So, I pre-ordered Portal 2 from Amazon because they had this sweet deal where you got a $20 credit. Awesome. Not awesome? Waiting for it to get here because I frugally chose their free shipping method that takes longer and listening to all my friends tell me how great it is. In the meantime I’m eating lots of cake. And reading Portal 2: Lab Rat.
Portal 2: Lab Rat is the companion webcomic to the highly anticipated video game sequel. At 26 pages long, it’s about the size of just one comic and is meant to bridge the gap between the two games, but also serves as a bit of a prequel as well. It introduces a character you sort of know from Portal. I’ll explain more in a minute but there’s your spoiler warning.
The webcomic does feature the main character from Portal, Chell, but the protagonist is another person from the game, a man named Doug. Doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps you know him as Ratman? That’s right, the Aperture Science employee who somehow escaped GLaDOS’s neurotoxin purge of the entire staff and managed to survive inside the building. He’s the one who originally told the player the cake was a lie in one of his many graffiti laden alcoves. Of course, you never actually see him during the game so his identity and whereabouts are unknown. Until now.
Without giving too much away, Doug used to work as a lab technician at Aperture Science. He didn’t build GLaDOS but he had a hand in her evolution and serious concerns about her artificial intelligence. See, Portal 2: Lab Rat also serves as GLaDOS’s origin story. Through flashbacks in the story we see that Doug wasn’t the only one who knew about her violent tendencies, the rest of the employees just put science over safety. And well, we all know how that turned out for them.
Doug, as you may have guessed from his wall art, has some serious mental issues. He’s taking an antispsychotic drug for schizophrenia. Or at least he was until he ran out. Now off his medication, Doug travels around with a companion cube that speaks to him. (This is one of my favorite things about the comic.) With his trusty cube, Doug travels around the building following Chell’s progress (your progress) through GLaDOS’s trials and has a much more active role in the game than previously realized.
No ones name is on the cover of Portal 2: Lab Rat per se but that’s because it was a collaboration. Valve, the company who developed the video game, produced the comic in house with help from Michael Avon Oeming, co-creator of The Mice Templar and Powers. He’s been working for them for the last few years, previously contributing to the Left 4 Dead and Team Fortress 2 webcomics. For Portal 2: Lab Rat, he worked with fellow Valve employees Chet Faliszek, Ted Kosmatka, Andrea Wicklund, Jay Pinkerton and Erik Wolpaw.
Wicklund painted the comic while Oeming handled layouts and the art for the flashback scenes. All put together the look is phenomenal. Though the story was developed by writers Marc Laidlaw, Faliszek, Wolpaw, Pinkerton and team leader Josh Weir, Kosmatka did most of the writing for the tale. This is his first comic script as well as Wicklund’s first comic work. And I have to say, you wouldn’t know it. Of course Oeming probably helped a lot in that department but I see no reason why these creators couldn’t try their hands at mainstream work. This is one hell of a comic.
Though it must be said, for people who haven’t played Portal, there’s really not much of anything to grab onto. But that’s to be expected I think, especially since this isn’t a licensed book that was put on shelves for the regular comic-reading audience. It’s hard to see it from the context of someone who hasn’t played (read: played obsessively), I feel like it’s still an interesting story but definitely confusing to someone not familiar with the world. But for Portal purists, this is a must-read.
Through the backstory, a lot is revealed not just about the character of Doug but also giving new depth to the original game through his eyes and actions. The story is puzzling from the get-go, much like the original game, leaving the reader to figure out what’s going on from indicators along the way and that’s a good thing. Doug’s state of mind also keeps the suspense going throughout the story. And yes, that talking companion cube, while dark humor, is one of the best parts. In fact, it’s that humor that really makes the comic feel like it belongs in Portal. While the companion cubes don’t speak in the game, you can imagine this is what they’d be saying and GLaDOS’s dialogue is just as creepy (and funny) as you’ve come to know and love her for. Perhaps even more so thanks to Portal 2: Lab Rat. And if you’re extra observant, you’ll uncover a special easter egg about cake within its pages.