The Last of Us: American Dreams #1 (Dark Horse)

LastOfUs1

3.5 / 5 – Good if bought for the right reasons
At the risk of stereotyping myself, here we have another licensed property, this time from the world of video games.  I am unfamiliar with this game franchise, but I have played all three editions of Uncharted, the PS3 exclusive title from the same company, Naughty Dog.  Here we have a prequel to the game, The Last of Us, in comic book format.  Generally these are the sort of translations I prefer, where the comic is allowed to explore the (hopefully) rich world created by the game developers without being chained to the narrative of the particular game.  Comics, not being constrained by F/X budgets, are often better at exploring and expanding these strange and wonderful lands that most video games are set in (excepting the Sims and Tetris) than TV or film.
The big draw here is the artist Faith Erin Hicks (who collaborates on the story with Naughty Dog creative director Neil Druckman).  She is probably most famous for her work The War at Ellsmere and Friends with Boys.  Here she is aided by Rachelle Rosenberg on colors.  Our tale is set nineteen years after a plague has wiped out most of the population.  In Boston, one of the last quarantined zones, our protagonist Ellie, age 13, is going to the state mandated military school for orphans.  This is in a recap paragraph, and the first image is that of Ellie, on the bus taking her through the militarized streets to the “school.”  You may already seen some parallels to the War at Ellsmere, but we have some obvious differences.  Ellie does not want to be there and immediately runs into some bullies who threaten to take a beloved item, her Sony Walkman (for those too young, it is a portable tape playing device).  Presumably there will be some future significance as to why it was not a more modern piece of music playing equipment.  She receives unsolicited help in dispatching the bullies from Riley.  Ellie rebuffs Riley’s overtures and her advice to run.  Ellie is caught by the head of the school and sentenced to clean up duty.  The school head is the typical harsh principal/drill sergeant model who lets a little exposition out that there is a group of rebels that the students when they graduate to soldiers, will have to contend with.  During her cleaning, Ellie realizes Riley stole her Walkman.  She confronts Riley and Riley returns it.  That night Ellie catches Riley sneaking out and demands to go with her or they will both be caught out.  They formally introduce and agree to hop the fence.
This book is indebted to the strength of Hicks’ artwork and skill at conveying expressions.  Her prior experience allows her to render the girls as girls as opposed to just smaller adults like other artists.  To my eye, she has a cartoony feel with a bit of a manga touch but I will fully admit that I need to read more manga.  The many lines denoting movement is what gives me a Manga feel but it is not unheard of in western comics (fans of Flash respond here).  The colorist gives good support by choosing a bluish palate for the backgrounds except during a flashback while the main figures are rendered in subtly brighter colors.  It contributes to the somber, dystopian feel while drawing the eye to the characters.  One slight criticism involves a few abrupt transitions.  Nothing fatal but I originally thought the bullies were just ambushing the new “fish” to establish dominance but there is some suggestion they were after the Walkman.  Both or either are possible motives.  While grim, the world still has a functioning government and it is not devolved into Mad Max/Fallout 3 unpleasantness.  I would say there is death in this world, but it is not gory.  There is some blood in the fight but it is more suggested than explicit.  However there is adult language.
Overall a very successful job, some of my grading hesitation comes from the fact that I feel this may read better in its eventual trade form.  While the first issue is packed with story, there is no particular hook or twist to this familiar territory.  Obviously the nice artwork is enough to make one stay around but the artwork will look just as good in the eventual collected edition.  They do a good job of splitting up the exposition throughout the book but I would have liked a bit more feel for what makes this world unique, in this issue.  I may grab issue 2 or I may get the trade but I think anyone reading this issue would not be disappointed.

andrew@comicspectrum.com
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