The Last Of Us: American Dreams Review

The Last Of Us CoverI’ve been a fan of writer/artist Faith Erin Hicks since her OGN Zombies Calling. If I recall correctly, I picked it up on a whim my first time at San Diego Comic-Con a few years ago, and fell in love with her storytelling ability. She somehow manages to make every character relatable and sympathetic, and there’s great depth in her cartooning style. I’ve pretty much read everything she’s done since my first exposure to her, and when I saw her name in relation to a dark, horror video game title, I was rather surprised. It’s not her normal playground, but I’m glad I gave The Last Of Us: American Dreams a chance.

This 106 page full colour TPB collects the recent four issue mini-series based on the game of the same name that was released not that long ago. Dark Horse have a good history when it comes to video games, and although the medium rarely translates well to the silver screen, there have been some great comics based on video games in the last few years, such as Udon’s always good value Street Fighter series, plus the Horse’s own efforts which include franchises such as Mass Effect, and Dragon Age. The publisher have also released some rather pretty art books which are must haves for lovers of concept art and world building, on such games as Bioshock Infinite, Remember Me as well as The Last Of Us.

American Dreams expands that world further. Written by Hicks and the creative director of the game, Neil Druckmann, with art by Hicks, this is set before the events of the game. The writing pair set the world up elegantly. In the first dozen pages, we know who these characters are, and what world they’re living in. Essentially, the city is barricaded by a giant wall against  hordes of diseased citizens called, “infected.” There’s also a rebellious faction calling themselves The Fireflies who are against the new police state, despite the good intentions of its militaristic leaders.

After some initial friction, and lots of swearing, Ellie, the angry new girl, and Riley the more experienced and sarcastic girl team up to escape their new “home.” Riley is about to turn 16 and like all those before her at that age, will be forced to become a soldier for the good of the surviving community. She doesn’t want that life so she escapes the compound with Ellie and introduces her to the older Winston, who lives in a tent in a very rundown shopping centre.

Hicks’ art conveys the emotion of each scene splendidly and isn’t afraid to use silence when necessary. The city that the mischievous pair traverse is deserted thanks to the infected, which are kind of like fast zombies, although there’s not highly detailed exposition within the story itself. On the back cover, however, is a nice setup (19 years ago a fungal outbreak killed most of the world’s population).

Being largely unfamiliar with the game, this tale stands on its own, and by focusing on two teen protagonists, and their interaction with each other, the scary world, the infected, and the hardcore Fireflies, Hicks and Druckmann have crafted a believable world in which people question their values and determination. Fans of The Walking Dead will surely be fond of American Dreams, and Hicks’ artwork is, as always, a pleasure to behold, and the few extra pages of her sketches is a pleasant bonus. At first glance it may seem that her style may not suit the gritty and intense story being told within these pretty pages, but there’s great raw emotion and dynamism at work here. When characters shout, or get frustrated or scared, Hicks superbly renders all those feelings.

The Last Of Us: American Dreams is available from October 30, and you can see a preview here.

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Necessary Evil Documentary Now Available

I must admit, my habit of buying many comics mainly from DC in my weekly shop hasn’t existed for sometime. However, I still do get Aquaman, Green Lantern, Injustice and the occasional Batman title, and Trade Paperback collection most weeks. Beyond the comics though, it’s a good time to be introduced to the massive universe of DC Comics, with the entertaining TV show Arrow (which I’m just getting into), the new Batman: Arkham Origins out now, plus the upcoming Man of Steel DVD and Blu-Ray. There’s also the Necessary Evil documentary which focuses on the supervillains of the DCU and has interviews with some great pop culture creators. Below is the official press release, and a clip, and look for Joker’s leering face near you!

“Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics,” an all-new documentary produced by Warner Bros. Home Entertainment and DC Entertainment, arrives on Blu-ray Combo Pack and DVD today — Friday, October 25, 2013 — at a retailer near you.

Below you’ll find a link to an all-new official clip from the film featuring Kevin Conroy, the fan favorite voice of Batman; Zack Snyder, director of “Man of Steel”; and Dr. Andrea Letamendi, renowned geek psychologist; as well as the recognizable voice of ultimate villain Christopher Lee, who provides the narration for the documentary. The topic of the clip is whether or not villains are born bad.”Necessary Evil: Super-Villains of DC Comics” explores the thin line between right and wrong, the nature of evil and how super-villains can reflect society’s dark side as well as our own personal fears.  It also offers keen insight as to the reasons why comic book fans are so fascinated by the very characters they hope to see defeated. Featuring interviews with such luminaries as directors Richard Donner (Superman), Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim) and Zack Snyder (Man of Steel), the film focuses on DC Comics’ most terrifying villains, including The Joker, Lex Luthor, Bane, Black Adam, Black Manta, Catwoman, Darkseid, Deathstroke, Doomsday, General Zod, Sinestro, the Suicide Squad, and more.

Necessary Evil-SuperVillains of DC Comics

Superman 74 Years Animation

I could watch this all day! To celebrate 75 years of Superman this year, animation legend Bruce Timm, and Man of Steel director Zack Snyder have teamed up for this excellent, two minute summary of Superman’s storied past, noting the major events and media portrayals over the years. It’s not on YouTube yet, but you can watch it here.

