By Luke Abbott
Tomb Raider is back, with a brand new story. The series is on shaky ground right now, not winning over any new fans, but partially annoying the current Tomb Raider crowd. A new story could be just the ticket to make Gail Simone’s series feel more best-selling.
While trekking through Snowdon, commemorating a touching childhood moment she had with Roth, Lara is struck with a vision. The vision includes her dead friend, Alex, begging her to save his sister who is in peril from something. Lara makes a few phone calls and discovers that his sister is currently in the Ukraine. Her search leads her to Chernobyl, where it becomes clear she is stumbling upon something big, especially when strange Americans start asking questions about her all over the globe. It is a hit and miss start to the story, touching upon a couple of my pet story-telling peeves. One is the whole adventure kicking off, because of a vision. It is probably meant to tie in with the new Rise of the Tomb Raider trailer, where she visits a psychiatrist, but I felt the scene was too heavy-handed and convenient. I wasn’t sold. Also, we are still mentioning Yamatai and reintroducing us to the game’s characters every few moments. On the bright side, it does seem like Simone is trying to write them off, with Lara making the decision to go out on her own, rather than risking her friends. Yes, this issue has some big problems, but I am going to call this first issue syndrome and hope that its job was to rush through the necessary exposition and set up a good five issues of action.
My opinion of Dark Horse’s Tomb Raider is a weird one. I like it. I really do. It always seems to go off in the wrong direction (Yamatai as a plot point, needless flashbacks), but the core design (pun for the true fans), of this comic always shows promise. The dialogue is sharp, the action is crisp and Simone always finds time for Lara to be Lara (e.g.: the wolves!). There is the sense that this is the Tomb Raider comic we want, but we are just reading a rare, weak story. This is why the next few issues will be very important for the readers: was Gail Simone’s first story merely setting up the real comics she wants to write, or is this a series we could be better off dropping from our monthly costs?
Quote of the Issue:
American Detective: Why don’t you make me one of those delicious wheatgrass teas, pour it in the garbage and bring me a beer?
By Luke Abbott
Observation #1: Why is there a Viking on the cover? There isn’t as much as a Norse reference in this issue, let alone a bad-ass punch-up with one.
Observation #2: What a finale! I will be the first to admit that it could have been better. Matsu’s daughters have been bigged up for quite some time, yet they never really come into play, other than some creepy frames. Mathias feels like a cash-in to the old game. The fight is good, but not as climatic as I would have liked it. However, it could also have been a lot worse, which is my overall opinion of the first season of Gail Simone’s Tomb Raider series. It did the job well, tying up the story satisfyingly (although my Solarii plot hole question from the last review still stands), providing some decent set-pieces and some glorious explosions captured once again by Nicolas Daniel Selma’s art. Matsu was a fun villain and while he slipped into more stereotypical trademarks, he still made an impact. Without a strong villain, series like this often feel adrift, so it was good that he was well-written until the end.
My favourite thing here is the twist at the end. It suffered slightly at the fact that this adventure only had six issues to tell its story. I would have liked it to have been slyly weaved in throughout the previous installments, but it definitely brightened up proceedings. Just when the finale seems to drift into the predictable with Lara’s friends coming in at the last minute and the cult’s plan being fully revealed, the twist added to the spark. Gail Simone is aware of this trick too, because this is one of the few points where the series isn’t rushing through material. The dialogue is really sharp too, highlighting Simone’s strongest point as a writer. In fact, the dialogue has always been the best thing about this entire collection of comics. There will be several Tomb Raider quotes joining the canon here.
So where next? Another story (I assume a six-part one), is about to hit us and I hope it only improves on the first. I want to move away from Yamatai, move away from this specific group of friends (Will the game be using them? Can we kill one of them off?), and focus on Lara’s development into the character we know her as from the original games. This is a welcome comic for me to review, but it has a long way to come before it hits the expectations of Tomb Raider fans everywhere.
Quote of the Issue:
Lara: They forgot that they might not be the only monsters in the room.
By Luke Abbott
As the first storyline in Gail Simone’s Lara Croft series draws to a finale, this penultimate issue lines up all of the pieces. Matsu’s plot is fully uncovered, a new player is introduced to the story and hopefully all that is left to do is give us a pulse-pounding conclusion next time around. Sure, this issue feels like the setting up of an episode, rather than an episode by itself, but hopefully the sixth issue will make this pay off.
