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Seven Great Video Game Comics

by Matt Miller on Jul 21, 2011 at 01:20 PM

Want to dive deeper into your favorite video game stories? Try the comic book world.

It’s not a surefire solution. Many properties attempt to make the transition to other mediums, and graphic novels/comics are one of the most common attempts. Sadly, many of the franchises that attempt the transition fall flat. Questionable creative teams, sub-par stories and art, and the lack of a cohesive artistic vision that connects the comics to the games are all culprits for the stacks of video game comics that aren’t worth your time.

That’s not to say there’s nothing worth reading -- quite the opposite. A number of characters and franchises have found their way into the graphic novel format with great success. We’ve picked out some of our favorites for your perusal, with a focus on highlighting comics that do a good job of expanding upon the fiction of its gaming universe.

Portal 2: Lab Rat

If you’re a fan of the Portal series, you owe it to yourself to head over and enjoy the totally free and fantastic digital comic called Portal 2: Lab Rat. The story fills in some essential gaps in the timeline between the end of the first Portal and the beginning of the second game. While protagonist Chell isn’t the main character, the story still ends up being strongly focused on her, as her life is seen through the eyes of a delusional scientist who has managed to survive GLADOS’ takeover of Aperture. The sparse and hurried drawing style is a perfect match to the schizophrenic musings of the main character, and the writing is a near perfect match for the clever storytelling in the games, especially the brief snatches of GLADOS dialogue. The story is short – only 27 pages – but it serves as a great expansion to an already intriguing storyline.

Mass Effect (Redemption and Evolution)

The Mass Effect games have one of the richest mythologies of any interactive project, and the comics set within the universe only expand the story. Two excellent four-issue miniseries are available for purchase from Dark Horse Comics. The first, Mass Effect: Redemption, focuses on events after Commander Shepard has disappeared but before he/she has returned for the bulk of Mass Effect 2’s story. Putting the spotlight squarely on Liara T’soni, the story follows her quest to find Shepard, and the numerous organizations that line up to aid or halt her goal. While an unsatisfying ending holds it back from greatness, the story offers a glimpse into a number of familiar faces from the franchise, and does a good job of setting up the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC for Mass Effect 2.  The second series, Mass Effect: Evolution, is a more sweeping and far-reaching tale that details the early days of humanity’s interstellar conflicts. Specifically, we get to see events from the Human-Turian War, and follow the events that led Jack Harper to eventually found Cerberus as the Illusive Man.

Both series have a big feature in their favor – the involvement of Mac Walters, the lead writer on Mass Effect 2. With storytelling tied directly to the mind creating the game fiction, the characters and events feel authentic to the events of the games.

For those who are curious, a third DLC series is releasing soon. Mass Effect: Invasion will focus on Aria T’loak, the pirate queen of Omega, as she fends off an attack by Cerberus.

World of Warcraft

A rollicking adventure of battles and bigger-than-life characters are at the center of the World of Warcraft comic series that released between 2007 and 2009. The WoW comic is notable for the freedom that was given to series writer Walter Simonson to tell major and important elements of the Blizzard fiction. For anyone who ever wondered why the story of Alliance King of Stormwind Varian Wrynn never got fleshed out in the game, this comic is the answer. A colorful cast of characters does a good job of throwing in series’ mainstays like Thrall and Jaina Proudmoore, while introducing and fleshing out new heroes along the way. The exaggerated art style is a good fit for the Warcraft universe, reveling in rich, bright colors and more than a tinge of anime sensibility.

Most of the storylines are an excuse to bridge one fight to the next, but the action is well drawn and the pace relentless. Even so, you never lose track of the major story threads amid the craziness. For someone who wants a deeper understanding of the world of Azeroth during the current era depicted in the game, the comic is a great place to start.

[Next up: A new assassin joins the order, and everyone's favorite Spartan soldier takes the field]

Assassin’s Creed: The Fall

Ezio and Altaïr aren’t the only historical Assassins to be fleshed out within the grand storyline of Asssassin’s Creed. In The Fall, we bear witness to two simultaneous but linked tales. The first follows a brand new assassin named Nikolai Orelov during his life in early 20th century Russia, and his conflicts with the Tsars of the time. Even as we get insight into this heretofore unknown portion of the Assassins timeline, we follow the modern day story of Daniel Cross, a man not unlike Desmond, who finds he has an ancestral link to the ancient Assassin’s order. Without spoiling the surprise, the comic goes on to conclude with a shocking surprise, the effects of which may yet be explored within the game fiction.

Tomb Raider

Long before we saw the announcement of a reimagined Lara Croft in the new Tomb Raider game, the series had a huge presence across many entertainment mediums in the late 90s. One of the best expansions to the story came in the form of the 50-issue run of Top Cow comic books. The comic continuity diverges pretty dramatically from the storyline seen in the game. Most notably, Lara loses her parents (and fiancée) in a plane crash when she is an adult, rather than as a girl.

The Tomb Raider comic might have been forgettable but for some big name artistic talent that kept Lara looking fantastic throughout the series run. Big names like Michael Turner and Adam Hughes gained fame for their depictions of the feminine form, and the buxom Lara Croft they depicted in the comics drew in the fans. Interestingly, the comic version of Lara Croft exists in the same universe as other Top Cow heroes like Witchblade, and the characters would actually meet from time to time.

Halo: Uprising

While it took creators Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev far too long to complete the four-issue run of the series, the final product was a well-told story that expanded upon the Halo storyline between Halo 2 and 3. The Master Chief plays a major part in the story, but to the chagrin of some fans, he is often not at center stage, as major portions of the story follow some normal human civilians as they come face to face with the Covenant assault of Earth.

Maleev’s art is top notch, particularly in the impactful action scenes. Bendis is out of his element a bit in the middle of the sprawling sci-fi opus, but he nonetheless manages to bring the series back to an emotional core that is engaging and heartfelt. Unlike some of the comics on this list, Uprising shouldn’t be considered required reading for franchise fans; it’s very much a side story that explores the Halo fiction from a different angle. The big draw here is strong creative talent exploring Halo in a new way.

Scott Pilgrim

Scott Pilgrim isn’t a comic based on a video game, but it’s hard to leave it off any list of video game related comics. Strongly inspired by any number of video game elements, the six volumes of Scott Pilgrim’s adventures in Toronto, CA are great fun to anyone who has ever picked up a gamepad. The bittersweet comedic tale follows loser Scott, whose only redeeming feature seems to be his ability to best almost anyone in a video-game style, real-life versus fight. Like a long string of video game bosses, Scott must fight the seven evil exes of his lady-love Ramona in order to win her hand. From one-up pick-ups that save the day to a band called “Sex Bob-omb”, it’s clear that author Bryan Lee O’Malley had plenty video games under his belt before he ever put pen to paper. 

Beyond a poignant, funny, action-packed story filled with a bevy of great characters, the original comic also exhibits a fantastic manga-style art look that communicates emotions remarkably well.

If you enjoyed either the subsequent movie last year or the excellent downloadable game that released around the same time, you should definitely track down the original graphic novels and give them a try.

Those are some of our favorites. What video game related comics have you read and enjoyed?