Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Borderlands: Origins

"Pandora is what you make of it" - Marcus

Yes, it's videogame spin-off comic time again folks.  I'll be doing one of these a month ladies and gentlemen and there's nothing you can do to stop me. It's a brief one this week so bear with me.  Anyway it seems fitting to cover this tie-in to the Borderlands game franchise now, as I am madly playing the hell out of Borderlands 2 again (I will complete all the challenges dammit!), mopping up the DLC Achievements of the first game,  and eagerly counting the days before the "Pre-Sequel" is released.  The first Borderlands game was released in 2009, it is a first person shooter with three notable differences from the usual FPS fare.  First of all it has a role playing game type progression where killing enemies nets you experience and you level up.  Next it has randomised loot instead of set weaponry so every gun is unique.  Finally instead of realistic graphics it has a very striking "cel shaded" style which means it actually looks like a 3D comic book in action.  There was also much black humour in the storyline which was really dialled up to hilarious levels for the sequel.  The story behind the game is fairly simple.  On a crapsack world called Pandora, which is infested with bandits, mutants and monsters there is a mythical Vault, supposedly full of treasure.  You pick one of four characters, Roland, Lilith, Mordecai or Brick all of whom play differently and follow the trail to the Vault, getting stronger and finding better guns along the way (and the Vault?  Turns out to be full of "tentacles and disappointment", oh well, at least the journey to it is fun). 

The actual Vault Hunters you play as don't get any characterisation until the sequel which sees them return as main, non-playable characters in the plot while you play one of four new characters.  It fell to this comic released just before the sequel to fill in some of the backstory of the four original Vault Hunters.  Although chronologically these stories take place just before the first game in the series, the information and backstory provided becomes far more relevant and important to understanding them and their motivations in Borderlands 2.  With that said, let's crack on.
A promotional screenshot from the game showing the comicbook style graphics.  From left to right: Roland, Lilith, Mordecai and Brick.
First up is Roland.  As a playable character he is a good all-rounder, who can summon a turret to add aditional fire and healing, making him good for beginners to use. All we know about him in the first game is that he has gone AWOL from the Crimson Lance army, a gang of elite mooks you fight against towards the end of the game.  In Borderlands 2 he's depicted as an out-and-out hero, one of the only truly good people on Pandora as he leads the resistence against that games Big Bad.  His passing during the second game is treated with incredible seriousness and affects all the NPC's in the game as well as being a "fuck NO!" moment for the player the first time you play through the game yourself. I'd always been curious about what events would have had to have transpired for Roland to go on the run like he did and this comic explains it all.

Roland's story begins with him reading a classified Atlas Corp memo, the big bads behind the events of the first game.  We then cut to Roland and the men under his command goofing off as they await their next assignment.  Talk turns to Roland's badassery:

Scraps: "C'mon Rollie.  I know you subdued one town's entire uprising with a taco.  A taco!"

Turns out it was just the wrapper! Scraps asks Roland to marry him jokingly, Roland says he is married to his job.  Then their superior, Higgins shows up wanting to know why Roland took the private file.  Roland denies all knowledge.  While they talk Rolands men contemplate his recent, strange behaviour - "it's like he don't want to be in the Lance no more".
The betrayal
Higgins sends Roland and his men out on a pest control mission where they are attacked by giant, mutant rhino like creatures which they take out easily.  Then Higgins appears and guns down one of them.

Roland: "He had a file on all of us. He's been siphoning money from Atlas for years.  It was going to get pinned on us and get us killed."

Higgins says he'll just have to kill them now and he and his men kill everyone but Roland.  Higgins wants him to live knowing these deaths were his fault.  Roland swears revenge no matter how long it takes and the final shot of the comic is him boarding the bus you see him on at the start of the first game.

Lilith is next.  She is a Siren, one of only six who can exist in the Universe at the same time.  This becomes more important in the sequel which revolves around Siren powers, but for now it means that she has functional "magic" powers.  In this instant she can phase in and out of reality allowing for tactical mastery of the battle area.  Probably the hardest character to use in the game but the most effective once mastered.

Her story starts with her in the present, leaning on the bus waiting for it to go.  She has a flashback to when she was a kid and her dad was dying.

Lilith's Dad: "Promise me you -KAFF- promise me Lily, that you'll see the universe.  You will see me among the stars Lily."