Therefore, maybe now is the time to raise a criticism I have had brewing in the back of my mind, since Matsu was first introduced to the story. I don’t quite understand Matsu’s scheme and if I do, then I don’t think it is a very strong one. Matsu reveals that he doesn’t worship Himiko as much as he worships the Solarii. This is confirmed at the reveal of a major twist early on in the issue. However, am I right in thinking that the Solarii were just a cult made up by Mathias on the spot, when he gathered a few survivors on Yamatai? How can these new bad guys know about them, let alone summon up the faith to worship them like Gods? Even if there is an explanation out there that explains why the Solarii are suddenly worth all of this attention, the main story thread still clings too tightly to the 2013 Tomb Raider game. There is a lack of originality to this story. This is a shame, because Matsu is a fairly good villain, sophisticated and brutal in all the right ways. However, this issue confirms my worst suspicion; he is a puppet rather than a bad guy in his own right. I am sure Matsu will still impress me in the finale, but my respect for the character has diminished somewhat.
As a matter of fact, this issue spends too long in the past. Most of the set-pieces involve Lara reminiscing about the game, rather than taking on this new adventure. The Endurance makes a comeback and there is a vision with Alex’s corpse that serves to remind us of the old game. I didn’t need that; I would much rather have a prolonged action sequence, which was actually really entertaining and this series’ strong point. Staying with the Yamatai storyline has its merits from a writing perspective; there is little exposition to get through, because Lara Croft fans are already familiar with the background of Yamatai. We could get to the good stuff a lot quicker with this story. However, I really wanted a bit more originality from this series that I haven’t quite got yet. I will admit that Yamatai does give Nicolas Daniel Selma so great set-pieces to draw. Lara jumping around familiar scenes from Yamatai is awe-inspiring. The cover is also astonishingly beautiful. As ever, Tomb Raider’s art is bang-on-the-nose every time.
And now we turn to the final issue to make our final decision on whether this series is a hit or miss. I am genuinely excited. There is still a mysterious fourth guardian to reveal although from the way the product placement is slowly losing its subtlety, I am assuming it will be a giant box of Jaffa cakes.
Quote of the Issue:
Lara: “Lara Croft, someday you are going to have to look in a mirror and ask yourself “How did a British schoolgirl get to be so good at killing?!”
By Luke Abbott
This series is a very divisive one. People everywhere say that it is Gail Simone at her weakest, her dialogue and charm being sentenced to endless exposition. Fans of Tomb Raider are less than impressed with the depiction of their favourite gaming heroine. However, while I can agree with certain discrepancies with the plot (how can the villains be worshippers of the Solarii, a cult made up on the spot by a marooned Mathias in the game?), this is turning out be a fantastic series, with this issue thrilling in all the right ways.
In many ways, it is clambering through story, a much slower episode after the frantic dash through the streets of Dublin. One complaint is that the cover, with Lara clinging to a London bus, fleeing from enemies, is totally irrelevant to the actual content. All of the characters that have been scattered across the issues reunite and all of the little plot points are tied up, so we can focus on a focused rush to the season’s finale. We are back on board a ship and sailing for Yamatai. The issue begins to lose its way a little, as we are caught in dream sequences and the same, old ‘Why are we going back here?’ routine. However, then things get explosive very fast.
The best thing about the action here is that is so open-ended. We see it through Lara’s perspective, so we have no idea what happened to each of the supporting cast. I am sure none of these characters will get killed off-frame (I partially want Simone to have the gall to try it though, fans be damned!), but it makes proceedings very exciting. Lara also has some pretty bad-ass moments. A friend is shot through the heart with a harpoon, so she pulls it out of his chest and begins using it as a weapon against the bad guys. This is the kind of stuff I want to see Lara doing each issue. I also liked that this issue could have ended at any given moment. There would be a gripping action set-piece, a fantastic frame to end on and… you turn the page to find out there’s more. I loved that, as it made the issue feel more full throttle. A slow start to the fourth Tomb Raider, but when it hits the accelerator, you almost get thrown off the ride.
And that last frame. Lara, back in action, ready to take on the bad guys! Fantastic stuff.
Quote of the week:
Jonah: I am checking out immediately… and if it’s not too much trouble, could I possibly get some pants?
