Monday, January 18, 2016

Run Reader: Gears of War

With his signature catch-phrase, salty language, and buckets of
gore, Marcus Fenix is back in Gears of War #1 (2008).
This past Christmas I was fortunate enough to be gifted with an XBOX One game system. The Holiday Bundle version I received came with the upgraded, "Ultimate Edition" of the original Gears of War game first released eons ago (in gaming terms) in 2006. Thanks to the wonderful world-building of the game's production team, and despite having previously bested both this game and it's subsequent titles, it was difficult not to be easily drawn back into the world of Marcus Fenix and Delta Team.

Issue #2 cover by
Brandon Badeaux.
In edition to being something of a forerunner in dramatic sci-fi/action-adventure console video gaming, the Gears of War franchise also stands as one of the rare early game titles to be successfully spun off into an ongoing comic book series. Running 24 issues from 2009 to 2012, Gears of War was published by DC Comics under the company's now defunct Wildstorm imprint. (Fun fact: SEGA stalwart Sonic the Hedgehog's comic book adventures continue to be published by Archie Comics to this day, with the the most recent issue being #279!) The synergy between game and comic book is such that issues of the series are now available with the Ultimate Edition as unlockable extras, pages of which are viewable in the Special Features.

The success of the comic book is best attributed to its consistency with the games: both are moody and violent in tone with a tightly woven narrative. A key to this consistency in characterization is the result of the comic books use of the games' writers to handle scripting duties. With artwork equally evocative of the video game series, the talents involved contribute an additional layer of humanity to those operating in the Gears universe.

From Gears of War issue #7 written by Joshua Ortega,
art Simon Bisley and Henry Flint .
While there are quieter moments of subtle characterization in each of the Gears games (if you look for them), the comic book format provides numerous opportunities throughout the 24 issue run for characters to breathe and develop even more fully. Due to his established in-game tough guy status, Gears' protagonist Marcus Fenix' is at the center of most stories, if not as the lead, than certainly as a clear influence on the character from whose perspective the story is told.

Even with an already incredibly culturally diverse character line-up in its gaming universe, the Gears comic book also fills out the ranks of those under Marcus's command. Additionally, the series takes the reader back to familiar historical points in the establish Gears historical timeline, such as the Pendulum Wars. each issue takes on the perspective of ancillary characters who at one point or another find themselves with the orbit of Marcus Fenix. In addition to adding characters that would eventually find their way into the game, such as Jace Stratton, introduced in print with issue #3 and voiced by Micheal B. Jordan in Gears of War 3, the comic book series also adds to the mythology of the game-based world. While a minor character, and major influence, in the first two Gears games, Marcus's father takes the lead in a series of flashback issues to the aforementioned Pendulum Wars.

Gears of War #10, written
by Mike Capps and Joshua
Ortega with art by Liam Sharpe.
The opening six-issue arc entitled "Hollow" is written by Joshua Ortega with pencils by Liam Sharp. The events of the arc bridges the narrative gap between the first Gears of War game and the start of the second, following the brutal adventures of Marcus Fenix and Delta Squad in the battle against the Locust. As the writer of Gears 2, Ortega has a clear familiarity with the characters and, with Sharp's command of visuals, both tell a story with minimum dialogue and maximum carnage. One potential drawback to readers unfamiliar with the franchise is a lack of familiarity with the characters by potential readers. While I benefited from having played the games, for example the motivations of both Delta team and the evil invading locust army were understood, the uninitiated might need more background than the obvious "ugly monster equals bad guy" trope.

During its 24 issue run, DC/Wildstorm's Gears of War title maintained a high quality, never deviating from the exclusive "Gears-verse" for story setting. While part of the DC's company -wide "Draw the line at $2.99" price freeze initiative, readers never (thankfully) saw a cross-over with Green Lantern or, more suitably perhaps, Lobo. Concluding with a 6 part story by writer Karen Traviss, that bridges the narrative gap between the conclusion of the second Gears game and concludes with a story which leads directly into Gears of War 3.

The series can still easily collected as individual issues (my preferred format) are still available at cover price at your local comic shop if you are willing to dig deep into the back issue bins. Of course, the series has also been collected into three trades, though the license with DC has surely lapsed by now, there may be more stories in the future as Gears of War 4, with the son of Marcus Fenix in the lead, nears its release.

Issue #13 by Liam Sharp.
Issue #14 cover by Leonardo Manco.
Issue #19 cover by Colin Wilson.

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