Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Dead Space (#1-6, Dead Space Extraction)

"I just find it incredible that a bunch of blue-collars like this can get so swept up over a rock" - Bram Neuman

Time for the videogame game tie-in of the month, this time it's the prequel comic to the superb action-horror Xbox 360/PS3 game Dead Space.  In fact this is actually a prequel to the prequel anime-style cartoon "Dead Space: Downfall", both of which roundout the somewhat sparse storyline of the still excellent original game.  That game saw you as a space engineer called Isaac Clarke, whose ship is damaged after it receives a distress call from the "Planet Cracker" mining ship the Ishimura. He is sent aboard to repair the Ishimura and get it moving again while both investigating the disappearence of the Ishimura's crew (and the colony on the planet below) and simultaneously fending off mutated, alien zombie creatures.  It turns out those alien zombie creatures are the crew, resurrected and deformed by an alien artefact called "The Red Marker."  This Marker is also the focus of a particularly zealous religion called Unitology who worship it as a means of bringing them together in peaceful coexistence, while it actually causes madness and death to those close by, and finally brings those dead back to life as homicidal "necromorphs".  The prequel anime and the short comic "Extraction" at the end of this collection deal with the necromorph outbreak on board the Ishimura, the game that told that story - Dead Space: Extraction on the Wii - didn't sell very well, so it was obviously felt that the story would be fresh to the majority of Dead Space fans who didn't own a Wii (ie: most of them). The main part of this comic deals with the outbreak on the planet after the Marker was unearthed so lets deal with it first.

DEAD SPACE - Before the story starts we are given text introductions to the various characters.  Normally I'd come down quite hard on this as characters should be revealed through the story.  But in the case of a prequel, I'll let them off.  We know these characters are boned right from the start, the real purpose of this comic is to fill in the backstory of the Markers and Unitology that cause Isaac so much grief in the three main games.  The characters in the comic are merely plot functions at this point, it even opens with a  page of the main character, Bram, saying everyone's dead or fucked or both before events spool back to what caused all the havoc.  So a bit of extra detail on the characters is unneccesary but I'll accept it as adding more lore to the games's universe.
Bram, the main character tells it like it is.
Also a quick note on the art by Ben Templesmith.  I have to say that I like it a lot, it's nicely styalised and paced and does a lot of the heavy lifting in a story by Anthony Johnson that's somewhat weakly scripted.  Yes it is very brown and grey, but that's being true to the game in question which is without doubt the second brownest game I have ever played (Morrowind on the Xbox being the most brown). I also like the uses of limited palettes and faded colour washes over thin ink lines, it's a good look.  So thumbs up for the art.

Now introducing the characters, we have: Hardboiled ex-cop and head of colony security, Bram. Cortez, security officer and Unitologist. Control Op Marla, who has a casual relationship with Bram. Natalia, engineer. Abbot, head of the Vehicular Transport and Mechanical division of CEC, and Unitologist. Sciarello, Chief Medical Officer. And Carthusia, Project Manager and Head of the colony, also a Unitologist.

The story begins with Bram recording a message to try and warn people away from the colony. Saying that is the listener is planetside they are already dead and should just order the place nuked for the sake of humanity.  Then we travel back to five weeks ago.  We join Bram asking Marla out on a date which she refuses due to her workload.  Suddenly on her vidscreen appears a strange, twisted black artefact with red markings on it.  The people excavating outside have found a Marker, the mythical centre of the Unitologist's beliefs.
The Red Marker, source of the shenanigans
When questioned as to why it is red rather than black, Cortez who is a believer, says that there might be more than one type of Marker and more might be known if the original hadn't been stolen from a man called Altman who founded the religion around the Black Marker two hundred years ago. Bram, who lost his wife to the Unitology cult can't believe Cortez, his partner, is a "Marker-head".  There is an argument in the mess hall between Unitologists and non-believers that he breaks up.

Time moves on. CMO Sciarello is starting to get cases of extreme insomnia, twenty in the past three days. Ever since the Marker was found.  In the colony main square Abbot is preaching the word of Unitology to a crowd. Saying the discovery of the Marker proves the church was right.  When Bram responds mockingly, Cortez says "Damn it, this is my faith!".  Abbot then mocks Bram in return for dissension in the ranks.  Bram responds:

Bram: "There is no godamn Marker! Sure that thing out there is some weird shit.  Maybe it isn't even human!  But in case you haven't already noticed, we already conquered heaven, and guess what?  God wasn't home!"

