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Trading Up: Resident Evil

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Every so often in the reviewing game - whether one is a mainstream fan being offered an alternative graphic novel or, in this case, an Indie-centric reader perusing a book with a more pop cultural slant - the opportunity comes up to pen some thoughts on work that is slightly outside of your normal comfort zone. I have to hold up my hands from the outset here and admit from the very beginning that I have only the most perfunctory knowledge of the Resident Evil franchise. I have never played the game, never seen the films this series ties into and, had I not received the recent Titan edition of the DC/WildStorm miniseries as a comp, I freely admit I would never have picked up this collection off my own bat.

Anyone reading that confession may understandably feel I’ve just negated any review credibility that the next few paragraphs may provide. However, in these increasingly tough economic times, there’s an argument to be made that even the most popular of licensed characters and concepts cannot blithely be expected to coast by saleswise solely on their core followers; that it's important there’s an appeal beyond gamers for a trade like this and that the story arc is entirely accessible, on its own terms, to the casual reader.

Resident Evil traces the journey of Holiday Sugarman and Mina Gere, two agents of the BSAA (Bioterrorism Security Assessment Alliance), as they unpick the links between a telepathic virus and the dodgy munitions firm Giesel Industries. As the operation progresses the agents find themselves encountering mutated zombie-like monsters everywhere from an over-run space station to fictional Eastern European villages through to the Latin American jungle.

First and foremost, this is largely a comfort read that echoes the high-octane “blow ‘em away” sensibilities of its progenitor. To all intents and purposes it’s basically a collection of set piece action sequences leading to the ultimate confrontation with the string-pulling villain of the piece. In that regard it actually feels like an adaptation of the video game approach to storytelling that it largely emulates. That said, writer Ricardo Sanchez goes to great pains to ensure that lead characters Sugarman and Gere are not merely gun-toting ciphers and have as engaging personalities and established back story as is humanly possible within the limited page count.

Fittingly, the story itself has a very cinematic feel to it, bouncing backwards and forwards between diverse international locations with intense action scenes and utilising a suitably cackling bad guy who would be at home in the best of the Bond movies. There are also some notable moments of pure horror: a zombie child and agent Gere’s claustrophobic, classic Doctor Who-style encounter with mutated monsters on the space station being the most memorable.

         

Given the trade credits three pencillers for the six collected issues (Jheremy Raapack, Kevin Sharpe and Al Barrionuevo) and a small army of inkers (so many I must forego typing all their names for fear of making my fingers bleed) the art retains a level of consistency throughout that is quite surprising in the circumstances. Again, there’s a filmic dynamism to the layouts that captures that big budget blockbuster feel the book is trying to evoke.

While I can’t answer the question of how well Resident Evil foreshadows the movie it apparently acted as a prequel to or, indeed, whether it even works on the level of the games that spawned it, it does succeed as a standalone arc with a certain appeal as pure escapist fun. If you’re looking for an hour or so of undemanding wish-fulfilment fantasy comics where the good guys blow away the monsters, and the bad guys are always going to get their due comeuppance, then the Resident Evil trade ticks all the right boxes.

The Resident Evil trade paperback is available in the U.K from Titan Books priced £14.99 and from DC Comics in the U.S. priced $19.99.

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