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Written by Ian Edginton with artwork by Christopher Shy (or “Ronin” as he’s colloquially known), “Dead Space: Liberation” takes place before the events of “Dead Space 3”, introducing readers and fans to the characters John Carver, Robert Norton and Jacob Danik. However, not only does it fail in setting up events, it creates several contradictions in regards to the storyline and the characters.
- WARNING: This review goes into great detail about the story, so there will be spoilers here.
"Dead Space: Liberation" has the unfortunate fate of being a novel-level story confined to a graphic novel. To put it simply, it is the epitome of something that feels hastily rushed and poorly put together. As it stands, it doesn't elaborate on anything "Dead Space 3" itself doesn't tell you in a sentence. That perfect opportunity to create a valid and coherent reason for the conflict of Earth Government, Sovereign Colonies and the Church of Unitology and therefore establish events that took place between "Dead Space 2", "Dead Space 3" and before "Dead Space"? Completely forsaken here. Setting up Jacob Danik as a creditable antagonist for the game, covering the origins of the Circle? Forsaken as well. Fleshing out the new characters (Jennifer Santos, Robert Norton, Austin Buckell, John Carver, Damara Carver) and setting up when Norton decided to sell the team out to Danik is also completely bypassed here as well.
"Liberation" goes that extra mile and creates some extremely narrative breaking elements. Carver tells Isaac in Chapter 2 of the game that Danik killed his wife and son (Damara and Dylan), yet Danik has no real knowledge of Damara when he meets Carver. He doesn't learn she's a Marker Researcher until they check his records. When Carver escapes, Danik has no real way of reaching his wife first; in fact, Danik seems more interested in killing Carver. Yet when Carver gets home, Damara and Dylan are already dead and resurrected as Slashers.
The entire scene implies that Necromorphs more than likely killed them, yet Carver says Danik killed them. Danik and Carver are set up as rivals; the soldier who lost his family and the religious zealot who took his family. Yet, the game completely ignores this relationship because the world has to revolve around the drybread protagonist, Isaac Clarke. Moreover, Carver himself is pretty non-existent as a character in the games when you compare him to the Carver character in the graphic novel. There's nothing about him, personality or character wise, that conflicts; but his presence was felt in the graphic novel. He mattered as a character.
In the game he's just the co-op character and largely inconsequential to the shoddy narrative. I.E., you could remove Carver from the game and nothing would change. Remove him in the graphic novel and your whole story is missing, which is telling about the necessity of his character. You also don't get to learn anything about him in this graphic novel outside that he's been severely demoted. The story never goes into detail about why, it merely implies that his bad temper is the reason for it. Nothing beyond that. The game does a better job at fleshing out the what little backstory the character has and for a book that was advertised as Carver's story, it fails in spades.
Robert Norton's character, however arrogant he might come off, is completely focused and dedicated to helping Ellie complete the mission Damara started; he's discrete and warns against Ellie brazenly suggesting they haul a man with a Unitologist bull's-eye target on his back on an already fragile mission. It never comes off as jealousy, but the comic tries to paint his reasoning as such because he uses "insane" to describe Isaac (and let's be real, Isaac was insane in DS2 and Robert has no reason to trust him, whether or not he was in a relationship with Ellie). This petulant, poorly written character that's presented in the games never appears in the graphic novel. Graphic novel Norton is sorely missed when you go back to the game and have to suffer through that trite writing.
Ellie is friends with the Carvers (Damara and John), yet the video game never has Ellie and Carver interact on a level that implicates familiarity with each other on any level. Carver is also protective of Ellie, she who is constantly put into the line of fire with no apparent showcase of her skills as seen in "Dead Space 2". "Liberation" sets up "Damsel Ellie Langford" perfectly, but her relationship with Carver doesn't exist in the game. You might as well be talking about two different characters.
