Comic Review: Tomb Raider Vol. 1&2 (Dark Horse)

If you were to make a list of notable comic book writers off the top of your head, most if not all of them would be men. Not necessarily because […]

If you were to make a list of notable comic book writers off the top of your head, most if not all of them would be men. Not necessarily because skill or even bias, but because of the head-start males have had in the history of the medium. It’s honestly a shame to consider all the remarkable stories that have been wasted by not giving someone who was of a certain gender, creed, color, or background a chance. Regardless, we’ve recently entered an age where though we haven’t yet fixed our prejudices, we admit that they’re a problem, and we see the steps we can take to rectifying it. There is still difficulty for women in most entertainment mediums, whether it be oversexualization, negative stigma’s with gender roles, or even bias associated with culture. This argument can be made for both Gail Simone, and Lara Croft. Despite these difficulties, since the late 90’s, both have been busy adding a positivity to their respective mediums. Simone has written for Video Games, Comics, TV, and even web series in a career that has enjoyed many years of success, taking on titles that no one expected her to take on such as the late 90’s run of Deadpool/Agent X. Lara has had games spanning across all manner of systems for somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years. The most recent of which was a complete reboot of her character for the 2013 game Tomb Raider, which saw a younger, more inexperienced, and modestly proportioned Lara deal with problems and events beyond her ability and experience as she is forced to adapt and learn to be strong, or perish. It’s a compleTomb Raider Vol 1 Panel 1x and shocking study of Lara’s character, but it also plays incredibly fluidly and finally shows the real nit and grit of what Lara has chosen to do with her life. In short, it’s real. So having a real and down to earth writer like Gail Simone stepping in to bring that version of Lara to life in comics makes perfect sense.

Lara has returned from Yamatai along with a collection of new scars, both mental and physical in variety. Since she’s returned, she’s been racked with guilt stemming from the fact that her research was the reason that they found Yamatai in the first place. This guilt has manifested itself in her dreams and seeks to push her over the edge. Are these dreams really her mind tormenting her with culpability, or is something more sinister and deliberate at work? Whatever the case, the age old truth about plot remains. If you’re a detective, mystery will find you. If you’re a warrior, combat will find you. And if you’re a tomb raiding, British, archeologist who deals with myths and legends wrought with supernatural elements…well you get the idea. Lara is well written and has obviously changed since her ordeal on Yamatai. Luckily, Simone keeps this shift from feeling too jarring to be convincing. Lara also remains a consistently strong character throughout the issue. She has a great deal of depth that is revealed through the exposition. Unfortunately, the rest of the cast comes up short in comparison.

Tomb Raider Vol 1 Panel 4It’s not surprising considering that the story is Lara’s.  But the game’s story was her’s as well, and in the game, Lara is isolated and vulnerable. It makes her defiance that much more inspiring. The isolation meant that her actions had to define her character rather than words. Now however, Lara maintains a colorful inner-monologue, dealing with her unusual situation with irreverence and sarcasm. It’s not a bad thing that we’re able to see what Lara is thinking, but it also means we know what she’s going to do before she does it, so a great deal of suspense is lost. As a result, Tomb Raider Vol. 1 reads more like an Ally McBeal script than an adventure story. The tone change keeps the story from matching the pace of the ending of the game, and takes a little bit to get used to the change. But none of this is actually wrong with the story. The writing doesn’t really suffer for it, it’s just shaky for the first couple of pages. In fact, all the things that are actually wrong with Tomb Raider Vol. 1 can be summed up in one word.
Ray.
Tomb Raider Vol 1 Panel 3Ray is a desert guide that takes Lara to find her friend Jonah. He also just happens to be a carrier of the four ee’s. Creepy, skeevy, greedy, and cocky. His character is the anti-Lara. He’s the foil to the positive female heroine, and that is the stereotypical negative male villain. He might as well be chewing tobacco and wearing a shirt that says “Women Can’t Drive.”. Now I’m all for positive portrayals of female characters, but when it’s achieved by reinforcing a negative stigma of male ones it all just seems sort of pointless. Why cry progress and equality when this is what it leads to? I realize that there are people like this in the world, but did one really have to meet up with our strong and independent heroine? It’s just such a heavy handed way to drive the femininity home. Ray is so incredibly vile that he feels like a caricature of all things that feminism says is wrong with men. The irony of course is that the character himself is created by a feminist and is designed to fight a feminist figure. Remember Mickey Rooney from Breakfast at Tiffany’s? That’s prettty much how Ray made me feel. “Good lord, is this how feminists see me?”

