With the very recent release of Dead Space 3, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Titan Books’ Dead Space graphic books. So far, three have been produced—Dead Space, Dead Space: Salvage, and Dead Space: Liberation.
Rather than rehash what has already been uncovered in the games, the books deal with events and characters surrounding the Ishimura, the Markers, Unitology, and all the rest. The first comic book, Dead Space, a prequel to the first game, deals with events on Aegis VII after the discovery of “The Marker” and prior to the Ishimura showing up for extraction. Dead Space: Salvage, a prequel to Dead Space 2, deals with a group of illegal miners who end up accidentally discovering the missing Ishimura… and awakening its hellish contents. Dead Space: Liberation, a prequel for Dead Space 3, tells the story of what appears to be a successful attempt to find the original Marker, the one Altman had found so many years ago.
The strength of telling the story surrounding the games (but not included in them) is that a person familiar with the games has access to a fuller picture of the Dead Space universe and history without having to recapitulate a whole lot of what he already knows. The problem with this approach is that the books assume a large amount of information many readers may not be familiar with. Fans of the game series will find a good bit of extras to dig into, but people who aren’t fans of the game aren’t going to be introduced to the game’s universe through the books. They’ll just be bewildered.
I found the dialogue and story in the books to be very sparse. Most of the story, as one would imagine, is told through the images. Few of the characters had any great appeal, and the dialogue was almost entirely emotive. There was no narration at all, lending the books a more immersive feel. But this lack of a narrator meant that many necessary explanations had to be awkwardly delivered by characters in a conversation. And I hate that: “What the hell is this?” “Well, the author of the book just put some words in my mouth that will inform the reader of some really important stuff, but I would never say anything like this ever if I were given any freedom to be myself and most of what I say won’t mean a thing to me or anyone else in the story…” Anyway. Aside from a few things like this, the story was adequate. Oriented around plot rather than character, but what do you expect from a comic book series based on a video game? Sheesh.
I read these books in order. Dead Space, which was originally a series of comic books, feels a little nondescript. The line-drawing is a bit too simplistic for my taste, and the textures and coloring underneath did not seem to be done very precisely (sometimes the cell-shading and textures seemed to be applied to a background willynilly—like someone didn’t learn to color inside the lines in preschool). The whole thing struck me as a little sloppy. And not in a good way. Once I got more into the book, I began to appreciate the emotion the drawings were able to evoke, but then I would see a hand and almost laugh. My eleven-year-old niece draws hands better than this. Sometimes I thought maybe they got Napoleon Dynamite to draw this book (“It took me like three hours to finish the shading on that Necromorph’s upper lip…”). Anyway, it’s probably a style thing. It just wasn’t doing much for me.
Then I opened the second book, Dead Space: Salvage, and yes! This was exactly right. Christopher Shy is definitely the right man for this job. What does his style feel like? It’s unique, but I guess if Salvador Dalí and the dude that did the art for Radiohead’s OK Computer were digitally synthesized into one person who then fell asleep while watching Event Horizon, had AMT kool-aid poured into his ear, then woke up and created his nightmares… on Photoshop, it might look something like this. If that means anything.
Anyway, it’s super freakin’ cool. Dead Space: Liberation is even better. I honestly hardly cared about the stories anymore. I was just mesmerized by the visuals.
As many people have probably mentioned concerning the video game series, the Dead Space universe kind of feels too much like a sci-fi Resident Evil. But with one crucial difference. The philosophical and religious aspect. The ideas in Dead Space are much more dense than you would expect from a video game series, and that richness definitely comes through in the books.
Unitology, the religion that grew around the Markers, has a strange hold on those who practice it. And these members seem, by their belief, to be more susceptible to the communications and influence of the Markers. It is almost like belief is the recombinant disease.
This idea holds a lot of interest, since the emerging reality of the Markers both supports the Unitologist’s faith, and at the same time shows that faith to be, well, nightmarish. As in the games, the books bend the line between fact and fiction. It is hard to tell whether a scientific reality has been overlaid by religious meanings or if those religious meanings have actually generated a scientifically verifiable reality.
The art in the most recent two books especially supports this: photorealistic images are layered in such a way that they become hazy and phantomesque. The textures are gritty and unstable, and yet sleek at the same time. Inviting, but horrifying.
Part of the power of the series is in the fact that it never makes clear whether the Necromorphic Virus has a mystical or spiritual component. Does all of this have an explanation in tangible physical experiment? Is it just pure science gone terribly wrong? Or is there really some higher source to this madness—in metaphysics or even religion? Balancing the tension between these two modes—belief and skepticism—will be a crucial element in the longevity of this series. If the series decides the question of faith and science definitively on one side or the other, the series will basically be dead in the water. We will have to find out how they develop this concept in Dead Space 3.
Bottom line, I enjoyed the graphic books. Especially the ones illustrated by Christopher Shy. If you’re a big fan of the game series, I would definitely get all three. They may be more style than substance, but the style is fascinating and unique. Titan Books has also released The Art of Dead Space, and based on what I’ve seen from the books, this might be just the ticket for someone who doesn’t care about the extra plot points, and just wants to dig in to Christopher Shy’s phantasmagoric visuals.
 One last note on the text: I was really surprised to see so many typos in the series. I mean, it’s not like there’s that much text. Missing words, missing letters, misspellings. Really? Is it that hard to find decent proofreaders in the comic book world? I guess it didn’t really matter… but still.
 It would be a pity if they did what George Lucas did to the Force when he gave it a perfectly tangible explanation (midi-chlorians). It’s the mystery—the lack of certainty—that keeps it interesting.