First Issue Sets The Stage for Adventure To Come
American Dreams is the first of four graphic novels, published by Dark Horse as a prelude to the highly anticipated game The Last of Us.
Developer Naughty Dog’s post-apocalyptic survival adventure is one of the hottest and most anticipated games of 2013, and these comics aim to whet the appetite of impatient gamers.
The story focuses on 13 year-old Ellie, who will be familiar to gamers, as the girl from the trailers and the companion of the game’s playable character, Joel.
Taking place about a year before the game, Ellie feels quite a bit younger than the kick-ass girl we see in the game. But it could be just that she’s slightly more naive and less world-weary than the girl we know she will become.
Living in a world that has been devastated by a zombie-style fungal outbreak, Ellie has been transferred to a military school for orphaned teenagers. Despite her wide-eyed youth, she is already a tough cookie and doesn’t respond well to being asked to toe the military line. Issue one sees her literally fight her corner against fellow pupils and teachers alike.
I never hold out much hope for game/comic tie-ins because they usually feature average artwork and lackluster writing. American Dreams kicks both those assumptions out of the window.
Rachelle Rosenberg’s art uses loose line work that fills in the details of buildings and chain link fences, when it’s needed, but then strips things back to convey movement in action scenes. And the cartoony style gives it a YA feel that really puts us inside Ellie’s head. The page layouts are always varied and stand on their own storytelling merits, without the text. There was just one page that didn’t make sense to me, involving a finger and a jeep, but it didn’t detract from the whole.
The limited color palette also does a great job of depicting post-apocalyptic grime and decay.
Co-written by Faith Erin Hicks (‘Friends with Boys’ and ‘Superhero Girl’) and The Last of Us creative director, Neil Druckmann, American Dreams basically gives us Ellie’s backstory. I’m expecting the following episodes to lead us to the point where she first meets Joel, setting us up nicely for the game. Judging by issue one, I’m confident that the writers will bring us close to the game without giving too much away.
The writing employs a less-is-more approach, which I suspect comes from strong directing in the script, giving the art space to tell the story without getting bogged down with too much dialogue. It’s this clever storytelling that gives us a quick, effective introduction to Ellie. This is a girl who is vulnerable and alone in a big, bad world, but won’t take any crap and will throw a punch, if she has to.
The Last of Us: American Dreams is well worth a look for anyone keen to get their paws on the game and offers a quality taster without spoiling the main attraction. This comic isn’t just marketing filler; it could easily stand on its own as a quality start to a new graphic novel series. In short, I’d read this even if it wasn’t a prequel to The Last of Us.