SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers follow for “inFAMOUS,” “Assassin’s Creed III,” and “Left 4 Dead 2.”
Among the more commonplace comic book names like Batman, X-Men or the Avengers, it’s sometimes easy to forget that there are a slew of comic books and graphic novels based off of video games. Sure, “Injustice” is technically based off of a video game (though it’s also based on comic book characters first, so it automatically is excluded from our list); meanwhile, issues of “Sonic the Hedgehog” pepper the youth reading areas of local shops.
But we’re talking about depth here; depth, and originality. Video game comics like “Assassin’s Creed Locus” work to expand the lore and context of a source material grounded in the video game medium, instead of just showing off popular characters. CBR has read many of these books, and have compiled some of the very best comic books based on video games.
11. Street Fighter
Oddly enough, fighting games seem to be a good source for pretty solid comic books. This long-running series was licensed by developer/publisher Capcom and regularly published by UDON Entertainment. The comics themselves give far more context to the events that transpire in each game, which are often relegated to short cutscenes in order to get back to the hadouken-firing action. In the numerous issues released over a 10-plus year period, fans got a deeper look into Ryu’s relationship with Sakura as her teacher, his struggles with the Dark Hado, and the defeats he suffers while on his journey to be the strongest. It’s not only all focused on Ryu though, as several other “Street Fighter”” miniseries were created to focus on the stories of Sakura, Chun-Li, Ibuki and more recently, Cammy.
The comic is great in that it shows the fighters having lives outside of the tournaments they attend. They have jobs, relationships and sometimes even a few bad jokes. The art behind each book is none too shabby either. UDON Entertainment is an award-winning art collective of comic book-inspired artists who all work on these issues. Their involvement has made the art of “Street Fighter” suitably punchy, bright and unique.
At the end of “inFAMOUS,” hero (or villain, depending on how you played it) Cole McGrath manages to beat a time-traveling bad dude named Kessler and is preparing to battle an impending doom known as the Beast. At the beginning of the second, Cole is on a boat ready to leave Empire City and the Beast shows up. To say the transition between “inFAMOUS” and “inFAMOUS 2” was less than seamless is a bit of an understatement. Luckily, the interim moments were expanded upon in the titular comic book.
In the comic series by writer William Harms and artist Eric Nguyen, Cole McGrath works slowly to retake Empire City from the First Sons, a secret society with military firepower that occupied the city when Kessler set off the Ray Sphere. The fallout of Kessler’s research and use of the Sphere is felt with the escape of one of his test subjects: a mutated conduit named David. Moya Jones, a behind-the-scenes DARPA agent in the first game, is working to capture all of the conduits in Empire City, including Cole. The electricity-powered superhero fends off the Sons and goes toe-to-toe with Kessler’s failed experiment, finally shutting down Moya for good. The comic style is perhaps most fitting, as “inFAMOUS” itself is largely inspired by superheroes in print. However, the sheer amount of loose ends the book tidies up is a relief and makes the transition from one game to another have much more impact.
9. Assassin’s Creed: The Fall
Fans of the cloak-and-dagger “Assassin’s Creed” series were eager to dive into the third entry after Ezio’s trilogy had been wrapped up. During the game, main character Desmond Miles gets ambushed by a mysterious Templar named Daniel Cross. Cross knows his name and much about the Assassins, but Miles was completely in the dark about him. Indeed, it left many players sitting with their controllers in hand, echoing his sentiment: “Who the hell is Daniel Cross?”
What many might have missed was that Daniel Cross was fleshed out in a comic released the year prior, dubbed “Assassin’s Creed: The Fall.” In the series by writer/artists Cameron Stewart and Karl Kerschl, Cross dives into the memories of his great-grandfather, Assassin Nikolai Orelov. Orelov is ordered to kill Tsar Alexander III and retrieve an ancient staff of power. The book goes between Orelov’s mission and Cross’ own plot to kill the Mentor of the Assassins in present day. It’s a short arc, but gives far more backstory to a character that quite literally appeared out of nowhere in the game and got about three lines of exposition. “The Fall” not only portrays Cross as the dangerous double-crosser he’s purported to be, but also fills in a huge gap in “Assassin’s Creed III’s” storytelling.
8. Mass Effect: Foundation
As if the “Mass Effect” series wasn’t grand enough already, the Bioware team worked with Dark Horse Comics to get a slew of comic books made to support it. “Mass Effect: Foundation” is a relatively large run of thirteen issues that give more backstory to the universe’s major characters. Fan favorites like Thane, Wrex and Mordin all have their own respective books, as well as many others who could have done with more exposition in the game.