Bram throws up his hands and leaves when Abbot says his God is in evidence.  Out at the Marker site the workers say Carthusia has ordered a tramline be built between the Marker and the colony.  Later Bram and Cortez are called to an emergency at the surgery.  Sciarello is being held hostage by one of the insomniacs, who has cut his nurse in half.  Bram and COrtez manage to subdue him.
Doctor Sciarello, taken hostage.
Carthusia is told by a mysterious man over sub-space communications that his top priority is to protect the Marker at all costs.  Carthusia who is "vested" in the Unitology religion agrees.  Later Abbot and a team take an unsceduled trip to the Marker.  Standing in awe, they all suddenly have visions of dead people talking to them.

We jump forward to Sciarello holding a wake for the dead nurse, Katie. As he tells the assembled how Katie saved his life by calling security, he sees a vision of her in the crowd and stumbles away from the podium.  Bram goes to pick up Cortez, but she decides to take a sick day as she is suffering insomnia.

In his office Carthusia dresses Abbot down for going to the Marker.  Then he is visited by Sciarello who tells him the incidents of depression and insomnia are getting out of control. He wants them investigated and the Marker as well.  Carthusia says it's just stir crazy colonists and as Sciarello leaves, enquires if the have a morgue.  When he is told they do, he says "interesting".
The sinister Carthusia.
By the Marker, Natalia and others have been told to stand guard. Others show up to worship with Abbot nearby.  Bram and Sciarello drive out to the Marker where Bram finds Cortez with the pilgrims.  He blows up at her saying she is risking her job, she says "some things in life are just too important".  Bram tries to drag her away for a psyche eval, but the others stop him.  Bram and Sciarello leave.  Sciarello, who was scanning the Marker says he has found nothing out of the ordinary about it, much to Bram's disbelief.

Carthusia gets a message letting him know about the doctor's trip.  The person reporting this says there have been outbursts of aggression amongst the guards and pilgrims alike.  Bram goes to see Marla, who is examining video footage of the Marker, she thinks the symbols are a code or language.  When Bram says that the Unitology church has been trying to decode the Black Marker for centuries, Marla says maybe a "fresh perspective" might help.
Bram and Marla.
Carthusia sends another security team to take over guarding the Marker because he believes the guards there leaked the video footage of it.  But when they try to take over Natalia shoots one of them.  The others manage to talk her down, and she gets a punch in the face for her troubles.  Bram appeals to Carthusia to leave the Marker alone now people are dying. Carthusia brushes them off saying in four days time it will be transported up to the Ishimura.

Bram and Sciarello leave.  Bram is bewildered by the effect the Marker is having.  Sciarello says he is a sceptic and an atheist but if he was a spiritual man, he'd be praying about now.  Then he goes to see Natalia who has been confined to a cell.  She says she dreams of killing all the time and attacks Sciarello and tries to choke him to death but security rush in and knock her out.

At the main square all the Unitologists have gathered to hear Abbot preach.  He says it's time to ascend and become one with their God.  Bram tries to pull Cortez away but she says "you can't escape your fate" and they all take out a gun each and kill themselves, all fifty of them.  Carthusia tells this to his church superior who appears to be the Captain of the Ishimura.  He says he wants the corpses kept well on ice.
Cortez goes out with a bang.
Bram is now down in one of the colony vents, a worker shows him a strange sort of fleshy growth coming out of one of the grills.  When Bram pokes it, it reacts as if alive.  Elsewhere the Marker has been bought into the main colony base.  Carthusia goes to inspect it:

Carthusia: "Is it true?  Do you hold the key to life... and the journey beyond death?"

Sciarello is called to an apartment.  The husband of the woman who called him has been scrawling words and symbols all over the walls.  He then attacks the doctor but his wife knocks him out with a hypodermic Sciarello dropped.  Bram visits Marla who is still trying to decode the Marker.  Bram says the Marker is "evil".  Marla says it could be evidence of alien life.  She accuses him of getting emotional:

Bram: "People are dying Marla.  I can't think of a reason not to get emotional."

