Dead Space is a strange little property, a computer game that got turned into a comic book and then a series of graphic novels. It should surprise no one that a film is in development. After all, this is a story that involves a form of deep-space madness, resurrected alien/zombie/monsters, lots of shadows and mayhem. It reads like a checklist of elements from other movies, from the Alien series to Event Horizon to Species to Solaris. Nothing terribly new, in other words, but plenty of familiar elements recombined in marginally surprising ways.
Suddenly, then, the interested reader is presented with The Art of Dead Space, a handsome hardcover volume dedicated to the designs found throughout the series of computer games—the characters, the weapons, the vehicles, the monsters. And much more: no detail is too small to be included (corporate logos? Here you go!) in this compendium of visual elements. It is, to be sure, an impressive array of illustrations, and with oversized measurements of 9 ½ x 12 ½ inches and printed on glossy paper, it’s a book that will last. In fact it seems likely to outlast the popularity of the games themselves, but hey, that’s another story.
Jumping onto the computer-art-book bandwagon is Blizzard Entertainment, the company behind some of the most popular games of the past decade or so, including World of Warcraft, Diablo, and Starcraft—some or all of which will be known to anyone in your acquaintance under, say, 25 years of age. The Art of Blizzard Entertainment is every bit as striking as the Dead Space book, and then some: it’s bigger (9 ½ x 13”), heavier, and thicker, with almost twice as many pages. It’s an impressive tome indeed, but for all that, it’s a little bit bewildering as to why it exists. Will video gamers take to leafing through the heavy pages, lingering over images of the Blasted Lands from World of Warcraft or Andariel from Diablo, perhaps ruminating on the time that weekend when they played for 14 hours straight before finally powering up enough levels to beat the game?
This volume has an archival feel to it, but it’s not clear whether Blizzard is drawing a line under these games—saying, effectively, “This is how we want you to remember them, now that we’re moving on”—or trying to generate a new round of interest and excitement: “Remember how great these games were? Well, this book will remind you. Now go play them again.”
Anyway, it’s nice to think that such books—any books at all, really—will have a place on the shelves of our current video-addicted generation of 20-somethings. There is after all a value in sitting quietly, leafing through the pages and thinking private thoughts. If books like these can encourage such introspective moments, great.
Concurrent with these art books comes the third hardcover release in the Dead Space graphic novel series, along with paperback releases of the first two volumes. The original Dead Space book from writer Antony Johnston and artist ben Templesmith laid out the basic universe that the series would follow—the evil corporation, the unhinged devotees of a strange space-based religion, the shadowy, claustrophobic design that allowed for plenty of nightmarish monsters. Johnston’s script wasn’t exactly clear, but it hardly mattered, as Templesmith’s truly wretched artwork left every character looking much like the others, and his exaggerated, cartoony style sat uneasily with the hyper-violence erupting on nearly every page.
Follow-up Dead Space: Salvage traded Templesmith’s headache-inducing layouts and color choices for the photorealistic approach of Christopher Shy, whose images are based on retouched photographs (or so I assume—they certainly look that way). The visual style here is freewheeling and loose without being sloppy, although some of the figures look oddly static at times; the effective use of color, all murky tones of green and gray that calls to mind the deep sea as much as deep space, is never less than engaging. Johnston’s script is still confusing, though, and often the reader puzzles his/her way through scenes of dire tension and danger without ever knowing, really, what the hell is going on. But then the monsters show up and people die in various horrible ways, which is more or less the point.
A good many more people die in Dead Space: Liberation, which again features art by Christopher Shy and newcomer Ian Edginton with scripting duties. Edginton attempts to move the story past it initial “monsters-in-space” motif to something more significant—the religion storyline starts to get more attention, and there is the suggestion of wheels within wheels. But really that’s all window dressing: people are introduced mainly as monster fodder. Hey, I like monsters as much as anybody and more than most people, but three books in, the formula is starting to feel a little stale.
It’s an odd hodgepodge of offerings here, then. Readers hankering after a well-told story will likely find themselves frustrated; the Dead Space books are a triumph of style over substance, of splash over subtlety. Somewhere in there is a decent story, but the artists are too interested in cool poses and splashy—literally—deaths to worry about passe ideas like character and plot. As for the art books, they will be of interest mainly to gamers who would rather read a book about a game than actually play one. Are there many such? These publishers certainly hope so.
The Art of Dead Space
The Art of Blizzard Entertainment
Dead Space: Salvage
Dead Space: Liberation