Most of the comics function as standalone stories for each character, but some have direct ties to specific events in the games. Greatly under-served individuals such as Jacob and Kai Leng are given more insight into what exactly they did before running into the infamous Commander Shepherd. Kaidan gets more details regarding his training as a biotic and his struggles with his abilities. Kasumi gets a look back into her earlier career-making thievery, and readers find out just how much of a badass Zaeed really is. The list goes on, but none of the books feel like a waste. It’s a bit surprising, given the immense size of a game like “Mass Effect,” that it would be light on such characters’ backgrounds. “Foundation,” however, fills them in nicely. The plots are concise, dialogue is fun and the art is downright fantastic.
7. Mortal Kombat X
Another fighting game begets another fun comic to read. Based on the 2015 entry of the renowned super-violent series, “Mortal Kombat X” acts as a prequel story, but gives far more context to the events that transpired. The DC Comics series by Shawn Kittelsen and Dexter Soy dives into the character of Kotal Kahn and his rise to power. He is shown as a fairly straightforward conqueror, but very quickly gets pushed over the edge by multiple betrayals that ultimately lead to the death of a loved one. There is a large behind-the-scenes power struggle between Kotal’s forces and Outworlds, which eventually spill into the main plot of the game. These double-crossings lead to more than a fair share of brutal violence, chief among them is Goro getting his arms (yes, all of them) ripped off.
Behind the scenes scheming aside, the comic went for a surprising twelve issues. Throughout the series, a ton of characters from the previous games make quite notable appearances. Folks like Mavado and Reiko are featured as clashing forces, turning the tides of war with each operation they carry out. “Mortal Kombat X” is surprising in its commitment to making the storyline worthwhile and incorporating guests characters in useful ways. And yeah, the fights are still bloody awesome in every panel.
6. Last of Us: American Dreams
One of the best things about the award-winning game “The Last of Us” is its willingness to leave a lot of unanswered questions. We don’t really know much about Joel or Ellie’s life after the initial outbreak or how they survived long enough to finally meet as they do in the game. Ellie is particularly mysterious, as she is immune to being infected and speaks about a sort of boarding school that she attended post-outbreak. Neil Druckman and Faith Erin Hicks’ “The Last of Us: American Dreams” from Dark Horse serves as a deeper look into Ellie’s short but troubled past.
The book follows Ellie as she is transferred to a new school under military protection. Her outlook on life is bleak, as kids are taught until they turn 16 and forced to become soldiers to fight the infected. She then meets Riley, a fellow troublemaker and soon-to-be bestie. Together the girls form a bond of friendship, before eventually running into the renegade group, the Fireflies, and their leader Marlene. “American Dreams” gives a lot more impact to the relationship between Ellie and Riley, something that comes to play with a lot of the decisions Ellie makes in “Last of Us.” The art style is a fantastic juxtaposition to Neil Druckmann’s writing, showing both girls as naive, mischievous teens that have to face the harsh reality of the post-apocalyptic world they live in.
5. Dragon Age: Magekiller
The most recent entry into the “Dragon Age” series, dubbed “Inquisition,” shined a particularly strong light on the in-game region of Tevinter. Several references to the veritable mage city are made throughout the game (in fact, one of your main party members won’t shut up about it), but the biggest piece is a cult of rogue mages called the Venatori. In the game, these cultists often function as enemies to fight, as they are serving the game’s main villain, Corypheus. Dark Horse Comics’ “Magekiller” by Greg Rucka and Carmen Carnero aims to show the rise to power this group makes, as well as what happens to them after the end of “Inquisition.”
The comic follows a pair of mage hunters named Marius and Tessa Forsythia. The two are tasked by Archon Radonis (ruler of the Tevinter Imperium) with killing key leaders of the Venatori to quell their uprising. Things don’t go quite as planned and the two are forced to flee. As they evade their pursuers, they are witness to the giant green hole that gets ripped into the sky, triggering the events of “Inquisition.” Both characters are fun to follow up on and even if the arc is a scant five issues, it still manages to be engaging. It serves as a different perspective to all the chaos surrounding the in-game Inquisitor and their friends, most of whom treat the events as just another Tuesday. If the story isn’t enough to convince you, the amazing covers should.
4. Left 4 Dead: The Sacrifice
“Left 4 Dead” was, and still is, an amazingly popular first-person co-op shooter. Four players would team up and pit themselves against the monstrous horde of the undead, shooting their way through areas until they finally reached the safe zone. Among the survivors introduced, Vietnam War veteran Bill was a fan favorite; so much so, in fact, that when he was canonically killed, fans the world over were crushed. Luckily, the developer of the game, Valve, created its own comic illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming as a prequel to the DLC and the events thereafter, giving Bill and the rest of the survivors their proper due.
