This review was written by Brethren Moo, Numbers and may contain Spoilers.
The views and opinions of this review’s author do not necessarily reflect those of Atomic Moo’s; Though with prayer, and quiet contemplation, we may come around…
Titan Books was gracious enough to send us a copy of the Lost Planet: First Colony graphic novel, but before we review it, for the sake of context, let’s have a quick look back the video game series on which it is based…
Today, video game publisher Capcom is probably best known not for its timeless franchises, but for how consistently badly it treats its IPs. Among those IPs is Lost Planet, a series of sci-fi third-person shooters, which, even after three main games, a spin-off game, a manga, and a graphic novel, is still trying to find its identity. Set in a dark future in which a dying Earth needs a new source of energy, the megacorporation Neo-Venus Construction (NEVEC) rises to the challenge. This would be good news if NEVEC wasn’t basically Weyland-Yutani and their new energy source, thermal energy or “T-ENG,” wasn’t on an inhospitable ice planet populated by giant monsters.
The first game (2006’s Lost Planet: Extreme Condition) was an exciting action-packed single-player trek through the frozen wastes of planet E.D.N. III (what’s in a name?). Using grappling hooks, heavy weapons, and even Mechs, players had to survive the frigid temperatures that constantly clawed away their T-ENG reserves (essentially health) and fight off the planet’s wildlife and giant boss monsters. While it might not have been a great game, it was unique enough to be memorable, and as a patriotic Canadian and fan of LEGO’s Ice Planet 2002 series, a concept I could really get behind.
2010’s Lost Planet 2 was a co-operative-multiplayer-focused mess that thawed out the planet’s iconic arctic environments and was such a generic third-person shooter devoid of story and characters that it even had Gears of War and Resident Evil character models in it. Oh, and 2012’s refreshingly colourful, manga-inspired spin-off, E.X. Troopers, will never get a western release. Thanks, Capcom.
Instead, in 2013, Capcom launched Lost Planet 3, developed by a North American studio, and it shows. To say this prequel to Lost Planet: Extreme Condition was “inspired” by the recent Dead Space games would be an emperor-class understatement. A cheap-shot finishing move called the “Visceral Takedown” has players attack an opponent’s back, a not-so-subtle stab at Dead Space developer Visceral Games. Stay classy, Capcom. Still, it was nice to see Lost Planet once again return to a character-driven single-player story set in the ice and cold of monster-infested E.D.N. III. Hope you brought your mech!
And now there is First Colony, a Lost Planet graphic novel set 40 years before Lost Planet 3. So technically, this book is the prequel to the prequel of Lost Planet 1. Does it do the franchise justice, or does it just rip off the Dead Space comics? Let’s dig in and find out.
The first thing I noticed about First Colony was its size. It’s not a very lengthy graphic novel. At 48 pages, with a convenient cliffhanger on page 23, they could have easily split this into two monthly comic-book issues. Sure, the volume only costs $10 USD, but at a measly forty-eight pages, I can’t help but feel like they could have published something more substantial (maybe translate the Lost Planet manga in the same volume as well?). Consider Hawken: Genesis, the prequel comic to Adhesive Games’ sci-fi mech-based indie FPS Hawken. At only $20, it weighs in at 136 pages, and features bigger-name talent than First Colony. But this is Capcom we’re talking about, so maybe there’s a Super Lost Planet: First Colony Turbo – Colonies Edition on the horizon, with a few extra pages.
There is a reason for the comic’s short length. First Colony was originally published as a bédé (bande dessiné, literally “comic strip”) in France. In European bédé culture, rather than single-issue comics like we get on this side of the pond, graphic stories are printed in hardcover albums of 64 pages or so. Think of Tintin, Astérix, or the more recent Blacksad. Plus, the bédé market is usually less saturated with capes and super-powers, too. Because of this context, I am not altogether bothered by the volume’s length, especially due to its low price, but readers should be aware that they are not getting a graphic novel but an album bédé instead.
Written by founder of Game Fan magazine Guillaume “Izu” Dorison and illustrated by Massimo Dall’Oglio, First Colony follows Captain June and the crew of the starship Crusader, a group of young pirates hoping to make a quick buck off NEVEC, Lost Planet’s Weyland-Yutani stand-in. When they discover that planet E.D.N. III was abandoned, they decide to drop by and steal some of the valuable equipment left behind by the colonists – but they don’t know of the Lost Planet’s extreme conditions and hidden dangers!