It kicks off with a bang with his first appearance on the cover of Action Comics #1 and ends (of course) lingering on the latest film version, with fights with classic enemies such as Doomsday (who killed him), Braniac and even the fight with Muhammad Ali, and many of the varied artistic styles which have graced Superman in those decades. This short will also be included in next month’s release of the Man of Steel on Blu-Ray.

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Rancid and Running Short Story

Website i09’s weekly Concept Art Writing Prompt inspired me again last week, so below is my story and the artwork of a rabid unicorn that inspired it.

Rabid Unicorn

Rancid and Running

By Kris Bather

“I was once like you.”

“You.” Tristan gulped, and his back legs tentatively retreated. “You were never like me.”

The darkened unicorn snorted; the hot air causing a honey-like substance to droop from his nostrils and onto the jagged corpse open before him. “Maybe not. I was always more…curious.”

“We thought we lost you Ankhan. The herd was worried. We missed you. We still do.”

Ankhan looked at the gleaming creature before him. Once they were similar, yet now they could not be more different. His limp, malting mane, charcoal hide, and eyes, knees and teeth that barley functioned were in blunt contrast to Tristan’s gleaming, magnificent form. They resembled opposing pieces of a chessboard.

Ankhan blinked, and looked at his tasteless meal. Jealousy, self pity and regret became a maelstrom within him. He let out a sigh. “Yet none of you came searching.”

Tristan found confidence to deflect the accusation. “We couldn’t. You know that.”

“Or you’d become like me?” Ankhan smiled, or at least tried to, but with his loose jaw and jutting teeth it only enhanced the horror.

The pause between these two, once equal creatures perpetuated the chasm. Both knew where they were, and what had taken them there.

“Why did you do it? You had everything. I don’t understand.”

“Everything?” Ankhan’s back legs shifted and trembled, forcing him to sit under the shade of the gnarled tree. “Everything but freedom.”

“Were you in a cage? Were you mistreated? Did you lack anything?”

Ankhan barely lifted his head to meet Tristan’s eyes. He now realized the extent of the compassion he had willingly abandoned. Despite Ankhan’s cloudy vision, he could easily discern the sorrow in Tristan’s eyes. “I just wanted to know, Tristan. I wanted to know why we couldn’t come to the hill, why it was forbidden. I had to know if all the generations before us were liars.” He glanced around him at his new dead kingdom. Life was empty. The lack of sunlight kept a constant chill, there was no fruit, or streams or birds. Noise was at a minimum, and the only sustenance to be gained was from large, grotesque insects or from the likes of Ankhan’s current feast – other curious animals like him who ventured into the dark unknown, bound never to return.

“I wish you could come back. We still miss you. We still think about you.”

“Is that why you came here Tristan? To see if I was still alive? Or dead? You can tell the herd, I’m neither.”

A breeze, that bypassed the darkness of Ankhan’s new home, caused Tristan’s snowy tale to flutter. “I..I didn’t come looking for you Ankhan. I was bored of grazing in the same valley.”

Ankhan offered an angry snort. “Don’t get too bored back there, or you’ll end up like me.”

Tristan avoided meeting his glance and looked around himself. He spotted something on the ground, and held it with his mouth for Ankhan to see. An apple, filled with a juice and flavor Ankhan knew of only in memory now. Tristan noticed Ankhan’s hungry stare, and threw the apple up the hill to the dark unicorn’s feet. When it hit the ground, it rotted within seconds, and soon was nothing but ash.

Tristan kicked the dust in front of him in defiance. Ankhan wanted to laugh, but couldn’t quite remember how. “Don’t fret my friend. This is my life now.”

“And there’s nothing I can offer you?”

Ankhan’s limbs struggled to return his body to the upright state. “You can still be my friend. Can’t you Tristan?”

Tristan heard the distant stampede of his brothers and sisters returning from their morning visit to the lake. “Of course, Ankhan.” He turned to follow them, paused and looked back. Ankhan had the realization that he had never seen such nobility. “I shall see you tomorrow.” Tristan galloped down the hill to the warm air and verdant grass. Ankhan witnessed him for as long as his sight would allow, and then returned to digesting the sinewy meal, wondering how long it would be before his next.

Who Is Jake Ellis? Film

Talented writer Nathan Edmondson’s Who Is Jake Ellis? mini-series, which he created with artist Tonci Zonjic is becoming a film! That’s exciting news indeed. It was one of my fave comics of recent years, and definitely has big screen potential. Director David Yates is attached, who was behind four of the Harry Potter films.

Edmondson recently wrote the Splinter Cell comic that tied in with the new game, Blacklist, and promises on his blog that the remaining issues of the sequel, Where Is Jake Ellis? will be out soon. He also has two Marvel projects that will be announced at next week’s New York Comic Con.


Unmasked #3 Review

The latest digital offering from the Unmasked series by Gestalt Publishing is out now. My review of the third issue by Christian Read and Gary Chaloner can be found here.

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