Bram pleads with Carthusia to stop the planetcrack, but Carthusia says he is no longer in charge of the colony, the captain of the Ishimura is.  The Marker is taken up to the Ishimura but it's baleful effects still can be felt on the colony.  Sciarello and Bram go and visit Natalia who has started scrawling words and symbols all over her cell walls.  Bram gets a call from the supervisor who alerted him to the flesh fungus in the vents, it's spread out all over the colony underbelly.
A futile plea from Bram to Carthusia
The Captain of the Ishimura talks with Carthusia who is to send the bodies of the suicides up to the ship.  But he refuses to allow Carthusia to come up as well and intends to place a no fly zone over the colony.  So Carthusia angrily says he'll have to come down and get the bodies himself.  Bram takes Marla to see Natalia, ostensibly to try and warn Marla from being so obssessed with the Marker.  Then he shows Carthusia footage of the flesh fungus and says they need to abort the planetcrack and evacuate.  But Carthusia ignores him.

Marla thanks Bram for taking her to visit Natalia, she's close to cracking the Marker code and it has something to do with DNA.  Bram departs in annoyance.  The planetcrack takes place and the Ishimura blasts a huge hole in the planets crust where it can be mined from.  But something goes wrong.  All the colony's power goes off and the communications go down.
The planetcrack in progress.
Down in the vents the supervisor is attacked by something unseen that turns him into red mist.  Bram manages to find Marla, she says she found something out about the Marker, but Bram hurries her along saying they need to get to HQ.  Unfortunately once there they find everyone dead and the vent flesh in evidence.  Marla tells Bram she discovered the Marker was instructions for DNA:

Marla: "Recombinant. A DNA that mutates genes at a cellular level, like a cancer or virus.  But soon it spreads through through a specific target vector...Necrotic flesh Bram!  It infects dead bodies!"

And after this revelation, Carthusian is horribly murdered by a now revealed necromorph, while praying to Altman.
A Necromorph takes out Carthusia
Back with Bram and Marla, something bursts out of one of the bodies and goes to infect the others.  Bram shoots it while they receieve a crackly distress call from another part of the base.  We get a glimpse of what's going one there, they are all being massacred by necromorphs.  Bram tries shooting the necromorph that has formed but it's immune to bullets (in the game necromorphs are like the Black Knight in Monty Python And The Holy Grail, you have to use cutting tools to de-limb them until they can't hop after you.  Even the standard zombie fighting tactic of shooting the head off won't work). They squish it behind a desk, but it breaks in half and keeps coming after them.  Bram smashes its head in with a fireaxe.  They decide to make for the shuttles despite there being a no-fly zone.

Sciarello heads for the med-lab, he wants to be there for the injured.  But when he gets there he finds it empty, bar the necromorphs on the ceiling and he dies courtesy of a spike to the forehead.  There is a crowd of people trying to get on the shuttles.  Meanwhile Natalia has escaped her cell and his making her own way elsewhere.

Bram and Marla pick up a group of people heading for the shuttles.  Their way is blocked by a roomful of dead and a necromorph maker.  Bram says if they are quick they can make their way through, but end up confronted by a necromorph.  Theyy flee with Bram smashing necromorphs out of the way with his axe.  They make it through the door and Bram fires into some canisters behind him that blow the persuing necromorphs up.
Bram gets handy with a fire axe
Bram and Marla are now in the shuttle bay, one of the shuttles has manages to take off but it is overloaded.  It ends up falling out of the sky and crashing into the shuttles on the ground destroying them all.  Marla says that they might be able to contact the Ishimura for help via the comms tower.  Bram is dubious that it'll work but Marla says she doesn't want to "sit on my ass and wait to die."  Meanwhile Natalia has driven out to the planetcracked hole in the ground and dives in saying "make me whole."

Bram and Marla get to the comms tower and find the whole place covered in the flesh fungus.  Some of the stuff has human faces embedded in it, one of which Bram recognises as Cortez.  Then more necromorphs appear and chase them.  Bram gets to a safe room, but Marla is grabbed and killed. 
And so it ends, all of them dead or tranformed.
Shut in the room, Bram is left alone and despairing.  We then join him where we started the book, finishing up his tale of what happened as a warning to others.  Then he walks out of the room to his certain death and the story ends with a male and female face stuck in the wall-flesh.  Marla and Bram? It may very well be.  And so it ends.

