Dead Man’s Party: The Resident Evil Comics

January 7th, 2006 by | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ha Ha I Am Blogging About Bad Comic Books

Let’s talk for a moment, you and me, about things I hate.

I hate Venom, for example. I’ve never been able to stand that schmuck, ever since the Spider-Man books turned into the Venom Show back in the ’90s. I hate Howard Mackie for being the embryonic stage of Chuck Austen… and I hate Chuck Austen, because all right-thinking people do. I hate Scott Lobdell, Frank Quitely’s pudgy Play-Doh people, and any book that Ashley Wood drew…

…but most of all, I hate licensed comics that’re written by somebody who hasn’t even touched the source material. I really hate it when I’m familiar–or in this case, scarily familiar–with that source material.

That means I hate the Resident Evil comic books.

Call the neighbors and lock up the kids, folks. It’s time for a bunch of pointless fanboy bitching.

You Wouldn’t Think You Could Screw This Up

Back in March of 1998, the original Resident Evil had sold a few million copies, and its sequel, Resident Evil 2, was flying off the shelves just about as fast. (A cynical man would note that, at this point, most of the major PlayStation titles were reaping the benefits of the PlayStation’s dominance of the market, since the Saturn was pretty much dead and the Nintendo 64 was pretty much the box Goldeneye came in. Good thing I’m not cynical.)

Naturally, this touched off the usual wave of rip-offs and tie-ins. Half the other developers in the world started falling over themselves to put together their own survival-horror games: Silent Hill, Eternal Darkness, Countdown Vampires, Carrier, Evil Dead: Hail to the King, and so on. Capcom itself authorized the production of several lines of surprisingly decent action figures, as well as a number of other tie-ins.

One of those tie-ins was a glossy print magazine entitled, naturally, Resident Evil. It was published by Wildstorm, back in the days when it was a substudio of Image. (Wildstorm actually got bought by DC in the middle of the RE magazine’s run; the last issue has DC’s executive board credited on the table of contents.)

Now, the idea of a Resident Evil comic book seems like a pretty natural thing. The games involve cops, some of whom happen to be good-looking women, shooting zombies. This is, of course, one of the great themes of Western literature. As a result, I expected the Resident Evil magazine to be halfway decent, especially given the campy source material.

Then I read the magazine, and somebody canceled Christmas.

Each issue of Resident Evil contained a few short stories, some short interviews with people like Shinji Mikami, the Resident Evil series’s producer, and plenty of character sketches from the artists.

Fortunately, this is Wildstorm back in the Image days, so they had a pretty serious artistic talent pool to work with. Jim Lee did a couple of the covers, and the interior stories were illustrated by artists like Ryan Odagawa (Iron Man), Carlos D’Anda (Outsiders, Thundercats, The Adventures of Max Faraday, and, infamously, Stormwatch: Team Achilles, where he got screwed hard when Micah Ian Wright’s lies came to light), Lee Bermejo (Lex Luthor: Man of Steel), and Rafael Kayanan.

There’s not a bad artist in the lot, really (the weak link is arguably Odagawa; he’s a decent storyteller, but his character art was occasionally lacking), so the magazine usually looked good.

The writing on the magazine was done entirely by Ted Adams and Kris Oprisko.

This is where the problems started.

Adams and Oprisko, in recent days, have gone on to become the publisher and vice president, respectively, of IDW. IDW has eked out a place in the industry based largely upon releasing video game tie-ins, much like the Resident Evil magazines were. (They’ve also put out the occasional decent book, like 30 Days of Night and, strangely, the C.V.O. series, which should not be any good but somehow is.) They’ve written very few of these tie-ins themselves, but oddly, all of the tie-ins (remember, every time someone pays for a copy of Silent Hill: Dying Inside, Akira Yamaoka cries) share the same problems the Resident Evil magazine did.

Those problems all draw from the same basic source: flow.

This is kind of an abstract concept, but I’ll see what I can do to explain myself. In a good comic book, there’s a certain rhythm to the action on the page; panels do not simply occur in a vaccuum, independently of each other, but you can see the action develop in a straight line. There’s an illusion of motion and movement that allows the reader to see the art as something other than still images.

Most of the stories in the Resident Evil magazine do not have this knack. Part of it’s the format the magazine works in. Most of the stories seem like they were originally much longer, and were then ineptly cut down to fit the space requirements.

Exposition is delivered in heavy monologues, filling up entire panels to get you to the action as fast as possible, often sacrificing plot or sense to do so. When that action does happen, it’s mostly delivered in a pin-up style, with no fight allowed to last more than a page. There’s no sense of linear progression from one idea to the next, and no real style involved.