Ellie meets Santos and Buckell on Keyhole Station; they're relative strangers who end up protecting her and that's about it. She doesn't know them, but they're trustworthy enough to take a trip into deep space with her to Tau Volantis. Jennifer Santos is a technician who works on Keyhole Station and knows how to handle a weapon and wears a RIG of her own. She does pretty well in the face of adversity, yet in the game, Santos doesn't appear to know how to defend herself against general enemies and is made completely helpless in the face of danger. Basically, Jennifer, like Ellie, is made into a damsel in the video game. Buckell has no speaking lines in the graphic novel (that I remember), he's merely mentioned alongside a more proactive Santos; he might as well not have existed until the game.
Worst of all, at some point that feels largely symptomatic of eleventh hour video game writing, Visceral Games decides to introduce the Sovereign Colonies, a pro-colonist government faction that apparently didn't take to kindly to Earth Government and declared war of them. On the surface, there isn't a problem, but when you delve into the narrative, they create a whole ton of problems.
Like I said, "Liberation" was a chance to elaborate on things the narrative of the Game never addresses; kind of the whole reason these tie-ins exist: to cover what the games can't fit into their narrative within reason. However, the writers don't take that chance. None of the Sovereign Colonies' history (either as an establishment or their conflict with Earth Government) is elaborated on, explained and worse pretty much left hanging like the entrails of a murder victim. They're said to predate Earth Government, but there's no information in prior canon that supports that, making them more canon breaking than the character flubs. Damara finds this mysterious information on their Marker experimentation that conflicts with the established canon set up in "Martyr" and pretty much the entire game's canon. The story never explains how Damara found this information and more importantly, where she found it.
Damara as a character is a pretty pivotal element to the entirety of Dead Space 3; she's the reason the plot gets to where it is, yet the graphic novel doesn't care to give her any more spotlight than the game did. She's Carver's wife, she's Dylan's mother; she's Carver's motivation to become a better man and that's really all the narrative seems to care about, really.
She's never fully realized as a character; earlier summaries seemed to suggest that the story was going to be told from Damara's POV. They've saddled her with discovering the game's logic-leaping MacGuffin (Tau Volantis) and the Sovereign Colonies, but never once are her exploits covered and never is she made important beyond a footnote and Woman in a Refrigerator.
Christopher Shy, for all his talents, tends to fall back on what the comic book fandom tends to loathe Greg Land’s latter career for. If you ever hear the the “LAAAND!” cry undulating down the rocky cliff face of a comic book store or forum, you know the deal. The bulk of Shy’s artwork the further “Liberation” progresses is reused character poses and expressions. It’s a literal copy/paste jamboree. Robert Norton, for instance, maintains the same “Jamie Bamber” stone-faced expression throughout most of the book, his body angled as though he were posing for a promotional shot for a film.
In the murky and blotted imagery, John Carver, as character who has the bulk of the book, has three expressions (bewildered, sullen and bewildered side profile). Furthermore, Shy copy/pastes at least two Carver poses more times than should actually be allowed in a graphic novel or comic book. That, and he doesn't seem want to maintain a maintain Carver’s likeness to Ricardo Chavira, but instead uses the likeness of Clive Owen and other men more than I would actually like.
For whatever reason, Ellie Langford’s outfit alternates at any given moment on the lack of panels; at one point she appears to be wearing a full-body bathing suit, the next she’s wearing a sweater of some type and finally she wears the EXACT same outfit she’s worn in "Dead Space 2". So if the logic of the graphic novel is to be followed, Ellie Langford has worn the same outfit for roughly three years and never thought to change her clothes.
The front cover for the hardback edition is blatantly lying to you; don’t expect to find Ellie wearing a RIG, you won’t find it on her. The Necromorphs are just as inconsistent as they were in his previous efforts with “Salvage” (there are moments when they reflect the likeness of Xenomorphs), but to his credit, they look far more frightening through his lens than anything Visceral could really come up with in a 3D render. That said, his artwork is beautiful and one of the highlights this graphic novel.
The best thing about “Liberation” is its artwork and the novelty of being something set before the subpar “Dead Space 3”. Everything else is problematic. I can only recommend it if you’re Christopher Shy fan and just like throwing money on Dead Space merchandise. As it is, you won’t find anything important here.