Saturday, November 23, 2013

Dead Rising: Road to Fortune (Comic) - Jackpot!

Yesterday, Dead Rising 3 was released as an exclusive for the Xbox One. It serves as the latest installment in the 7-year-old Dead Rising franchise, itself known for being able to display waves upon waves of zombies on the screen, the number of which escalates with every new entry. Dead Rising 3 not only marks another escalation of number of zombies in one’s line of vision, but also introduces plenty of new changes, such as a new protagonist and the ability to have characters in the game call you in real life with a compatible phone. With this hefty new entry, it will be interesting to see just how it turns out and if the improvements over the previous games make for a better experience.

Unfortunately, that is not what we are going to look at today.

Instead, in lieu of being able to actually play it, we will be taking a look at Dead Rising: Road to Fortune, a 4-issue comic meant to bridge the gap between the events of Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2. Admittedly I haven’t played the original Dead Rising on Xbox 360, but I did play both Dead Rising 2 and the Off the Record rerelease on PS3, the former of which spurred my interest in this comic and the latter of which is old enough to appear in the comic’s ads. With that out of the way, let’s see if this comic is worth reading.

The premise goes as such: Following the events of Dead Rising, reporter Frank West is the host of a struggling show called Uncovered, which presumably seeks to cast some light on hidden truths. After waking up from a nightmare one morning, he goes about his normal business until a report from KDED 24-Hour News by Rebecca Chang regarding a new infestation of zombies in Coyote Springs grabs his attention. After hearing the full report, he calls up his agent to try and get Rebecca a spot on Uncovered. Despite his insistence, Frank learns that his show has been cancelled by the network, effective immediately. After telling his agent off, his words apparently being inspiration for another particular show, he calls Rebecca himself so that he can still try and meet up with her. Meanwhile, Motocross racer Chuck Greene is travelling with his wife, Pam, and daughter, Katey, to Las Vegas, excited about an event called the Las Vegas 250. Confident that he will win, and that the news reports of zombie outbreaks are exaggerated, he eventually reaches Vegas, completely unaware of just how much his life will change that night.

Frank West about to rescue Isabella Keyes in his nightmare.

From what I can tell based on my Dead Rising experience, and the helpful expository text on the inside front cover, Road to Fortune manages to do a good job with continuing from the first game and establishing elements that will return to play in Dead Rising 2. What helps is that the writer, Tom Waltz, is a huge fan of Dead Rising and was excited at being able to write new continuity to the series. The story he writes is well-paced and transitions well between the parallel stories of Frank West and Chuck Greene. Personalities for each character seem intact; Frank is a journalist who will find any opportunity to get a big story and Chuck is very self-confident but also cares for the safety and well-being of his family, especially Katey once his situation goes south. This helps paint Tom Waltz as the kind of fan who, given the opportunity to work on a favorite series, will try to make logical connections between installments without disrupting the overall continuity.

While I do like what Waltz has written, I’ll admit that the way I’ve played the games has become a bit of a double-edged sword. The expository text on the inside covers of each issue help fill me in on what happened in the original game, as well as remember what happened between issues, but the comic ends with Chuck arriving at a gas station at Still Creek, which I recognize from screenshots of the Xbox 360 exclusive Dead Rising: Case Zero, which is a direct prequel to Dead Rising 2. Since I haven’t played Case Zero, or the parent game’s direct sequel Case West, this affected how I viewed a couple of the characters in the comic. We get to see the Director of Phenotrans, a pharmaceutical company which sells the ever-important Zombrex medication, as she manages to control two important parties for her own gain, along with another character named Mr. Singh who helps directly put her plan into motion. Thanks to not playing the aforementioned Xbox 360 titles, I have no idea if these characters are ever revisited or if we never see them again and they’re still at large.

The art of Road to Fortune, done by Kenneth Loh with colors by Esther Sanz, is also pretty good. The characters are very accurate to their in-game models, though Loh’s style helps give it a little flair, and the zombies are very well-drawn, with plenty of variety to distinguish their suitably off-putting features. The inking isn’t overdone, for the most part, and the colors use a bright palette to help different objects, both living and inanimate, stand out from each other. In this way the art is more realistic than works which would have used more muted tones and overall it fits in with the aesthetic of the Dead Rising universe. However, I do have a couple of issues. In situations with darker lighting, the art can become a little muddy and hard to make out and in some cases, the proportions of certain character’s faces, while still anatomically correct, aren’t as appealing. Thankfully these moments are few and far between and are more like anomalies than anything.

The zombies are suitably ugly and gross.

Overall, Dead Rising: Road to Fortune is actually a pretty good read. The story is internally consistent and makes certain connections with established elements pretty well while also setting up ones that will come back into play in Dead Rising 2. The artwork suits the genre, though it doesn’t hold up all the time, and the dialogue is also fairly consistent with what I understand the characters to be based on my time with Dead Rising 2 and Off the Record, though I’ll admit I’m not an expert on the franchise. Fans will, naturally, get the most satisfaction out of this mini-series for what it sets out to accomplish and it should be read for being able to fulfill its objectives. Non-fans just looking for a good zombie story may also get some satisfaction out of this, though they will only be confused in the long run. In this case, buy the trade and see if it grabs your interest enough to get into the franchise.

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