Liam Sharp is a strange artist.
Ever since "Gears Of War" debuted on the Xbox 360 in 2006, I was a fan. Although much of the dialogue and character interaction was laughably cliched, I found myself intrigued by the world that was built for the game and completely hooked by the basic plot driving the game. It was nothing complicated, but the game created a seamless and believable world and a narrative compelling enough to drive you forward through to the next encounter or twelve.
So when I saw a "Gears Of War" comic on the stands, I was eager to flip through it, hoping to find more vistas of Sera ("Gears"' base planet, an Earth wannabe) and its "destroyed beauty" style of architecture. Instead, I found what on first glance looked like sloppily inked, chunky disaster. There was none of the subtlety of the visual you'd find in the game, whose graphics are widely renowned as some of the best of its generation. It wasn't even that kind of clean, Jim-Lee-ian art one often finds in Wildstorm books. I returned it to the new releases wall, mildly disappointed.
Flash forward to the second issue, and "Gears Of War 2" has hit stores and my appetite for "Gears"-related ephemera knows little bounds. I was willing to look past Sharp's initially unimpressive art work if it meant just a few more hints at what life is like for COGs on a planet overrun by the subterranean and linebacker-sized Locusts.
I was quite surprised to find that Liam Sharp's work, when you sit down and read it, works absolutely perfectly in the context of the book. Sure, he doesn't have the kind of detail of the Unreal Engine 3 that powers the video game in his linework, but he's so well suited to capture the grit and sheer size of COGs like Marcus Fenix, trundling through an unending war zone. Like I said, it's a strange artist who, from a slight distance can look so unappealing, but when you allow yourself to step into the world they've created turns out to be incredibly talented.
Joshua Ortega was brought on to write the script for "Gears Of War 2" after the original game was brutalized by most for its cheesy dialogue and over-the-top, jock aesthetic. I can't tell you how successful he was in the game, but he does a fairly decent job in the comic serving as its prequel.
One of "Gears"' constant goals, rarely achieved, is to evoke sympathy for these armored hulks, running short on hope and ammunition against enemies with seemingly limitless amounts of both. What "Gears", and Ortega in this comic, does best is creating gripping set pieces of conflict and violence. Watching our heroes jump from one Last Best Hope to the next, their chances at survival and/or victory slimming after every one. No one really cares about Marcus Fenix or Dom Santiago, any more than the fate of John McClane's family keeps anyone up at night. We're in it to watch them drive a taxi through Central Park or, in this instance, cut an obscene amount of giant lizard creatures in half or stuff grenades in their backs.