Thus, when I’m talking about the Resident Evil magazine, I’ll be talking about it in two ways: both as a bad licensed comic, and in terms of its lack of flow.

Resident Evil #1
Published March 1998

For those of you who don’t know, the original Resident Evil dealt with a bunch of out-of-work porn actors special police operatives getting chased into a house in the woods. They soon found out the house was inhabited mostly by zombies and monsters, after the experimental bioweapons in the basement escaped. The survivors became infected by the T-Virus and slowly became zombies.

The cops in question–Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine–proceeded to shoot everyone and escape via helicopter. The first issue of Resident Evil is mostly dedicated to discussing this.

“S.T.A.R.S. Files”
Story: Ted Adams
Pencils: Ryan Odagawa
Inks: Mark Irwin
Colors: Wildstorm FX
Letters: Amie Grenier

See what I mean about Odagawa? He’s not bad, but Wesker’s half giraffe.

A story set before the events of the original Resident Evil, “S.T.A.R.S. Files” introduces the cast of the first game–the two STARS units–to the reader. Of these eleven characters, five of them will die before they get a line.

We’re off to a great start already.

I think what gets me most of all about this bit are the file photos. You’d think they’d just be a bunch of candid face shots, but instead, they are packed to the very brim with ACTION. Barry shoots a cameraman in the fucking face! Chris saves a guy! Jill picks a lock! My God, it’s like their operational specialties just leap out of the manila folder!

I’m starting to see why the Raccoon Police Department got wiped out so fast.

I wonder if the STARS team had a staff photographer running around with them on missions, just in case an awesome photo opportunity cropped up. “Hey, Enrico! I know five guys are unloading SMGs in your general direction, but try to make this look good. Oh, yeah. That’s the stuff.” *click*

“Who Are These Guys?”
Story: Ted Adams
Pencils: Carlos D’Anda
Inks: Mark Irwin, Armando Durruthy
Colors: Tad Ehrlich
Letters: Amie Grenier
Editor: Kris Oprisko

In the entire five-issue run, this might be the best story. It’s mostly an illustrated journal entry from one of the dead scientists in the original Resident Evil, as he slowly succumbs to the T-Virus and writes about the decisions that brought him to the Spencer mansion. The scientist, John, is the guy who wrote the Researcher’s Memo file, which is reproduced almost verbatim on the seventh and eighth pages.

One of the reasons the story’s so successful, I think, is that it’s the only story of the lot that really effectively makes use of its pages. Most of the pictures are just there to illustrate what John’s doing, so Adams doesn’t have to go for exposition or cram in an action scene.

Of course, some of that’s blown to hell when Jill shows up. I mean, look at this.

That is an angry young woman right there. I am also a dork, because the first thing I thought was, “Did you just waste two shotgun shells on one zombie?”

Jill Valentine traditionally has problems like this. Parts of her wardrobe always seem to grow or shrink depending on the artist, like her miniskirt-belt-miniskirt from Resident Evil 3. In this series, her shoulder pads do that; sometimes they’re about the right size, and sometimes, she’s apparently zombie-killer by night, fullback by day, Jill “The Crusher” Valentine.

‘Course, she’ll probably be benched now that she’s broken her wrist like that.

“Dangerous Secrets”
Plot: Ted Adams & Kris Oprisko
Script: Kris Oprisko
Pencils: Carlos D’Anda
Inks: Mark Irwin
Colors: Wildstorm FX
Letters: Amie Grenier

Meanwhile, at the STARS Action Playset (complete with big-screen TVs and a high ceiling, which Chief Irons subsequently pawned so he could afford that new crest puzzle), the surviving STARS get together to recount what happened to them in the first game. Chris immediately jumps up and assumes he’s the leader now, and he’s having so much fun that Barry can’t bring himself to tell him otherwise. At the end, they leave town to “stop Umbrella,” while Claire and a seriously ‘roided-up Leon arrive in town to start the events of Resident Evil 2.

I’ve really got to wonder what the point of recapping all this is. If you’re a fan of the games who picked up the magazine, you know what happened in the first game without them having to tell you. If you just picked up the magazine, you now know all the spoilers in the first game, which I’d imagine wouldn’t predispose you to play it.

Also, Chris has Guile hair. No idea why.

Anyway, most of this story is about getting smacked in the head with the exposition bat while most of the cast acts dramatically out of character. There’s a mildly funny bit where Chris and Jill argue about who rescued who (owing to the confusion–which persists to this day!–about just which scenario in Resident Evil is the official one), but this is mostly Oprisko writing overlong captions, often ones that have nothing to do with the art, while D’Anda draws gore.

