COMICS CREEPSHOW 9: DEAD SPACE
If you go back twenty years, only a very successful film, television show or hit toy line would be made into a comic. The idea of the tie-in hadn’t yet become a part of the comic book culture. Go back ten years, and all of a sudden you have comics telling the tales of television shows that were cancelled, before their creators were finished with the story and comics following the adventures of video games heroes, after the game’s end credits. Nowadays, a comic is part of every major release, whether it be film, television show, or video game. In terms of tie-ins, comic books are the fries in the multi-media value meal.
Recently, Jon Schnaars posted an interview with Andrew Green, one of the men behind the marketing campaign for the video game ‘Dead Space’, and I am glad he did so, since it turned my attention towards the DEAD SPACE comic, which I had already heard a lot about. The DEAD SPACE comic has gotten strong reviews on multiple comic book fansites, and was greatly praised by the hosts of the Ifanboy podcast.
DEAD SPACE, in the comic book form, is a six issue miniseries, published by Image Comics. The creative team behind DEAD SPACE is a tag team, horror comic dream come true. Australian artist, Ben Templesmith, who I have praised multiple times in this column, supplied the pencils for this book, while Antony Johnston wrote the script. Johnston is best known for his post apocalyptic book, WASTELAND, and has worked along with comics legend, Alan Moore. Johnston also wrote the dialogue used in the ‘Dead Space’ videogame.
DEAD SPACE is a prequel to the video game, but if you never knew of the game and treated it as a standalone horror comic, you would not feel cheated in any way. The story opens with a video recording, made by Sergeant Abraham Neuman, a member of the planetary security force on the colony world, Aegis VII. You know the drill: Neuman looks ragged, with a bleak look on his face. He is about to tell the story of how everything fell apart and how he is the last surviving member of the colony. Lucky for us, the story isn’t as cliché as the opening page makes you think it will be.
We flashback to five weeks before. Aegis VII is a planet, chosen by the Concordance Extraction Corporation, that is literally going to be cracked open by the miners on the surface, with the help of the space ship orbiting the planet, the Ishimura. During the mining procedures, a monumental discovery is made. At the center of the planet are two large black obelisks, tightly wrapped over each other, looking similar to a strand of DNA. This bizarrely wound rock could be one of three things, it just depends on which of the colonists you ask. If you ask the Colonies’ head doctor Tom Sciarello, or Neuman, both who happen to be lifelong atheists, they would says it‘s just a big rock. If you ask Neuman’s partner Marla, she would suggest it is an alien artifact that has been left behind. If you ask Deacon Abbot, who is a devout Unitologist, he would call it “The Marker” and say that it has been placed on the planet, as a message from God, to show humanity how to ascend to the next level of existence. Now, imagine the tension caused by the radical differences in belief amongst all these individuals, confined together in this small colony. To add to that tension, The presence of the mysterious rock seems to be causing insomnia amongst the colonists.
In the first half of the miniseries, we watch the conflict grow between the regular thinking colonists and the radical Unitologists. Unitology is a religion that began two hundred years before our story takes place, where on another planet, a colonist named Michael Altman discovered a very similar object. Unitologists follow the teachings of Altman, which, on an interesting note, are mentioned as being a connection between the belief of God and the belief in science. The manager of the colony on Aegis VII is a man named Hanford Carthusia, who also happens to be a Unitologist and has some sort of hidden agenda.
As the story progresses, Neuman investigates the strange occurrences that seem to be increasing in number throughout the colony. People claim to be seeing spirits of family members who have died, there is a dramatic increase in the amount of assaults in the colony and a handful of murders are committed. Neuman confronts Carthusia, telling him that they need to evacuate the colony. Carthusia in typical, cold hearted, space-businessman fashion, ignores the evidence Nueman presents and has the object removed from the surface of the planet, and onto the Ishimura. When this happens, the dozens of Unitologists, who have been gathering at the center of the colony, commit a mass suicide.
It is in issue five where we are finally introduced to the evil force that is connected to the mysterious rock. The dead colonists begin to rise, as their DNA is altered, and they change into hideous zombies with bat-like features. These creatures attack the living colonists, slaughtering them left and right and using their dead bodies to create more of heir kind.
The last two issues are rampant with gore and mutant monsters- a playground for artist, Ben Templesmith. I know I have said it many times before, but DEAD SPACE just proves it again- Templesmith is the master of modern horror comic art. Templesmith’s panels tend to have a focus on one character or object, leaving the rest of the things within the space blurry and indistinguishable. It is the perfect way to fill the atmosphere of a horror comic with the sense of creepiness and foreboding- have the reader’s imagination come up with what is lurking in the shadows.
If the dialogue Johnston wrote for the ‘Dead Space’ videogame is anywhere near as good as what he wrote in the comic, then gamers will be in for a treat. There were many quotable lines within each issue, like in issue five Marla says to Neuman, “Mathius will have a fit if we take everyone up to the Ishimura.” to which Neuman responds, “Then I’ve got two balls for his chin..”
In the end, what makes the story of DEAD SPACE stand out is the tension caused by the difference in religions, found within the first three issues of the book. There have been dozens if not hundreds of stories where a colony on another planet is taken over by an alien force, because the colonists tampered with something they found within the planet. the movie ‘Aliens’ comes to mind immediately. DEAD SPACE is different, because this time, it is not an evil corporation that makes the colonists unleash the evil alien force, it is a group of religious zealots.
This time around, the comic tie-in did exactly what it was supposed to do. I am now eagerly awaiting the video game.