The story of some money-thirsty pirates fighting their way through E.D.N. III fits within the franchise’s established fiction. Hell, that was pretty much the entire plot of Lost Planet 2, only with more T-ENG. You don’t need to know anything about the games to enjoy the book. As Captain June of the Crusader and her rag-tag crew explore E.D.N. III and mingle with the locals, they are introduced to the hazards of the planet’s surface, the power of T-ENG, and the true nature of NEVEC, all of which are central to the franchise.
Dell’Oglio’s artwork is distinctly bédé. He makes no attempt to draw the world of Lost Planet in photorealistic detail, instead using an appropriately cartoony style, focusing on characters’ expressions and movements instead of life-like textures and shading – another welcome change from North American cape-central comics. The colour palette consists predominantly of whites, blues, and earth tones. Just like the games, expect plenty of black and brown, with warmer colours used for costume accents, explosions, and creatures’ weak spots: their natural supplies of sought-after resource T-ENG.
If I can make one complaint about the art, it would be the character design of the female cast members. The Crusader’s ladies, June, Tidie, and Kate, are all young women with black hair – and very similar faces. Until they made planet fall and donned their unique winter-survival gear, it was very hard to tell them apart. That brings me to another point: their character designs. All three of the Crusader’s women appear young, and in the case of Captain June, too young to be plausible. She is supposed to be a battle-hardened former mercenary turned disgruntled, don’t-take-no-crap space pirate, yet she looks hardly out of high school. When did she have the time to be a NEVEC merc? Senior year? I can understand her wanting to keep herself pretty in order to use her feminine wiles, but I would have found her character design much more plausible if she looked slightly older and more experienced.
Izu’s dialogue is nothing special, but having read the original French version, I can say that translator Mark McKenzie-Ray effectively captured the characters’ sass and conflicting personalities. Nothing has really been lost in translation. First Colony’s plot feels as though it were deliberately structured to teach certain key points of the Lost Planet franchise to newcomers to the series. These points include surviving E.D.N. III’s climate and native wildlife, the use of high-powered weaponry and Bionic Commando-inspired grappling hooks, the warring factions on the planet, the true nature of NEVEC, and the importance of T-ENG, all of which are covered with action in addition to dialogue.
But just because it story covers those points doesn’t make it a very good story. It’s exciting and dark, but reads like “A Beginner’s Guide to Lost Planet” rather than a memorable story set in the games’ universe. To further complicate matters, Captain June believes that the Crusader crew’s string of bad luck is not an accident – someone is following them, she claims, and is responsible for the stormy weather, an avalanche, and a giant monster attack. All of which, mind you, are par for the course in Lost Planet. Those who are more familiar with the franchise might know that the good Captain might be onto something, but for new readers who haven’t played the games, for June to jump to such a conclusion simply feels like sloppy writing. Then again, it could be reasoned that maybe the lack of oxygen has her jumping at shadows.
An even more surprisingly weak story element is just how optimistically the characters react to their spaceship crash-landing on E.D.N. III. Despite not having any heavy-duty industrial repair equipment or even the right pieces, they are convinced that the severe structural damage to the ship can be mended with some spare parts, hand tools, and elbow grease. This is not as simple as Luke Skywalker accidentally parking his X-Wing Fighter in the drink. The Crusader’s bow is shattered in at least three pieces, part of her nose is buried in the snow, her spine is damaged, and worse. To think that they could get her flying again, or even less plausibly, spaceworthy, is completely ludicrous.
The story has some obvious, crippling flaws, but how does it tie into the larger story of the franchise’s fiction? At least one of the First Colony characters returns in Lost Planet 3, in which he has an even bigger role. That’s pretty much it. No knowledge of the comic is needed to enjoy the games, and, even more so, vice-versa, since the comic seems structured to introduce several of the franchise’s staples.
It’s not very long. It’s not very memorable. And quite frankly, it’s not very good. It would seem that First Colony is very faithful to the Lost Planet franchise after all. Despite its mediocrity, I still found it to be a fun, action-packed adventure, albeit one light on content. But how many 48-page translated bédés have you read lately that had giant ice monsters and Bionic Commando grappling hooks? Whether you’re gearing up to jump into Lost Planet 3 or you know nothing of the games and just want a sci-fi adventure story, Lost Planet: First Colony has you covered. But, like the games on which it is based, don’t go in with high expectations.
Lost Planet: First Colony is now available in all major bookstores or at the Titan Books online store!