I must say, I’m starting to really get into Dead Space‘s story. Although the movies suffered from a poor artistic vision, their narratives met the quality I expect from the DS games. There’s a real consistency to the stories told in the Dead Space tie-ins. Although they may place too much emphasis on the Aegis VII/Ishimura arc, you can’t deny that they explore the situation from every possible scenario. And although they’re fixated on a particular sequence of events, we learn a new nuance about the major players involved with each successive installment in the cannon. Dead Space: Salvage is technically a prequel to DS2, but I would almost say it’s more fitting to call it a final chapter in the Ishimura saga. Ever wonder how the Ishimura was retrieved by EarthGov and brought to the Sprawl? Probably not, but Salvage will fill you in on the details, and you’re going to like it, goddamnit.
Dead Space: Salvage
Writer: Antony Johnston
Artist: Christoper Shy
Editors: EA Comics (Robert Simpson), Studio Ronin (Emmalee Pearson, Tony Hughes, Kevin Stein, Leah Novak)
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: November, 2010
Released in 2010, Dead Space: Salvage is the first DS tie-in I’ve reviewed that wasn’t released alongside one of the games. The man responsible for Salvage‘s art is Christopher Shy. I hadn’t heard of Mr. Shy, but thankfully a quick Wikipedia search shed light on my ignorance. Christopher Shy is better known for his design company, Studio Ronin. Studio Ronin provides concept designs for a range of products, including movies and advertisements. The obvious reason I hadn’t heard of him was because I’m certainly no expert on comic artists, but more importantly, Salvage is one of the Shy’s first comics. There’s no denying that the artwork is gorgeous.The style is so unique that I find it hard to define. Everything looks like a sort of messy collage of textures from actual photographs. This mixture of textures in each panel has been manipulated and altered to death, and each image looks as if it’s been run through a factory of digital effects. Many of the characters have a translucent quality, meaning you can see the lighting and features from their background. If this all sounds really vague, it’s because I’m trying to describe a unique one-of-a-kind style that I haven’t seen elsewhere. The scans in this post should speak for themselves.
The obvious risk with abstract, experimental art in comics is that it can distract from the storyline. It’s one thing to have fancy pictures, but if the reader can’t tell what’s happening from panel to panel, the end result is an incomprehensible narrative. Salvage definitely straddles the edge of the cliff of incomprehensibility. Luckily, I would argue that it manages to avoid the plummet. That being said, it gets off to a rough start. The biggest problem with the art style is that several of the male characters look nearly identical to each other. To make matters worse, there are quite a few characters, and none of them are well introduced. In my case, it was only about halfway through the comic that I was able to distinguish between the various players. Although there’s little emphasis placed on developing each character’s personality, you’ll quickly start to become familiar with each individual based on the role they place in the story. Long story short, the characters are difficult to identify visually, but you’ll sort out who’s who, at least eventually. In fact, there’s a bio of each character provided at the beginning of the comic, precisely for that reason. So does the art detract from the story? Although I initially thought it did, by the end of the read I had really warmed up to the visuals and their ability to move the narrative along.
Due to Christopher Shy’s atypical art style, the necromorphs come in all shapes and strange sizes. Instead of the typical variations we’re accustomed to, Shy explores all manner of exotic morphologies. Personally I think this approach works nicely, considering the organic nature of the necromorphs, and it almost makes me wish there was more enemy variety in the games. My biggest complaint with Shy’s style, other than the fact that certain characters look alike, is that there is very little detail in the backgrounds. Shy’s style doesn’t lend itself to precise details, so most of the backgrounds are just washes of wispy color. It’s not a big deal, but it’s rarely obvious what sort of environment a character is in.
To match the excellent visuals, Salvage was written by Antony Johnston, who also happens to have co-written the games and most of the tie-in fiction. Remember how I said there’s a consistency to the storyline between Dead Space‘s various spinoffs? Well, we have this man to thank. Of the various tie-ins, Salvage has my favorite story. Set in the year 2509, one year after the events of DS1, but several months before Dead Space: Aftermath, Salvage tells the story of a group of freelance miners known as the “magpies”. The magpies have a fleet of mining vessels, and use “shockrings” (picture a portable warp drive in the form of a large ring) to collect and transport minerals. Using a shockring, they mistakenly warp a large vessel to their location, which they later realize is the Ishimura. Meanwhile, EarthGov’s Defense Secretary David Chang is tasked with retrieving the Ishimura, which has been missing since the Aegis VII incident, and which they believe still contains the marker. Accompanying him are two shady EarthGov agents known as “oracles”. Oracles are ultra-elite operatives that seem to possess psychic powers. Chang eventually realizes the Ishimura is in the magpies’ possession, and sends the oracles and a squad of marines to eliminate them and retrieve the marker. Meanwhile, there are still plenty of necromorphs hanging around the Ishimura, so we’re treated to copious amounts of good old Dead Space carnage and mayhem.
As always with Dead Space‘s tie-ins, Salvage doesn’t add a whole lot to the cannon that couldn’t have been deduced from the games, but it is a fun diversion. Thankfully, Johnston did an excellent job with the dialogue. As someone who’s watched way too many movies involving a small crew in tight quarters, Salvage nails the element of interesting character interaction. The first third of the comic is mostly composed of banter between the various magpie shipmates, and to Johnston’s credit, the interactions are believable and fun to read.
As you may have noticed from the tone of this post, I really warmed up to Salvage. At first I thought the art was too obtuse (but still pretty), and that I’d never get the hang of the characters. Luckily I was wrong. The art is really impressive, as I’ve repeatedly stated. Completing the duo, Johnston’s writing is excellent as always. By this point, it could be argued that the “aliens on a ship” formula is getting stale, but we’re sci-fi horror fans, we’re not allowed to get bored with aliens on a ship. Salvage is the first DS tie-in I’ve reviewed that I feel meets the quality of the games. The other tie-ins had strong storylines, but left something to be desired from an artistic standpoint. All in all, Salvage is highly recommended.
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Clicking any of the following thumbnails will open a gallery of images from Dead Space: Salvage