And he dies. Then a mysterious old woman shows up, who has the same arm tattoo's as Lilith (which signify Siren-hood).  She says Lilith will find other Siren's, both bad and good, obliquely referring to one of the baddies behind events of the first game, and Maya the playable Siren of the sequel.  She tells Lilith:

Old Woman: "We Siren have no code.  We've only our song.  It is yours to sing now."
Lilith tells it like it is.
And she falls down dead as well.  We cut back to Lilith in the present.  It seems along the way as she grew up she accrued a bounty as a bounty hunter appears behind her with a gun as does the bartender in front of her.  She phases out of existence as they both fire and kill each other, then she phases back and gets onto the bus which has Roland already on it.  She kisses him.

Roland: "What was that for?"

Lilith: "I got out and saw the galaxy, but I never - alright never kissed a boy, okay?"

This becomes funny in retrospect when you factor in that the pair of them have a tempestous on-off relationship during the gap between the two games. Lilith's portion of the book then ends with the two of them sitting in an awkward silence waiting for the next passenger.

Who happens to be Mordecai, the Hunter.  He is a master of long range weaponry and has a birdlike creature called Bloodwing who helps him out by attacking enemies with him.  When I  played Borderlands he was the character I chose to use first because he looks damn cool.  His portion of the comic begins with him already on Pandora, badly wounded.  He has passed out when a woman appears and helps him up.  She sees his wounds and wants to know who did this too him.  We then get a flashback to Mordecai fighting a gang of bandits. He manages to kill some of them and get away but not before taking afew hits himself.
Mordecai in action.
The woman helps him along, and they bump into Marcus fixing his bus.  He wants to know if Mordecai will be joining him.  Mordecai demurs.

Marcus: "This worlds needs people hungry for adventure"

Mordecai: "I'm just a guy with a bird"

Marcus: "We need those too."

He gives Mordecai his card anyway and Mordecai and the woman travel onwards.  She then leads him into a trap with the bandits he was fighting before. Seems both she and Mordecai have bounties on their heads, but Mordecai's is ten times hers and she thought she could do a deal by handing him over and getting them off her back.  Mordecai responds by cutting her hand off and Bloodwing appears.  He says to the bandits that if they take her, he won't fight them and no one has to get killed.  They agree to his terms and this section ends with Mordecai taking out and contemplating Marcus's business card.

The final member of the gang is the mysterious bruiser, Brick.  In game he is the Beserker, with the amusing ability to charge screaming at enemies punching the shit out of them.  His story begins with him climbing aboard the bus, with Roland, Lilith and Mordecai already aboard.  Roland asks him what his story is, but Brick remains silent.  Mordecai asks him if he has a name, he shows them a brick.  Then he flashes back to his younger self, "another planet, another time".

He was a member of a bandit gang who attacked towns and raided their valuables, but this time the gang leader decides to take all the towns children hostage and ransom them.  That night Brick comes to the realisation that this is wrong and goes and beats down the gang leaders.  Then he frees the children and takes them back to their parents.  A small child runs up to him with a puppy called Priscilla and gives it to him and this final part of the comic ends with Brick touching a paw on a chain round his neck.
Brick does the right thing.
It's interesting to see Brick portrayed so dourly here.  Between games he gets a lot chattier, turning into quite the deadpan snarker in Borderlands 2.  He also seems to have bad luck with his puppies.  He gets another one in the gap between games, but it gets killed by one of the villians of Borderlands 2.

This is not a comic aimed at the casual reader.  It's entirely bound-up with the gaming universe and unlike the early Gears Of War expanded universe stuff, it feels like there has been much tighter editorial control from the game studio, making sure nothing contradicts information imparted as part of the in-game canon. It would have been nice to have the stories shot through with the same black humour that makes the games so awesome, but I appreciate they had a specific job to do providing backstory,  and did it just fine. Pandora and it's inhabitants have formed a rich and interesting history in just two games and I am surprised there hasn't been more EU material based on it.  Apart from this comic, and a comic still to come and a novel, there hasn't been anything else.  Which is a pity because the dark humour that threads it's way through the Borderlands world makes for far interesting potential stories than the more po-faced universes of Halo or Mass Effect to pick two at random.  Anyway, this comic is nicely drawn and the backstory for our four intrepid Vault Hunters is interesting and enlightening.  It's not amazing, but it does the what it was supposed to do well and has me looking forward to the next comic based on the game - The Fall Of Fyrestone.


  1. borderlands is so good I cant wait for the next game!! cool comic..

  2. I will be getting the next game for my birthday, roll on November!