Hey there, and welcome to another edition of our games column, Pixels and Panels. As you’ve no doubt seen by our coverage here, the worlds of video games and comic books are more closely intertwined than ever before. This column will explore comic book video games and explore games that make the leap the other direction and become comic books. We’ll track the trends, give you some previews and reviews, and explore every side of the transition from Pixels to Panels and back again.Gears of War #1
Hollow: Part 1
With the highly anticipated release of Gears of War 2 on the horizon, Epic Games along with DC's Wildstorm imprint has released the first of a twelve issue maxi-series that seeks to bridge the gap between the new game and its high selling predecessor.
Fourteen years before the events of comic, the people of the earth-like planet Sera were nearly wiped out when an advanced subterranean race known as Locust burst out of the earth and declared their intent to wipe humanity from the surface of their world. In the game(s) you play the role of Sgt. Marcus Fenix a veteran solider turned prisoner who is liberated just in time to lead a major counter-offensive the results in the first real victory for surface-folk since the war began.
The comic, taking place two months after the end of the first game, shifts the lead role to Pvt. Jace, a new character and a new recruit into the dwindling ranks of the human military. Opposed to the seasoned veteran Fenix, who thankfully for fans is not far away, Jace has spent most of his life dealing with the effects that the long conflict has had on his world. Writer Joshua Ortega (Frequencies) uses him and his relative inexperience to introduce concepts from the game to those readers unfamiliar with the setting. In short order the reader is reintroduced to the world, the enemy, the hero of the first game (who has more lines in the first ten pages than in seemingly all of the original property), and the effectiveness of having a chainsaw bayonet mounted underneath your assault rifle. Ortega shows his Gears of War cred by making references to such game concepts as inventory management, squad based combat, the world's mythology (the book starts with a very clever reference to a classic childhood fear), and even how ridiculous key moments of the first game sound when told during a squad bull session.
The script, in addition to setting up the world, also has to set up the story arc. The human military is preparing for a large scale assault, so Fenix and his hetro-lifemate Dominic "Dom" Rodriguez are sent to scour a ruined city for missing or lost solders. This book really shines in the look of this city and the few humans walking around in it.
In talking about the visuals of the first game, the Gears production team used the term "ruined beauty" to convey the idea of a planet once covered by amazing classical architecture reduced to rubble by prolonged conflict. The pencils of Liam Sharp (LORD HAVOK AND THE EXTREMISTS) are extremely detailed, from a long wall of glass windows each in its own state of disrepair, to plant life reclaiming a crumbled wall. His character art is excellent as well; the nearly comically chiseled look of Marcus Fenix's face in the game looks human, but still tough, on the page.
Sharp's detail is extended into "mature reader" territory as he brings some of the elements that gives the game its "M" rating as Locust drones are blown or, in the case of the aforementioned chainsaw-machine gun combo, torn to pieces with the appropriate anatomical splatter and leavings.
Fans of the game looking for a quick Gears fix before the sequelís release in early November can't go wrong picking this comic up. Readers might also get an insight into the plot of a game series that doesn't spend a lot of time explaining itself in cut scenes. However, it is not known at this point if this maxi-series will end in the way that so many game comics end, with a "to be continued at your local gaming retailer" message. Otherwise it is shaping up to be a solid title for the underserved fans of sci-fi military action.