Having already reviewed the Dead Space DVD a few weeks back, it’s now time for me to turn my attention to the comic miniseries that first got the ball rolling. That’s just the backwards kind of a guy I am. This Image series by Antony Johnston and Ben Templesmith is collected in a very nice hardcover and recounts the initial uncovering of the mysterious alien “Marker” on the mining planet of Aegis 7.
In the film, the unrest caused by the hardcore Unitologist faction is just one of the several plot threads running through the story. Here, the conflict between the devout and the non-believers is the central narrative that drives the storyline. Because they are convinced that the Marker is a cornerstone of their faith, the Unitologists among the miners become obsessed with seeing it, touching it, being near it, and are obviously very concerned with how the discovery is handled. The Unitologists are righteous and the skeptics are annoyed, and tensions build very quickly under the artifact’s not-so-subtle influence. Soon the entire colony is a powder keg ready to blow.
Here’s my problem with this scenario: it’s never really made clear why the Unitologists are the target of such derision right from the outset. In the future timeline of this universe, is all religion considered supernatural hokum and nonsense? Or is there a reason why Unitology in particular is worthy of such scorn from the others? Because it is never explained, the non-religious miners come off as judgmental pricks. I mean, I don’t have a religious bone in my body, but when I see someone wearing a yarmulke or making the sign of the cross I don’t run up to them and tell them how irrational and foolish they are; that would be obnoxious. Security Chief Bram Neumann is meant to be our P.O.V. character, but he’s set up in the early going as an intolerant bully. The Unitologists are kooks and everyone else is mean, so is there anyone to root for here?
Granted, once the Marker really starts to mess up everyone’s minds, the Unitologists all go off the deep end and do some crazy shit. But even the non-believers are somewhat affected, losing sleep and seeing dead people. Murders and suicides begin to escalate, people barricade themselves in their rooms and draw on the walls, and oh yeah, there’s a weird fungus growing in the air ducts. And then, of course, the Necromorphs come and everyone is equally screwed, believer or not.
Neumann does what he can to figure out what the hell is going on before it all escalates out of control, but he is dealing with increasingly-crazed zealots, increasingly-violent insomniacs, and an ever-growing alien malevolence. He won't get any help from his "superiors": both the director of colony and the captain of the Ishimura are die-hard Unitologists whose only concern is the safe handling and relocation of the Marker, regardless of how many people die in the meantime. This is one of those horror scenarios where the writing on the wall says everyone is screwed, and it becomes a question of whether a small handful might somehow escaped or everyone is doomed.
Even after both reading the comic and seeing the movie, I still remain unclear about the connections between the Marker, the Unitologists, and the Necromorphs. It seems to be implied that the Marker is a fake, meant to dupe the Unitologists because their weak wills make them more susceptible to mental manipulation. But if so where did the fake marker come from, and who or what would go to such elaborate lengths to guarantee that the perfect conditions would be met to support a deadly virus that would create an army of zombie demons? To what end? I decided to wiki the game to see if there is some closure to these issues, but apparently not. You would think after dropping around a hundred bucks for a book, DVD and game you could at least expect that some of these mysteries would be resolved, but apparently we are meant to do some reading between the lines and drawing of our own conclusions. Either that or they are counting on everyone to come back for the sequel!
(By the way, the character bios in the front of this hardcover include what may be a very telling error in the text of Director Carthusia's bio, explaining that "his family has been a respected pillar of the Church of Scientology for three generations..." Scientology? I thought the religion in this series is called Unitology. Hmm...
Both comic and movie have a goodly amount of creepy excitement, but they also are so similar that I would only recommend that a die-hard fan of this universe buy them both. For everyone else, one or the other would do. For me, the comic is the better-looking of the two. One of my few disappointments with the movie was the art style on the characters which was very generic 80's to me. On the other hand, there is no disputing that Ben Templesmith has a very interesting and distinct art style; it might not be everyone's cup of tea but I mostly dug it (although I'm not a fan of how he draws hands). I'm not sure if Templesmith did the coloring as well (there's no separate colorist credited), but whoever was responsible did a fantastic job, giving the whole scenario a dark and tense look through interesting palette choices and shading. I think this is one of the first times I've even mentioned the colorist in a review, which says something about how good I think this book looks.
In terms of an overall horror experience, I would probably give the edge to the film. If you are trying to unnerve a viewer, the luxury of movement, music , sound effects, and voice acting trumps a static comic page, for me at least. However, this is a nice looking book and if you are a fan of horror comics you should find it a satisfying read.