COMIC REVIEW: Tomb Raider #1

I think for this one I need to put my cards on the table. No, not a table, an, erm… an ancient golden altar inlaid with diamonds in spiral patterns. Covered in skulls, for some reason. That’d be more appropriate for discussing Tomb Raider, wouldn’t it? More traditional?

OK, you got me. I’ve no idea what would or wouldn’t be traditional here. I played a couple of Tomb Raider games in the late ‘90s, but they didn’t grab me. I watched the film on a wheezing, flickering laptop, and can now only really remember Chris Barrie being in it. I’m not part of the fan-base, is what I’m saying.

Which is handy, actually, since one of the claims Dark Horse have made about this first issue is that it’s a perfect jumping-on point for new readers. This comic is literally made for me, at least in part. Or so we’re told. Comics companies do not in general have a great track record when it comes to providing slip roads for newcomers.

It’s encouraging then that this issue does the job of easing the reader in as well as it does. Actually, it might be doing it a little too well, but I’ll come to that. I’ve seen introductions to a concept done better – I feel I know nothing about Lara’s female friend beyond her name, and not even that for the tall guy she’s at the archaeological conference with – but confusing this most certainly is not, and there’s obviously time to fill in details later. The issue is also not afraid to set out, right from the start, why a Tomb Raider comic is a distinct and worthwhile addition to the world of the games (and films, I guess, though in that case the distinction can be simply stated as “the comics haven’t yet proved to be rubbish”). The first few pages, in which Lara runs for what we presume is her life through a series of caves, with each noise she hears in the surrounding area displayed in its own panel, are really rather good. It’s a strong opening in its own right, but more than that, it showcases the kind of flourish that simply can’t be matched in other mediums. Try to imagine a sequence in a game in which every sound is picked out separately without it either being too confusing or massively slowing gameplay.

Alas, after this impressive beginning, things become rather less interesting. It’s frustrating that an issue savvy enough about panel construction to immediately show us what comics alone can do then offers us a two page fight between Lara and her new trainer seemingly present entirely because pretty young women trying to knock each other to the floor is just what comics are supposed to do. Yes, the scene (which admittedly is drawn well by Sevy, who does solid work throughout) has some utility in that it gets Lara thinking about the importance of listening in combat (clearly a major theme for the arc), but that’s not an original or clever idea, and it’s not originally or cleverly presented. My partner has a strong rule of thumb about female action heroes; if they did it better on Buffy, you’ve got no business serving it up now.

They most certainly did this better on Buffy. All they needed was a blindfold, a ball, and Anthony Stewart Head getting hit in his, er, head.

This feeling that things are happening simply because those are the things that generally happen in a comic extends further. Lara meets a paleobotanist at her archaeology conference so that he can tell her about “the mushroom of immortality” (actual name), and I guess that’s fine, if we sidestep the fact that mushrooms aren’t plants. But Lara has no interest in what the man has to say about the mythical mushroom until someone winds up dead. Then all of a sudden, Lara is interested because… well, because that’s what heroes do, I guess.

Which is where it all falls down. For all that this issue is supposed to be (and, as I say, absolutely is) a good point for the newcomer to jump on the bandwagon, this enterprise is obviously based around brand recognition. Most people who buy this issue are going to do so because they’ve played a game or two, or heard people talk about them, or even because they saw the films and saw some potential there. These are people coming in with some concept of who Lara is, no matter how nebulous. They know – or hope – Lara is supposed to be more than a generic action heroine, an Indiana Jones knock-off straight men can feel comfortable about being attracted to (see Wolverine, sexy teenage female clone of). None of that is in evidence here. There’s some attempt to link “the mushroom of immortality” (seriously, actual name) to a first century Chinese dynasty to pique Lara’s archaeological interest, but that’s just window-dressing, a nod to what’s supposed to be Croft’s main driving force. Croft doesn’t go hunting for mushrooms because she feels bad some guy died after failing to hire her. Croft raids tombs.

In fairness, Lara does seem wary about the mission she’s being sold on. And without giving away the cliffhanger, the state of play in the final panel suggests a radical change of motivation is coming in the next issue. But that doesn’t change the central salient fact here: even I know enough about Tomb Raider to know this doesn’t feel right. Dark Horse are to be commended for trying to strip down the franchise to the point where anybody can join in (though Square Enix did much of the heavy lifting on that one), but there’s a distinct sense here that baby has been thrown out with bathwater.

Title: Tomb Raider

Publisher: Dark Horse

Rating: 2.5/5

GS Blogger: Ric Crossman




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