When it comes to the video game industry, it’s hard to imagine a better-known poster child for women than Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider franchise. In the early days of 3D platform gaming, it seemed like you couldn’t turn a corner without seeing one of the franchise’s games. But then, like many other series, it sadly overstayed its welcome before hitting a massive dry spell. But then in 2013, the franchise did a full reboot with that year’s Tomb Raider. While initial sales were reportedly low, the game eventually became the best seller of the series with a huge amount of critical praise and sparked an entire revival of the franchise. And, of course, these included a series of comics that took place in-between the games. But sadly, unlike the new video games, the first few arcs of the new comics were less to write home about.
Published from February of 2014 through July of 2015, the Dark Horse Tomb Raider series took place in between the events of the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot and its 2015 sequel, Rise of Tomb Raider, detailing what happened to the characters after returning from the island. This first series ran 18 issues with three separate story arcs. The series would eventually be renumbered with the new plot taking place between Rise of Tomb Raider and Shadow of the Tomb Raider, but for today we at The Nerd Hub will only be taking a look at the first run.
The first six issues were exclusively written by comic book superstar and defacto feminist voice, Gail Samone. The second arc was co-written by the games’ lead writer, Rhianna Pratchett before writing duties fell exclusively to her in the books final arc with artwork by Derlis Santacruze and Nicolas Daniel Selma. And what’s really strange about the whole thing is that as Samone’s involvement lessened, the series gets progressively better. But at the start, the book is pretty bad.
The setup for the first story arc is about as generic and cliched as these things can get. It’s been a few weeks since the events of the game and everyone is still suffering from the trauma of having to endure the horrors of the island. Unfortunately for them, members of the cult that hunted them in the game still live and wish to finish what their leader started, one way or another. And the whole thing is so boring and nonsensical, feeling less like a series from a highly praised comic writer and more like an incredibly subpar piece of DLC that takes place after the game.
The plot of the arc can be pretty aptly described as a series of chases, captures, and gunfights that are all played out in the blandest, most predictable way possible. The bad guys show up. They try to extort the good guys with guns to their heads. They escape. Rinse and repeat. They run down streets, alleyways and so on, drawn and paced in such a way that it’s impossible for us to feel any tension, using as few panels as possible before moving on to the next event.
It also doesn’t help that the book utterly fails to invest you in any of the characters or make you care about what happens to them. Granted, these characters weren’t exactly on par with say a BioWare cast of supporting characters in the 2013 game, but the book does nothing to endure them to us. In addition, Lara is a character who is rendered rather unlikeable. Like other Samone protagonists, Lara continuously whines throughout the length of the arc about all the guilt she feels over not being able to save everyone and how she is determined that no one will die this time around and so on. As with Samone’s other work, it’s clear what she is going for but after a while, it dominates her entire character. It eventually becomes clear that this is all that there is to her and doesn’t have anything resembling a personality behind it.
Ultimately these are all things that make the first arc of the Tomb Raider Dark Horse series disposable. It’s one that can easily go into the garbage pile and one that a professional writer like Samone should be ashamed of. Now the second story arc is a little trickier.
This is the arc where the games’ lead writer, Rhianna Pratchett, was brought in to co-write the series. The apparent result of her input is a story that is ultimately just as disposable as its predecessor but not AS unengaging as the previous arc. But with that said, it’s still pretty subpar
The plot follows Lara tangling with an organization known as Trinity after they target a friend’s sister. And…that’s about it. Sadly, it has a lot of the same problems as the previous arc. Lots of shootouts. Plenty of chases. Dull execution. Lara whines a lot. There isn’t much in the way of engaging storytelling, complete with ghost friends who warn Lara about stuff and no explanation as to why. But at least this time around there is something else going on.
We do finally start to see Lara get past her trauma as well as addressing the fact that she can commit mass murder without so much as blinking. They don’t really follow up on it as well as one might hope but at the very least it’s an interesting idea to build a story around. Again though, it’s not a particularly engaging story. The most entertaining it gets is when supporting character Jonah drafts Lara into starring in his stage production of Pride and Prejudice. This is mainly because it’s literally the first time we see Lara as a character beyond the whining and screaming and trauma that dominated her entire character in the 2013 game and previous story arc.
We actually learn more about her and what separates her from other people of her trade. We learn about some of her own personal phobias that don’t involve death and destruction. In fact, it’s probably the most relatable and human the character has ever been. But beyond that, it feels like a subpar tie-in comic that was rushed out as a prequel to a film or…well a video game. Imagine that. The third and final story arc, however, is a completely different animal.
It’s not as if Tomb Raider magically morphs into The Court of Owls or something but it’s a far more entertaining read than the previous two and is the first of the three that Rhianna Pratchett had sole writing duties on. The storyline revolves around Lara and company as they attempt to rescue a friend who they thought dead from a South America gang. And it is a MASSIVE IMPROVEMENT over the previous two arcs. What makes it work so well is that it does exactly what the previous two arcs did NOT do. Lara doesn’t mope around and brood over her past. It doesn’t contain any extended gunfights or prolonged chases and actually has a sense of humor. The way they go about outsmarting and escaping the antagonists are clever and the writing doesn’t use a shootout every other issue to move its plot along. Most of the story is dialog or exploration driven, giving the arc a more deliberate pace but also a more satisfying one.
Shockingly enough, it doesn’t even try to tie into either of the video games. The inciting event does but for the most part, this arc is just trying to tell its own story and not act as a prequel or sequel to one of the games. As a result, it feels far more genuine and more like a story someone actually wanted to tell as opposed to the paycheck jobs that the predecessors came off as. It’s just a solid little story. And this, of course, leads us to our final verdict on these arcs.
The first story arc is absolute garbage and belongs in the trash fire. There is no debating that. The second arc isn’t as bad but it’s still as forgettable and disposable as the first. Luckily the final storyline is really good and one that I recommend giving a read. Ultimately, the first run of Dark Horse’s Tomb Raider series was underwhelming for the first part but at the very least you’ll get at least one good arc out of it.
Arc One: Burn
Arc Two: Trash
Arc Three: Browse
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