DEAD SPACE: EXTRACTION:  This is just a short comic recapping what happened on the Ishimura for those who either didn't play the Wii Dead Space game nor watched Dead Space: Downfall. It stars the Nicole, the girlfriend of the game's protagonist Isaac Clarke who makes a cameo at the start saying goodbye to her as she takes up her post of Chief Medical Officer aboard the Ishimura as it heads to the benighted colony to "planetcrack" it. 
Nicole, Isaac's erstwhile girlfriend.
Unfortunately when they get there taking the Marker aboard has the same effects as it did on the colony, people fall ill, there is an outbreak of suicides and murder and finally necromorphs are created.  She valiantly tries to combat them by thinking she has cracked the Marker code and can reverse engineer a viral cure.  But she may have hallucinated it as she quickly gives up and records her final message to Isaac which we see in full at the end of the first Dead Space game when (SPOILERS) she turns out to have died along with everyone else aboard.

So overall as videogame tie-in's go, this is one of the better ones.  The Dead Space universe is yet another transmedia one, and I think that this hopefully might save the videogame side of the franchise after Dead Space 3 flopped critically and commercially (Dead Space 2 is one of the greatest games ever made, Dead Space 3 took me four attempts to finish and I swear I spent more time opening doors than fighting monsters in it) in spectacular fashion.  This comic builds tension nicely, so even though you know what's coming the comic still finds time to explain the reasons why and fill in the history of the Unitology cult and how the Markers are linked to the necromorphs.  The art makes good use of colour to convey mood, and the more cartoony nature of the figure drawing isn't something I would have expected but I also welcome it and it's got me curious about seeking out more stuff by Ben Templesmith. I can't imagine anyone not already versed in the Dead Space games would pick this up, but it does actually make a pretty good, self contained sci-fi "zombie" horror story.  But if you are into the Dead Space games, have watched the cartoon, read the books and worn the T-shirt, this is well worth a look.


  1. dead space 1 and 2 re awesome. dead space 3 sucked donkey balls. I hope there will be a dead space 4 though, chopping limbs off necromorphs is too much fun! this comic looks cool, and had information about the game background story i didnt know. cool.

  2. I too hope for a Dead Space 4, if only too find out how much more misery poor Isaac can be put through. Actually the thing that annoyed me most about Dead Space 3 wasn't just the number of freaking doors, but the enforcement of co-op especially when it locked you out of several achievements playing alone. As a score-whore that wound me up >:(

  3. This reminds me of that bit in Only You Can Save Mankind where Sir Terry Pratchett points out that there are two types of space stories: the shiny, happy, optimistic Star Trek ones ("amazing stuff is out there!"), and the grisly, horrific Alien ones ("gut-wrenching horrors are not only out there but in here with us!!!"). I suppose that the trick is realising which type of story you're in.

    In real life it's more like, "Some pretty cool stuff is out there, but it'll take our probes nine years to reach it, and most of the stuff out there is actually kinda boring!" But that's okay, because it makes the cool stuff seem even cooler by comparison.

    Just once I'd like a story where someone finds a Mysterious Extraterrestrial Artefact. The artefact is obviously evil, because it is black, and spiky, and forty-one feet tall, and covered in spiky glowing green runes, and decorated with alien skulls, and called something like "The Hagraga'ath of Askza'adadz." And it smells of sulphur. But thanks to human cultural norms not actually reflecting any underlying reality the artefact turns out to be lovely and benevolent, and it gives everyone magical healing abilities and a free pony.

  4. You know Lucy there has actually been a sci-fi story of which you speak. It was one of the EU Star Trek: TNG books. THe Enterprise gets dragged to this artefact floating in space, which is so WRONG that people can't even look at it without feeling nauseous. When they beam aboard to try and figure out how to free themselves, they are immediately almost driven mad by the sights, sounds and smells. It horrifying to them.

    However, Geordi, the dude with the thing over his eyes says that his enhanced visions makes the thing look "beautiful". And they finally figure it out, the thing is a floating art gallery, but made by aliens so well alien that what was beautiful to them bought madness to everyone else. Even being dragged their was an accident, it was just how the aliens were publiscising the gallery. They don't destroy it in the end, they reprogram Data to go aboard and free them, then have him work alongside the Federations ethno-archeologists to find out more about it.

    Anyway, for a tie-in book it's really good, one of my favourites of any EU fic I have read.

  5. We need more works of fiction like that.

  6. Definitely. Actually in a weird way the Marker in this series does bring the people it necromorphs together after death, it combines them into moons. This is probably going to end up being a bad thing but we'll only find out in Dead Space 4 if that ever happens...