While he’s at it, he occasionally draws Chris looking like he’s been smacked in the face with a shovel. I’m not sure what that facial expression is supposed to convey; that’s not so much “An impossible monster is eating my teammate!” as it is “I think I stepped in something. Possibly Kenneth.”

The big fun here comes from the fact that the entire damn story is a major case of “As you know, Bob.” For most of the story, it’s the STARS sitting around telling each other stuff they already know, because they were there. It also winds up being sort of funny by accident, because Chris is telling most of the story, so conveniently, this winds up being the version of Resident Evil where Chris did everything. I bet they deliberately left out the bits where Chris skateboarded down the main hall’s banister and ninja-kicked the Tyrant’s head totally off because it was sweet.

“Raccoon City – R.I.P.”
“Dangerous Secrets”
Plot: Ted Adams & Kris Oprisko
Script: Ted Adams
Pencils: Lee Bermejo
Inks: John Tighe
Colors: Wildstorm FX
Letters: Amie Grenier

If you read Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, you’ll know Lee Bermejo is capable of some striking, atmospheric startlingly homoerotic work. Either he’s dramatically improved in the seven years between this and Lex, or John Tighe is the pen name for a howler monkey, because Bermejo doesn’t do himself any favors here. For example, he somehow manages to make Ada Wong less than hot. I didn’t think you could do that.

Anyroad, this story’s set at the start of the outbreak that’ll eventually destroy Raccoon City, with the whole town going to hell over the course of an afternoon or so. It starts with a shot of what’s presumably the Spencer mansion being destroyed, and then–whoosh!–jumps two months later to Raccoon City falling apart.

Edit: As was pointed out on my Livejournal, the splash page is apparently meant to indicate that the T-Virus escaped into Raccoon City’s water supply after the destruction of the mansion. Note the bottom middle of the splash page, where what I took to be a chunk of wreckage is in fact a glowing-green vial of what’s presumably the T-Virus falling into a river.

So, basically, Adams and Oprisko are taking this opportunity to indicate that during the destruction of the Spencer mansion, a vial of the T-Virus flew up and out of the building’s basement to land in a river that wasn’t there and infect the population of nearby Raccoon City.

Right. Moving on…

Ada Wong shows up to threaten William Birkin, Ben Bertolucci finds out what’s going on, a dude gets quality-killed by a zombie with a gas station hose, and Leon shows up at the end to drop some action-hero on the situation. It’s kind of like how Richard Linklater’s Slacker works, with each scene following a new character into a new situation, except Slacker was good.

Like I mentioned above, the whole thing lacks flow, and tries to cram a lot of exposition and plot into way too few pages. It’s anti-decompression, really; it abandons real-sounding dialogue in favor of pushing the story just a little bit further uphill. Then, in lieu of a real ending, I guess you’re supposed to mark out that Leon’s arrived to kick the shit out of people.

The whole story’s really a monument to the wonders of plot convenience. Ada runs in just as Birkin completes the G-Virus! Birkin and Ada drop the bomb about everything Ben needs to know after he’s been lurking in an air vent–and somehow, it doesn’t surprise me that Birkin hasn’t read his Evil Overlord Handbook–for about thirty seconds! Zombies keep showing up out of nowhere! Shit explodes!

The serious Resident Evil plot wonk is gonna notice a few issues here. Birkin should be dead, for example, and it skips past the week or so that led up to the events of RE2. It’s a weirdly disjointed story that seems to rely upon the fact that the reader knows most of the background material already, and then proceeds to get a lot of the background material wrong.

Whew! That’s issue #1, folks. Next up: the world’s fastest retelling of Resident Evil 2, a solo adventure for Barry Burton, and the fanfictiony reek that is “Mutant Menagerie.” Stay tuned!

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16 comments to “Dead Man’s Party: The Resident Evil Comics”

  1. Hey, Silent Hill is better than an RE rip-off…

    But speaking of Slient Hill, the tie-in comics suffered pretty much the same fate (and the common link seems to be Kris Oprisko, who worked as editor on the SH comics). It began with what I thought was Ben Templesmith contuning to spread himself too thin with horror and 30 Days interations. The artwork just gets too muddled. Then the stories that failed to really capture the psychological spirit of SH. One of the points of SH is that the enemies are specific to each character’s dark trauma, and yet those specific monsters appear for no reason for some guy in the first volume. There’s a lack of inspiration that the games had.

    Of course, it’s hard to do the “revelation of dark secrets” storyline every time, but the SH team managed to pull a new story off better (if not as successful as previous games) with SH4 than the comics. The games’ stories are pretty self-contained, so it makes sense that the comics would creat new characters, but the comic characters and situations didn’t click. They kinda get too close to generic slasher/monster horror conventions and it just got too boring for me to keep with the series.