In “The Sacrifice” comic, the survivors are rescued and then forced to flee a military outpost that becomes overrun with infected. The group eventually makes its way to a harbor to find an abandoned sailboat ready for takeoff. Unfortunately, a lowered bridge is cutting off their escape by sea. Bill then makes the ultimate sacrifice, turning on the generator to raise the bridge, but getting done-in by gigantic “Tank” zombies in the process. “Left 4 Dead: The Sacrifice” is fantastic in that it gives a lot more depth to what the survivors go through. The actual sacrifice in-game is fairly anti-climactic, due to how the game plays, but the way Bill’s act of selflessness is done in the comic gives it the emotional punch the moment rightfully deserves.
3. Tomb Raider
Lara Croft was part of a spectacular reboot in 2013’s “Tomb Raider” and closed out 2015 with an epic sequel “Rise of the Tomb Raider.” the only issue is, in the first game, Lara had a group of friends that she fought to protect, only to have a few of them inexplicably disappear in the second. Granted, none of them really did much as far as the story’s plot, but Lara seemed to think they were worth surviving an island full of death over. The 18-issue comic series entitled “Tomb Raider,” written by Gail Simone and game writer Rhianna Pratchett, addresses this exact gap.
The books cover several arcs that incorporate the same group of folks that survived the ordeal on the lost island of Yamatai during the first game. Lara and her friends work to fight Solarii cultists, undo a mysterious organization called Trinity, and attempt to help Sam in her struggles after the events at Yamatai. Lara experiences nightmares after their fairly traumatic experiences on the island, while her friend Sam suffers from twisted visions of Queen Himiko. This gives Lara a conflict, as she sees the collateral damage of all her adventuring before her. “Tomb Raider” excels in that it doesn’t just give a little more context to “Rise of the Tomb Raider,” but actually addresses the impact of the game’s events on the characters. The Croft crew was nothing more than thin plot movers in the first game, so it’s nice to see the comics give them a more defined role in Lara’s life. While Top Cow held the “Tomb Raider” comics license for years, it shifted to Dark Horse in 2014.
2. Team Fortress 2
If ever there was a video game that had plenty of room for comedic asides, “Team Fortress 2” fits the bill. The popular multiplayer first-person shooter pits red and blue mercenaries of varying classes against each other. It’s colorful, cartoonish and above all, pretty dang funny. Each one of the playable mercenaries has a distinct trait and interacts as such. The Spy is a debonair Frenchman, Scout is an in-your-face Bostonian, Heavy is stereotypically Russian, and so on. These characters have little berth for storytelling outside of 5-on-5 gameplay, so the comics serve as a peek into their daily lives of mayhem.
Many of the stories revolve around the Mann Company, which hires out the mercenaries. Canonically, it’s being run by a burly, fearless adventurer named Saxton Hale, who serves as a catalyst for many of the team’s conundrums. Ranging from several issue arcs where the team has to reunite after dispersing to the far corners of the earth, to small newspaper comic-like one-shots denoting the true meaning of “Australian Christmas,” the “Team Fortress 2” comics are always a fun read. The art is also clean and bright, while the dialogue will, at the very least, incite a chuckle or two. It’s a video game comic bred from a team that takes neither their own game nor the comics too seriously, and it works quite well. Dark Horse released a print edition illustrated by Valve artists in 2011.
1. The Witcher
It’s tough to argue that “The Witcher” series of games isn’t laden with ridiculous amounts of lore and characters. Even when plowing through the most recent 80-plus hour entry into the franchise, it still feels like there is far more story to be told for the legendary professional monster slayer. Developer CD Projekt RED has given even more adventures for Geralt of Rivia, but in comic book form at Dark Horse. Several different short stories have been covered in the series, chief among which is “Fox Children”, and the newly released “Curse of Crows.”
“The Witcher” itself is a game based on a popular fantasy novel series, but the comics undoubtedly follow the journey of the video game version of Geralt. The comics bolster his prowess as a monster hunter, as the games generally have him more wrapped up in king-killing conspiracies or battling out-of-this-world enemies. In the comics, we follow Geralt of Rivia in his day-to-day life of taking contracts, dispatching all manner of fiends and even solving mysteries. Award-winning author Paul Tobin carefully crafts fittingly grim stories for the series and nails the dialogue. The art has also shined throughout “Witcher’s” run, with Joe Querio contributing to the amazingly dark and fantastic illustrations the books have to offer. This is one comic that really works to introduce anyone to the world of “Witcher.”
What are your favorite comic book adaptations of video games? Let us know in the comments!