Dead Space: Salvage by Antony Johnston and Christopher Shy – Comic Review [Bellarius]
Bellarius finds that Dead Space: Salvage by Antony Johnston and Christopher Shy leaves much to be desired.
“Unsalvageable” – The Founding Fields
Other title related puns considered for this review were “Dead on arrival” and “In space no one can hear you yawn.”
The real shame of Dead Space: Salvage is that it really had no right to be this bad. Between a brilliant premise, a completely unexplored aspect of the universe and very talented creative team, this should have been an instant hit. Antony Johnston has enough experience with horror and awards to his name to prove he could create something great from this, and Christopher Shy’s unique surrealist artwork should have been at its best here. Instead we’re left with a mess which fails to utilise even half of what it brings up.
Set between the events of the original Dead Space video game and the Aftermath film, Salvage covers the efforts of the government and potentially Unitology to salvage something from the disaster. Even a cordon of military ships sweeps the area, their prize is found by an unlikely source. The Magpies, an assorted band of criminals, miners and smugglers, drag something massive into their position. Something which should have been left forgotten: The Ishimura. However, even as they board to salvage the ship, EarthGov agents close in and something stirs in the minds of the weak.
Following on from the game’s events it goes without saying that this was written for fans of that game, those who knew the plot and many basic elements of the universe. Things like the threat of the markers, how the Unitologists think and many details revealed in that game so the writers could focus their efforts elsewhere. You’d be partially right. Johnson skips much of the introductions and establishment of the universe, but then does nothing for most of the first issue.
Rather than spending a few pages to establish the characters and what’s at stake, the Ishimura itself doesn’t show up until a considerable way into the story. Why? To spend page after page on the brainless cannon fodder characters. Apparently needing to relentlessly pad out the pages, the story is dragged to a near standstill right out of the starting gate as there is no action and no substance.
Rather than like in Alien where small-talk and crew interaction is used to build up an atmosphere between a small number of characters, here it’s insipid. Consisting of people with the depth and breadth of personalities from bad slasher films. Dropping multiple F-bombs at every turn, going so far as to hack other people’s terminals to spam them with gay porn and giving no reason for the audience to engage in them. Those on the EarthGov fleet are no better, with the higher ups threatening everyone under their command and dropping slightly more colourful insults in every speech bubble. Gunnery Sergeant Hartman they are not.
None of these characters matter either as Johnson kills them off on a whim. Murdering everyone left, right and centre until the final survivor is someone who is barely known to the reader. Often not even bothering to give them meaningful ends, just killed in a confusing blur of events. So sudden and unfocused upon are their fates that you’ll need to read through this more than once to try to just understand what killed which member of the bloated roster at which time.
Were the sudden shock deaths of enigmas of characters not early 90s enough, the art falls back on the bad habits of that time. While Christopher Shy is a decent artist in his own right, sequential art is definitely not his forte, with few to no panels flowing from one to the next. Furthermore, backgrounds are continually skimped on, often with bare minimal details present or absent entirely. Consumed by the green filters over every page or misty grey haze which seems to cover everything in sight. Words are spoken without bubbles to signify which character is saying what, and more than once the colour of the text merges with the backgrounds.
Even knowing the canon causes as many problems as not, with the story abandoning basic logic or even factual information. Along with somehow trying to convince the audience of the extremely unlikely circumstances of marker fragments becoming embedded in the ship’s hull, they get the bare basics of the necromorphs wrong. Rather than reanimating dead flesh, new ones here are just influenced by the signal until they apparently just transform. Apparently those involved failed to recognise they were creating a book about SPACE ZOMBIES. The few times Johnson tries to hide this from the reader with fan-service only results in confusion and frustration, with long gone iconic enemies appearing then disappearing only panels later.
The final kicker is that everything here is ultimately inconsequential. The villains are never referred to again, nor is the survivor, the Ishimura’s recovery fails to call back to these events and any payoff feels forced. Both rushed and barely thought out, with no climax or anything actually building towards a conclusion.
There is nothing redeeming to be found here. The story goes nowhere, the characters are unlikable, the author kills them off on a whim with no impact, it ignores canon for its own sake and any actual answers are stupid beyond comprehension. As a monument to pointless wastes of talent and paper on par with All-Star Batman, this is definitely one you want to skip. Let’s just hope no one feels the need to try and resurrect it any time in the future.