Not too long back, I posted my review on the original DEAD SPACE graphic novel here at Amazon.com and elsewhere on the web. I mentioned then that I had absolutely no familiarity with the DEAD SPACE franchise, but I read that book – after doing a little online reading about the video game that launched its property into the pop culture – and I was utterly delighted with it. From start to finish, that graphic novel felt almost like a fully-fleshed out novel, complete with dimensional characters, an unwitting villain (of sorts), and an exciting beginning to an almost ALIEN-like space saga destined for good things. Today, I read one of the accompanying graphic novels, and, while it only captured a spark of that original story, it felt much more derivative – much in the same way ALIEN fans kinda/sorta had to suffer through ALIEN3 (which I enjoyed but is far from my favorite) in order to keep the franchise alive.
(NOTE: The following review may contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of character and plot. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A space-based salvage crew stumbles across the USG Ishimura, and they believed they’ve struck gold. As is always the case in some high-quality sci-fi, things are definitely not what they seem, and these Magpies (the name of the salvage crew) find themselves in a race against time to protect themselves, their ships, and even their lives!
There’s an old adage about never trusting a book by its cover, and quite a bit of SALVAGE reminded me of that. As I explained above, my introduction to the DEAD SPACE property was thru the initial graphic novel – which I enjoyed tremendously – but so much of this outing feels derivative. Whereas the first one didn’t feel like it was “based on a game,” this one does; and, to be honest, it feels like it’s based on an inferior game. Now, to be fair, I’ve never played it (I’ve never really been into games), so I don’t know how accurate that statement is, but I’m a firm believer that 99% of the time sequels end up being vastly inferior to the original for so many legitimate reasons.
The story is once again by Antony Johnston, and it feels like a knock-off of so many other attempts to tell this same story (again I reference the first ALIEN movie) in some hyper-realized way. While it doesn’t fail, it rather heavily borrows elements of that exceptional franchise (again, ALIEN) including a galaxy-spanning company with secret agents up to all kinds of nefarious deeds.
Stylistically, Johnston and artist Christopher Shy have gone way out of their way to distinguish this book from the first. The artwork is far more photo-intensive, and quite a bit of it appears to be plucked from someone’s darkest nightmare. While that’s a nice touch, it’s occasionally a bit difficult to understand perfectly well what one’s looking at in every panel. It’s all dark and oppressive – much like the world of monsters should be – but, boy, it would sure help if the two of them had opted for some brighter colors here and there in order for the work to have greater clarity. Also, they opted for presenting dialogue in such a way that, when multiple people are speaking, it gets a little hard to understand who said what when where and why; they aren’t using traditional speech bubbles, and methinks most folks will see what I’m saying once they give SALVAGE a once-over. On a few occasions, they’ve even given the printed speech the same color palette as their background colors in the same panel, making it extremely difficult to read. (Again, this doesn’t happen often, but, realistically, it shouldn’t happen at all.)
This time out, DEAD SPACE felt repetitive, like it was boldly going where they’ve either gone before or players had gone before in the game, so it was a trip best not taken OR given time OR more story to build it up. As it is, it’s a disappointment, but it is what it is.
DEAD SPACE: SALVAGE is published by Titan Books. It’s a story written by Antony Johnston, and it’s illustrated by Christopher Shy. There’s a nice gallery of unused sketches, drawings, and artsy inspirations in the back that’s a nice touch, but, all-in-all, I’d imagine most folks will find this a bit ‘wanting’ in execution and delivery.
RECOMMENDED if you’re a fan of DEAD SPACE only. Otherwise, this one may not be for you. Look, if you’ve read any of my reviews, you’ll know just how big a fan of sci-fi (even loose sci-fi) I am. The first graphic novel in the DEAD SPACE universe excited me tremendously, but were this my introduction to this world, its characters, and its monsters, I probably wouldn’t have been as nearly excited. It’s certain not bad, but it isn’t anywhere nearly as successfully fleshed out as it could’ve been; at a vastly shorter length, that may be no surprise, but it also feels a bit more ‘commercial’ than the first book. I’ll still keep my eyes open for more, just as I keep my eyes open for these DEAD SPACE monsters. But it’s re-read quality isn’t all that grand.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Titan Books provided me with a reader copy of DEAD SPACE: SALVAGE for the expressed purposes of completing this review.