  2. Silent Hill is better than an RE ripoff, and so is Eternal Darkness. The point is that Silent Hill wouldn’t exist if Resident Evil hadn’t sold a fuckton of copies.

    I didn’t think the problem was so much that they stuck with generic horror conventions as it was that Oprisko and company just refused to understand Silent Hill as a series. I’ve only read Dying Inside and The Grinning Man, but both of them seem to operate on the assumption that Silent Hill is a sort of generically Bad Place, and as such, they can hang pretty much whatever kind of horror story they want to tell on it. They are, of course, mistaken, and moderately untalented besides.

  3. You made my day with this :). Looking at the pictures, I can only agree to what you are saying, but – those are just comic books based on a video game. Like movies based on video games (or video games based on movies), that hardly ever works, especially considering the kind of budget used on these things (most of it goes to the license I believe).

    It would have been a lot better if they had hired someone with feeling for the game, someone who would have had enough vision to build a RE universe, where plotlines can be built, etc. However, someone like that probably will cost a lot of money (research, etc., you know, overrated stuff), so I can imagine that Oprisko and Adams simply collected info from the developers, then made a condensed series (to test whether or not it’d sell) and released it to the public.

    Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that, yes, the content and plot development is awful. However, would you have expected anything different? I’ve seen ridiculous Star Trek comics which wanted to cash in on Next Gen’s popularity, or a Men In Black comic with nice pictures, but a story which was so abstract that at some point I wondered when I was going to see someone *move* something. Somewhere.

    Money. Budget. Possibilities. One rarely finds a golden nugget that way…

  4. Well, yeah… video game adaptations–any sort of adaptation, really–don’t have a great track record. The point isn’t quite that it’s awful, per se; what interested me more than anything else is how it’s awful. It’s awful in an interesting sort of way.

    The real bitch of it is that Resident Evil subscribes to a certain sort of cinematic theory of storytelling that’d be dead easy to adapt to a comic. Silent Hill does, too. It’s simply that no one seems to be interested in playing by their rules, so to speak; they’re churning out something random for the sake of the cash run.

  5. Well, to us it does (storytelling) sound dead easy, but in order to *realise* this, you need time, just like you need time to fully get the gameplay experience of a video game. I don’t think they had a large enough deadline to go deep – these are contracted professionals rattling down template story formats, a bit like game reviews on ign.com or some other big gaming site. That’s why I love your reviews – they at least show someone digging deeper into a game.

    And I also think most of the readers of the comic don’t care about the story, as long as the pictures are decent. Just like John and Jane Doe are perfectly happy with some pictures, videos and a general (not necessarily entirely true) description. It only gets embarassing for purists (I love that word) like us :), and we are too small a demographic to be a lucrative market ;).

    But to return to your point – yeah, it’s *interesting and funny* awful. Definitely discussion-worty. If not here, it could very well be featured on somethingawful.com. I just wish the purists would get something nice for a change (one can always dream, ne? ;). At least we have that the main product is “nice” – usually.

  6. It’s weird. I want to say that Men in Black started out as a comic (Malibu, maybe?), then went on to be a huge movie with basically no crossover audience.

  7. Yeah, Men in Black was a comic first, but I seem to remember hearing that it was a really obscure ’80s comic or something.

  8. Since when was Ada Wong white?

    Also, about Men in Black. The entire comic was published by Malibu, but was bought by Marvel. They did absolutely nothing with this comic, but had “Based on the Marvel comic book” in the opening credits of MIB anyway.

  9. Well, it was a long time ago when I saw the MIB comic, but it was definitely post MIB-the-movie. Also, the comic I saw featured a few nice drawings of Will Smith, so I reckon it was made post-movie. I’m not going too deep in on this however, as I only skimmed at the pictures, was a bit turned off by a lack of dialogue and story evolution, then moved on to some GlĂ©nat material, which is more familiar territory to me.

  10. Yeah, not that I think of it Marvel may have done a movie adaptation after it came out and then just completely dropped MIB altogether.

    They’re still asses though.

  11. In that “less than hot” Ada pic, I swear to my name that it isn’t Ada… no it is, in fact Rachael Rey in a red apron.

  12. And that’s not Ben Bertolucci listening to her from the air vents — that’s quite clearly freelance journalist Robert Garcia.

  13. ha ha chris likes the smell of zombies in the morning…. and waffles

  14. yo claire redfield is hot!! lol im not jk

  15. The darn image links are broken! ;_;

  16. that was probly the most work I have ever seen put into a blog, and a good read at that. great blog