want to emulate. Why not stick with the original. The graphic novel ends with an eighteen page gallery of Christopher Shy’s artwork, all of which highlights the best and worst aspects of his work. So if you ARE a fan of Shy’s styling, then you do have some nice eye candy as a treat once you’ve read the graphic novel.
Then there’s the story. This too is much improved over Salvage, but still nowhere as good as the original Dead Space graphic novel. Dead Space: Liberation. I can’t say Liberation is as good as Edginton’s other comics that I’ve read, but in those cases he wasn’t forced to write a specific storyline. Ever with licensed characters like Aliens, he had been given free reign about what to write about. Here he was given the task of using specific character he did not create and a specific story to act as a prequel to Dead Space 3. Now none of this means Liberation? is bad. I thought it did a fine job of establishing characters you’ll see a lot of in Dead Space 3 like John Carver, Robert Norton and Dank. He also does a good job of writing Elle (last seen in Dead Space 2) and making sure she still felt like the character we all remember. In other words, Edginton does a good job with the slight handicap forced upon him and if you like Liberation you should definitely check out his other work in the comics medium, as it is even better.
While we’re on the subject of plot I should point out that I think the story in Liberation is actually better than that of Dead Space 3. People like Carver and Danik are far more fleshed out than in the video game, but then the Dead Space written material (book and graphic novels) have always been better at characterization and plot than the video games. Liberation really does a great job of fleshing out John Carver, letting you know his back story, prior antagonistic relationship with Danik, his camaraderie with Robert Norton on a previous assignment and even his previous experience with a Marker and Necromorphs. Now a couple of Dead Space 3 reveals are probably spoiled by this, such as who exactly Carver’s wife was, her relationship to the Marker and what is so special about Tau Volantis, but it’s okay because the comic does a really good job of setting everything up and I think you might even appreciate them more in written form. I know I did. At the end of the day, Dead Space: Liberation helps you to get to know John Carver and makes you care about him, which is what Dead Space 3 really needed, hence all the “I’d rather play as Elle instead of Carver” quips and comments strewn across the internet. All I can say is that had they read Liberation first, those naysayers might have a different tone towards Carver instead of viewing him as Dead Space‘s Raiden ala Metal Gear Solid 2.
If you’re in need a plot synopsis, Dead Space: Liberation tells the story of John Carver, why he blames Danik for the death of his wife and child, how he meets up with Norton and Ellie and the man’s adventures on such locations as Planet Luxor, the Eudora, Ptolemy Station and how (and why) everyone gets to Tau Volantis. The graphic novel balances action and storytelling quite nicely and you the entire comic sets up Dead Space 3 nicely, even explaining just WHY Isaac is brought back and why he actually responds to Ellie. On one hand, it’s nice to see Liberation fills several story issues people have with Dead Space 3. On the other, you have to wonder why the game couldn’t fill some of these in themselves, instead making gamers spend another twenty bucks to truly get what’s going on in the game and why.
It is interesting to note though that from the very beginning Carver seems to know a lot about the Marker. He knows the Marker generates EMP blasts, he’s not at all surprised by Necromorphs appearing and he just takes them out without even a “What the hell are these things” thought. No, it’s just “Oh, hey. Monsters. Bang.” Which means Carver has either extensive experience or exposure to the creatures. Although it’s far more interesting to learn what his WIFE was up to! A final not on Carver in Liberation. He doesn’t suffer ANY of the signs of hallucinations that he has in Dead Space 3, so one has to wonder where he picks those up. So Liberation seems to present us with as many questions as it answers.
Overall, Dead Space: Liberation is more proof that, at least to me, the written pieces of the Dead Space franchise are superior to the video game ones. While it’s not as good as Martyr or the original Dead Space graphic novel, it is one of the best pieces of the Dead Space universe in terms of characterization and storytelling. As I said earlier, I do like a lot of Edginton’s other works more, but that doesn’t make this bad; it just shows how great he can be when given free reign. I definitely think fans of Dead Space should consider picking this up, especially if they care about the mood and atmosphere over gameplay. You can get Dead Space: Liberation for under thirteen dollars on Amazon right now, which is an absolute steal. While you’re there, you can (and should) also pick up the re-released Dead Space graphic novel for $10.50, which also now comes with the Dead Space: Extraction one shot which gives you a greater look on the life and times of Isaac’s original main squeeze. Bottom line: Edginton and Dead Space fans a will get a big kick out of Liberation and it’s well worth picking up. Remember, just because Dead Space started as a video game franchise doesn’t mean the video games are actually the best offerings for it.