By Luke Abbot
It’s still early days with this new Tomb Raider franchise for Gail Simone, so these opening issues still hover over the dark chasm of make-or-break territory. While I loved the opening comic for this new series, others complained that it was exposition heavy and left both Lara’s and Simone’s charisma at home. If you are in that camp of thinking, then this might be a much more satisfactory issue. We have action, character-development and some stunning artwork from Nicholas Daniel Selma.
After the horrors of Devil’s Rest, Lara heads off to Dublin, in order to ask an old colleague what the hell is going on. While reading this issue, I began to fear that Tomb Raider wasn’t about to escape the obvious flaw with this comic series: there is an awful lack of tombs. Thankfully, the story never seems held back by that aspect, as Selma makes use of the locations he has and the setting of a library in Ireland seems a fitting place for the narrative to take place in. The opening action sequence, as Lara struggles to survive in the harsh currents of a flooded canyon was beautifully sinister and no one was quite sure how the situation was going to turn out. I must also applaud Simone for a neat bit of misdirection with last issue’s shock ending.
The best thing about this issue though is the introduction to a handful of interesting villains. I am unsure how much longevity these new faces have to the show. I hope that Matsu has some life in him yet. There is something so fun about watching his character calmly explain his terms in an Irish pub, directly provoking the rage of Ms Croft. The best moment in this issue was easily Matsu breaking away from his bad guy monologue, to help himself to Lara’s Guinness. It was a wonderful piece of writing that added a bit of depth for what could have been your one-dimensional bad guy. On top of that, we have mysterious organisations (kept in the shadows for now), and the reveal of one of the Guardians. That ending, coupled with a horrible (in a nice way) cliff-hanger, the wait for issue #3 couldn’t be described as anything less than punishing.
Quote of the Issue: Professor Cahalane: (after reading an ancient prophecy from one of two artefacts and already getting the reader on edge, he calmly follows that up with…) Now, this piece… this is the really dangerous one.
By Luke Abbot
*As this is a follow-on from the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, expect major spoilers from the game.
Approaching Gail Simone’s Tomb Raider comic book companion to the award-winning game was a little like putting a toe into a warm bath. I was apprehensive, unsure if Lara Croft could survive the leap from a game that was still rubbing up fans the wrong way with such a thorough reboot of the character, and into the pages of a comic. However, as Lara always does, she made the jump not only safely, but with the finesse of a trained gymnast.
Despite being a first issue, we are thrown into the action right from the off. We find Lara, still in the dreaded island of Yamatai, running from the Solarii. She clambers across wreckages, trying to stay ahead of the constant barrage of bullets and arrows that gamers are only too familiar with. Glorious frames recreate the speed and tension that the game conveyed. We feel every blow and connection. However, there is something not quite right. As Lara struggles to stay alive, she crashes with the ghostly images of her dead friends, Roth, Grimm, Alex… This is not Yamatai after all, but a ghostly dream. Investigation follows and it turns out that she is not the only one experiencing these visions. It is everyone that made it off of Yamatai. After that quick dream sequence and a catch-up with a worn-out Sam (thankfully not as annoying, as we remember her from the game), we are thrown into the Deep South of America, hopefully the first of many colourful locations the series will throw at us. We are united with Jonah, who speaks about spirits that have followed them from Yamatai, intent on claiming them once and for all. It appears that the group are on borrowed time, an idea evidenced by a natural disaster materialising out of nowhere.
One of the most impressive things about the first issue was the artwork. Lara looks like the Lara from the game. It is an impressive likeness. Sure, there is a comic book style to the character, but we can still see the trademark facial features from the reboot version of Lara Croft. Artwork in modern comics is tricky to get right, as we often associate the comic book characters with a specific actor (Star Trek, Serenity), so the artists have to draw them realistically, yet still keep that comic book style that we buy comics to see. Nicolas Daniel Selma achieves this remarkably well. When a new character appears in the panels, we know who they are instantly, which trims the amount of exposition needed dramatically. It also makes the set-pieces more exciting to watch. Every time you turn a page, you are treated to a gorgeous spectacle, keeping you hooked in the series.
It is hard to get first issues right. However, Gail Simone conveys everything we need to know about the upcoming series. We know the tone that the comic is going for, the stakes that are on the line and enough story to get us intrigued in where the storyline is going to go. In fact, despite taking time to have some action and cameos from certain characters, Simone gets through a lot of exposition. We even get a massive shock that no one was expecting this early in the comics. This series doesn’t seem prepared to slow down, making all of my original doubts drift away. It’s a resounding two thumbs up from me.