Tomb Raider Vol 1 Panel 2Gender issues aside, Tomb Raider Vol 1 starts an interesting adventure story with adequate pacing, but Lara’s running commentary essentially kills any suspense by over explaining practically everything. Any side characters come off as dull and lifeless compared to Lara, but perform the necessary job of getting her from scene to scene. The art looks great in both static and motion, and all the characters are spitting images of their video game counterparts. The action is exciting, though shoehorned in at the last second (First issues. What’re ya gonna do?). All in all, I really enjoyed Tomb Raider and would recommend it earnestly to any fans of the game.

 

 

But if Vol. 1 was the “Huh…” Volume 2 is the “Oh!”

Volume 2 picks up immediately where 1 left off, and seeks to answer any questions that you might have had about 1. And it does so fantastically. After the trailer she is in is swept away by the current, Lara attempts to save Jonah, and herself as well. However an unexpected helping hand ends up pulling her back from the brink. This is where we truly see how the impact of the price Lara has had to pay for her survival has affecteTomb Raider Vol 2 Panel 1d her. It still creates a perfect opportunity for a strong female to have an enemy in a stereotypical southern male, but it feels more natural this time around. The writing gets a boost, despite being very strong in Vol. 1, and we’re really able to see Lara’s families’ roots in the archeology community. Globetrotting is always an important part of having an Tomb Raiding adventure, and it’s easy to see through Vol. 2 how good Lara is at it. She reveals a deep intellect without going overboard, which is a nice change from the “know everything about everything” main character. Lara’s dedication to solving the mystery surrounding the mysterious artifact that Jonah possessed unlocks a new part of the story that ends up not only being compelling, but fitting in very well with the established universe of the game.

The story doesn’t stray too far from the main idea, and when it does it’s only to give us a clue as to what and who the bad guys are, and what they’re planning. It creates just enough suspense for the next scene, and it doesn’t overstay it’s welcome or overexplain it’s purpose. The seriousness of the situation is well conveyed in every page, and Lara manages to let other people have the spotlight for the sake of exposition, which breathes significantly more life and realism in to the world than the last volume did. It’s a truly fun and exciting adventure story, and Lara excels as the Tomb Raider Vol 2 Panel 2reluctant hero, but plays the Pandora just as well. Every one of the characters seems to come alive, just like they did in the game, and Lara’s commentary actually melds in well with the story and doesn’t come off as distracting.

It’s fantastically realized, with a compelling draw that urges readers to continue to discover the mythology behind all the suspense. This is turning out to be one of the best comic book adaptations of a video game that I have ever read. Simone’s love for the characters is apparent, and Nicolás Daniel Selma’s art and scene composition work well in both static and action scenes. There are only 10 more volumes left in the series, and they should be just enough to whet your appetite while you’re waiting for the new Tomb Raider game, which Simone has previously stated could find a direct line from her miniseries. If that’s the case, I’m even more interested to see what else Ms. Simone and her team have in store for Ms. Croft.

-PS

 

 

 

 

Links

http://www.darkhorse.com/Comics/22-838/Tomb-Raider-1

http://www.darkhorse.com/Comics/22-839/Tomb-Raider-2

http://www.tombraider.com/us/base/agegate?refer=184&

 

 

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