Review: The Last of Us (TPB)

The Last of Us is one of the most incredible games I’ve ever played.  Not only does it seamlessly blend my two favorite genres of video games (stealth and survival horror); it gives an emotional story and characters so memorable that it’s more than a video game.  It’s really an experience.  I’m glad to say that Dark Horse’s collected edition of their four-issue miniseries is also an experience not to miss for fans of the game. To those wondering, the comic takes place before the game and before the three weeks mentioned in the game (that might sound vague to people who haven’t played the game, but I don’t want to give away what happens in those three weeks since it’d be a major spoiler).  We follow thirteen-year-old Ellie who’s getting dropped off by bus at the Boston quarantine zone.  She’s looking out her window in the beginning and sees a guy about to get killed because a soldier’s scanner goes off which means the man is infected.  A group of survivors with Ellie get off the bus, and a soldier who seems to have gotten close with Ellie talks to her.  He says she can’t pull any of her old stunts (if you’ve played the game, you know Ellie is a troublemaker) and he won’t be able to bail her out.  Ellie pleads with him to take her with him, but he says he can’t-or as Ellie puts it, he won’t.

She is frustrated by this, but thinks she can handle herself.  She gets jumped by two kids who are trying to steal her Walkman.  She’s getting the crap kicked out of her and running her mouth when another girl steps in.  She is able to get a few harsh kicks and punches in before slamming the one boy to the ground and savagely threatening him.  The boys run away, but Ellie doesn’t thank the girl who saved her.  The girl tries to give her advice and make some friends so she doesn’t get jumped like that, but Ellie doesn’t want her advice.  The other girl points out that she has trust issues.  One of the men in charge of their school catches Ellie right after the other girl started running away from him, and calls her into his office.  He reads off her record of bad behavior and assigns her to clean a jeep.  She reaches into her coat pocket to grab her Walkman and realizes the girl who saved her took it and is livid.  She confronts the girl about it, but she plays it off as if she doesn’t know what Ellie is talking about.  Ellie calls her a lousy thief, and she finally gives the Walkman back to Ellie, saying she has “shit taste in music anyway.”

The Last of Us - American Dreams TPB CoverThat night while lying in bed, Ellie hears footsteps.  It happens to be the girl who saved her, and she seems to be trying to escape.  Ellie sneaks up on her and the other demands her go back to her room.  Ellie refuses and says they can help each other out in escaping.  We learn that the other girls’ name is Riley, and she makes sure Ellie is ready before they attempt to make their escape.

The second issue really starts to heat up when Ellie learns that Riley wants to become a part of The Fireflies, an anarchist group who is searching for a cure to the cordyceps brain infection (CBI).  This is the proponent that is responsible for turning people into the Infected.  While sneaking into a mall, Riley introduces Ellie to Winston, a man who does favors for Riley and her friends in exchange for whiskey.  In this instance, he shows Ellie how to ride a horse.  We learn later that Riley was just using this as a distraction to get Winston’s walkie-talkie.  When the lesson is over and the three are talking to each other, there’s a huge explosion outside.  Thanks to Riley’s cunning act, she’s able to hear on the stolen walkie-talkie Fireflies may be in the area, and she wants to meet up and hopefully join them.

Faith Erin Hicks’ artwork in this book is great.  It definitely has a cartoony, almost light-hearted feel to it, but is still able to capture the bleak world and happenings around it quite well.  At some points the cartoony feel really plays in her favor-sometimes you forget that Ellie is just a kid, and these moments are there to remind you.  It’s funny to see her mock the stance of a mannequin in the mall, or get stoked on the fact that there’s an arcade even though it was destroyed.  That goes the other way too, meaning that since it has a cartoony feel, the dark parts are all the more terrifying.  I won’t get into too much detail, but the Infected are just as terrifying in the comic as they are in the game.  Hicks is able to capture Ellie’s personality very well, which is saying a lot since in my opinion she’s one of the most if not the most memorable supporting character in video games today.  It translated over into this comic very well.  Rachelle Rosenberg’s coloring should be noted as well.  The colors bring this somber, decaying post-apocalyptic world to life and really make it believable.

The writing is great as well.  It’s a tale of friendship, survival, and the search for a better life in a bleak reality.  To see Ellie and Riley’s friendship blossom is just as enjoyable as it was to play as Joel in the game and see Ellie and his friendship and loyalty grow.  Ellie has a rough-and-tumble exterior, but it’s clear she just wants a friend to go through this hellish existence with.  For example, she flings herself on Riley after they encounter some Infected and says “I guess that was pretty scary, huh?”

I wasn’t sure how I felt reading a comic based off one of my favorite games, but it serves as an incredible prequel to The Last of Us, and any fan of the game should definitely pick this trade paperback up.  Dark Horse yet again handled putting out a game adaptation that did justice to the game it portrays.  This was a story that not only was enjoyable because it was a prequel based on an incredible game…it was a necessary story to tell and I feel that it couldn’t have been handled it better than this.

Score: 5/5

Writers: Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks Artist: Faith Erin Hicks Publisher: Dark Horse Comics Price: $16.99 Release Date: 10/30/13