Publisher: Titan Comics
Writer(s): Dan Watters, George Mann, Tauriq Moosa
Artist(s): Alan Quah, Damien Worm, Piotr Kowalaski
Release Date: 14th September 2016
Ah, Dark Souls. Ne’er has a video game so aggressively difficult so united a community. Screams of agony, the sound of controllers being crushed and ejected from windows, and cries of ‘git gud’ are literally the only things that emerge from the game’s subreddit, so you can imagine quite how painful it is to actually play the damn thing. That being said, I’m something of a fan – challenging though it is, there’s a unique sense of accomplishment from overcoming the games cruel-yet-fair encounters, and a satisfyingly odd way that it delivers its story. But as m’colleague Chris the Fourth concluded in his review of Titan’s initial effort to do so, moving the series’ trademarks from game to page – trademarks that are deeply rooted in it being, y’know, a game – proved a task too monumental for just one creative team.
So instead, this new series is an anthology issue – featuring four short stories, from four different sets of creators. And in truth, this was an absolutely genius move on the part of Titan’s editorial team. The short-form stories are more focused, more evocative of the themes that permeate the fabric of the game’s world – despair, decay, death and at the end of it all, rebirth – and most importantly, they emulate player’s own stories. Dark Souls is ultimately something of a water-cooler game – presenting a set of mechanics and tools, along with a set of challenges, and allowing you to tackle them in your own particular way. Wanna blast the boss with fireballs? Go for it. Wanna absorb its blows with the heaviest of armours, then stab it with the tiniest of knives? By all means. Wanna nimbly dodge everything it throws at you, then cleave it in twain with a greatsword? Knock yourself out! The point is that one player’s story of a particular boss fight will always be different from another’s, and these short-form stories are almost perfectly evocative of breathless players exchanging their tales of victory and defeat that has become such a core facet of what makes the Souls series so delightful.
I genuinely cannot say whose art I like the most out of the four teams presenting their work herein. If I had to pick one at gunpoint, it’d likely be Nick Percival’s on the final story, ‘The Labyrinth’ – his gauche, gooey stylings perfectly evoke the dangerous, festering world of Dark Souls, along with some absolutely beautiful work playing with light and shadow in the bookend scenes set at a bonfire. That’s not to say that the other artists are slacking in the slightest – Kowalski & Simpson give a spiney, boney feel to their story, and Worm’s more stylised outing is pitch perfect given its script.
And indeed, to pick a favourite in terms of overall story, Worm’s story, the second, called ‘The Flame’s Return’ is most certainly the recipient of the biscuit, the cake and possibly your daughter too – Moosa’s script gives it the feel of one of those little hidden gems of lore that you stumble across in-game, telling the tragic story of behind a particularly nasty boss battle that gets you even more emotionally engaged in fighting the damn thing. It’s as great, and tragic a moment as that one in the first game where you figure out that Sif is Sir Artorias’ wolf, along with quite how Sif ended up in the place she was guarding.
If you’ve never touched a Souls game… well, honestly this isn’t going to sell you on the idea of a game that’s cost the lives of so many gamepads. It’s obtuse and just a touch morbid. But for Souls fans, those who like the game’s idiosyncratic story delivery, and richly detailed worlds, this is something of a redemption of the disappointment of April’s misfire.
This feels significantly more like an appropriate adaptation of the series, not just in the artwork, but in the writing as well, both capitalising on the game’s themes, and morphing the narrative architecture over to fit into a piece of sequential art. I really wish that I could give it more, because genuinely I really enjoyed every page, but it’s an almost quintessential example of a…
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The Writer of this piece was: Ross Sweeney
Ross tweets from @Rostopher24