Book Review: Dead Space (2008)

dead-spaceThanks to the kindness of Titan Books, I’ve been given the chance to read Dead Space  by Antony Johnston, and art by Ben Templesmith.   This graphic novel is a prequel to the video game of the same name, a film called Dead Space: Downfall, and the Wii entry, Dead Space: Extraction .  It first appeared in graphic novel for in 2008.    Just an FYI: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS REVIEW! 
Let me be very clear that I have never played any of the video game series before.  Even if I had known, I wouldn’t have guessed at the sheer amount of material this game series has produced.   I knew about the Wii entry, but I wasn’t aware of the film that came out, nor the novels or anything else.   The people that created this series wanted to make sure that the fans would get a total immersion experience when they came into the game, no matter what platform you played, or medium you preferred. 
The Story: On the colony of Aegis VII, the colonists are getting prepared for the Planet Crack.  This is an event where they get an area of a planet ready to have gravity tethers placed and yanked off of the surface.  When pulled in, they can strip mine the resources out of the chunk for a good deal of many.  The best of the line, the Ishimura is on its way to Aegis VII to do just that.   However, the discover what is to become known as the “Red Marker” starts to effect the colonists in many ways.  Some have become sleep deprived, and then start to react violently.  Others are seeing apparitions of people they knew telling them to protect the Marker at all costs.   Planetary Security (P-SEC) officer, Sgt. Abraham Neumann starts to investigate all the newfound problems within the colony with the help of his partner Vera Cortez.  It starts off as people who are members of the Unitology religious order gathering to go see the Marker, it is similar to one found on Earth known as the “Black Marker”, which sparks these members to take pilgrimages out to see the newly discovered landmark   Soon, Neumann’s own partner joins with her fellow Unitologist believers leaving her partner to deal with this sudden rash of problems ranging from violent outbursts to murders.  The powers-that-be bring the Marker inside the walls of the colony, which only heightens the already tense colony and it also brings with it a lifeform.  The lifeform is made of recombinant DNA, and soon they find out what the danger of this is.  
When the Ishimura arrives, and they have the marker moved to the ship, the recombinant lifeforms start to go wild and feast on the dead combining with it to become a Necromorph.   The thing looks like something out of a Clive Barker dream, and as they grow in numbers and run out of dead to eat, they attack the living and start to combine with them.   The survivors of the initial attack try to make their way off the planet, but in vain as their transport is too heavy to get space-bound.  They crash, taking with it any other transport, essentially leaving the colonists stranded to deal with the creatures.  In a final message to those who come across this area of space, Neumann tells them to stay in space and nuke the planet from above.   However, the damage has already been done, and the crew of the Ishimura find themselves under the same problem the colonists faced. 
The Good:  As this was a prequel to the what happens in a movie and the video game itself, I understood that where they left it hanging was important.  It begs you to go and get the movie and play the game to see where all of this was leading to.   I’m actually tempted now.  The story itself took me a little time to get involved, but once I did the spiral downwards toward where it left off made me curious to see where they could take a story like this.  For all intents and purposes its space zombies, however, the idea of it being recombinant DNA lifeform could mean a variety of things.  That might be my imagination at play vs. what the creators intended.   Unlike the normal zombie hordes, they aren’t as mindless as they seem.  It has an intellect about it, but the intellect seems attached as a hive mind.   To what purpose other than to create more of these things, I haven’t discovered yet.   Hopefully I’ll get those gaps in the other two books I have yet to read. 
I also like the set up of Unitology.  The idea of the religion is a simple one.  A man named Altman discovered the Black Marker and informed the world that after some study they had finally found evidence of alien life.   He was soon killed after making the statement, but no one knows what exactly happened.  The Unitologists believe the government caused it and have built an entire dogma surrounding the events.  Whether it is true or not, the zealots pound the pulpit with their beliefs and give the followers that something extra that could tip them over the edge.  In one of the most gruesome instances, it does.   A group of around 50 Unitologists have come to understand that death is the next step in the road to eternal life.  Neumann thinks they are about to riot in order to get near the Marker only to watch them all commit mass-suicide instead.   The scene sort of took me back that they would basically reenact the Jonestown Massacre.  However, the courage(?) of their convictions saw them through this and it ended with them turning into the Necromorphs anyway. 
I did like some of the characters.  Neumann was an interesting guy in his own right, and I like Doctor Sciarello.   There are others scattered about that I thought weren’t too bad.   The Doctor’s biggest problem is that no matter where he goes, he’s under attack by something.  The poor guy couldn’t catch a break no matter what happened.  It was almost a relief when the character did die. 
The Bad: I am not a fan of Ben Templesmith’s artwork.  This is more personal taste, but his figures drive me bananas.  Especially the ones that are drawn to be rather overweight and then they have little in the way of circumference around the wrists.   In the pages where there isn’t much dialogue, I tried not to linger on the art.  I’ve gone back through a few times to try and get better glimpses, and while I can tell characters apart and know what’s going on, it doesn’t hold appeal to me.
Another problem I have is that there are times when the dialogue seemed a little forced.  I get that each character has their own personality quirks, but in some cases it was trying to push explicatives that didn’t necessarily have to be there.  One example is when a patient leaves the surgery, the nurse asks the Doctor if he’d seen as many cases of sleep deprivation as all this.  His response: 

My ass.  

I get it, but it came across as a bit too stereotypical for someone who otherwise comes off very intelligently the rest of the book. 
There were also times where they were jumping around so much, it was hard to get a bead as to what was going on.  If we were following Neumann’s perspective we should have done that, if we had another character in that same book, then fine.  There didn’t need that many changes per issue.   
The Overall:  I think if you’ve played the game, this adds a level to what you’ve been up to.  If you haven’t played the game then it starts you off wanting to know more about what happened and why.   Often times when things like this come out, the first reaction is “are they necessary?”   This fills in details that you might not get in game play, which is something that every fan out a storyline wants to get.   Do I recommend the buy.  For fans of video games and this series, absolutely.  I’d even go so far as to say fans of sci-fi horror might get a kick out of this.  It’s definitely got a lot of area to cover and a genesis of story that could go far if nurtured.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to see about getting my hands on the game!

Dead Space, Dead Space: Salvage, and Dead Space: Liberation are all available now from Titan Books!