Thursday, February 18, 2010

Trade Waiting - Gears of War, Book One HC

Gears of War is an incredibly popular gaming franchise from Microsoft, with two very well received video games, and several other media tie-ins, Gears of War also has an ongoing comic book series. I don't blame you if you didn't know about it, as the series is doing terrible in the direct market, but apparently the first issue of this series was the best selling title of 2008 by a wide margin as confirmed by Jim Lee (although he didn't cite a specific number, so you can take it with a grain of salt if you want). The series is written by Joshua Ortega, a novelist who also wrote the screenplay of the second Gears of War game, and illustrated by Liam Sharp, famous for his work in horror comics. The series has commercial and artistic pedigree, so how does the book measure? Hit the jump for more.

Collects Gears of War #1 - #6
Written by Joshua Ortega
Art by Liam Sharp

Before jumping into the review, I wanted to mention how I entered the world of Gears of War: I finally joined the rest of the 21st century and bought an XBox 360 this past December, a pack that came with Gears of War 2 included in it. The game is addicting as hell, simple to learn, hard to master (if you don't believe me, ask the other online players that eviscerated me whenever I tried to join online) and mostly lots of fun. I obviously did not play the first game, but the story is not hard to jump in and follow. Gears of War (the comic series) is meant to fill in the gap between the two games, and introduce concepts and characters that would later appear in the second game. This is important because it affected my perception of the book.

The story follows Delta Squad members as they travel the areas outside of Jacinto (the last bastion of humanity) searching for any kind of survivors. If you have played the games, you know that the protagonist is Marcus Fenix, but the series pulls back and looks at him through the eyes of a rookie named Jace.

Tagging along them are other familiar faces such as Dom and new character Michael Barrick, and eventually Baird and Cole also join (the latter adding a much needed humor relief in the dreary Gears of War world). Along the way they must investigate mysterious seismic movements that are occurring in the surrounds of Jacinto, and sure enough they run into the all different kinds of Locust, the creatures responsible for the destruction of the world.

Throughout the story, we get flashbacks on the childhood of Jace, and how his family was murdered by Locust when he was a kid. Marcus Fenix may get all the cool lines, but Jace is the one that ends up getting the most character development. This is also mirrored by a young girl that Delta Squad saves in one of the peripheral makeshift towns around Jacinto: her parents were apparently murdered by the Locust, and Jace takes it up to himself to protect her. Of course, considering they are going deeper into unknown and dangerous territory, taking a little girl alongside with him might have not been a great idea, so it adds an extra difficulty for the team.

The story is very straight forward, very much what you would see in a summer action or war movie, and the most entertaining moments come from seeing the team facing up against formidable opponents and impossible odds that get more formidable and impossible respectively as they go along the way. Liam Sharp illustrates the monster craftily, adding his own flair to the designs from the games, and you get the sense of danger these guys are just from his art. Of course, my perception could be slanted because I already played the game, so I know what a Boomer or a Brumak is, so I don't know if it would have the same effect on a reader who has not played the games.

To me, that is the main problem of this book. I got an enjoyment out of it, but how appealing and welcoming is it to new readers? I have no doubt that it appealed to gamers, and it helped as a fix while they were waiting for the release of the second game, but the story that Ortega crafts is not anything that I, as a comic book reader, have not seen before. It also did not help that I played the second game before reading this book, so I knew exactly who was going to make it and who was going to die. And even then, there's one death that is so telegraphed and war-movie-cliche that I almost threw the book down. The story in this book does not hold many surprises, aside from the "OH SH--" moments when the Locust monsters show up, and even then, there's a lack of emotional connection with some of the characters. Considering they are in mortal danger, as a reader, I should have cared more about them.

Sharp produces artwork that properly portrays the grim world that the characters inhabit. Full of deep shadows, dangerous monsters, war-hardened men, and enough blood and guts to fill a stadium, it could easily tell the whole story without any of the captions and speech bubbles. The flashback scenes are are filled with a red hue, which is admittedly a bit cliche, although effective. The man is a legend for his horror themed work for a reason, and it shows in these pages. Like I mentioned above, this visual adaptation is faithful to the games, but still adding it's own flavor to it (for example the wretches look more menacing in this book than they did in the game).

Verdict - Check It. In all honesty, I can't possibly recommend this to people that have not read the game, although it may make you more interested in playing them. As a stand alone story, it is not very creative, just abominably average, even if the artwork is incredibly moody and fitting to the world. As a player and a comic book reader, I enjoyed it, but I could have easily spent the time playing the game instead.

Interested in Gears of War Book One? Buy it on and help support the Weekly Crisis!

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Ivan said...

I find this game pretty bland and unnapealing. I honestly don't know what's the fuss about it.

Matt Ampersand said...

Like I said in the review, it's pretty easy to learn, which is why I think it's been such a huge success.

Brandon Whaley said...

I played the first one all the way through, and it was much better than the second one in my opinion. The second one lost a lot of the "Oh CRAP" moments that made the first one so fun, like the Beserkers and the Krill. Honestly though, I didn't like the story as much as I liked playing the story.

Matt Ampersand said...

@Brandon: Are the game mechanics much different from the first game to the second one?

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