Publisher: Titan Comics
Writer: Ales Kot
Artist: Piotr Kowalski
Cover: Jeff Stokley
Colors: Brad Simpson
Letters: Aditya Bidikar
Reviewer: Steve Sellers
As a general rule, I tend to be skeptical of most comics based on video game licenses. Though games remain one of my ardent passions, their comic book adaptations tend to be either money-making enterprises or just fail to live up to the original concept. This is not always the fault of the creators, who I’m sure do their best with the properties they love, as it is a difficult challenge to capture an interactive experience into a completely different medium.
Bloodborne is admittedly a game that I have little personal experience with, though it is a compelling concept as a video game. Created by the mind behind Dark Souls, Bloodborne can be loosely described as a Souls-like action/horror game that takes place in a sprawling Gothic city, where an unnamed Hunter explores and slays the monsters he finds there. There is also an interesting death mechanic in the game, where death merely takes the Hunter to a strange mindscape, upon which point he or she returns to life. This is a great concept for an action game, but a challenge to bring to life in comic book form.
Despite this difficulty, Titan Comics has managed to deliver a strong first issue that accurately reflects the video game experience.
Jeff Stokley is credited as the cover artist, and his work here strikes just the correct notes. While this cover presents a stock pose and doesn’t really hint at any actual story, it overcomes both of those concerns with a striking visual. You don’t really need to know anything about the story in these pages so long as it’s clear what Bloodborne itself is about, and the Stokley cover captures that perfectly. The main elements to show are the Hunter, the city of Yharnam, and the monsters, and they’re all presented in a way that’s true to the game. The use of blood-red set against black gets across the mood of the series, while presenting the Hunter in shadow hints at his enigmatic presence. The action is implied through subtle details, such as the dripping blood from the Hunter’s weapon and the fallen bodies in the foreground. This is a cover that intrigues me enough to turn the page, and so it succeeds at what it’s there to accomplish.
To his credit, I did not immediately recognize the artist as being the same Piotr Kowalski as the person who illustrated the recent 30 Days of Night series. This is intended as a compliment, because Kowalski shows an ability to adapt his style to different kinds of horror. He recreates the entire visual aesthetic of Bloodborne quite beautifully, capturing the Gothic-inspired setting of Yharnam in loving detail. His design for the Hunter also sensibly amplifies the mystery of the character, using a mask and distinctive headwear to obscure his features. Since the game allows the player to design a unique look for the Hunter, this choice maintains the right distance for reader identification.
Additionally, so much of this series is held up on the back of the art, because of the story limitations and how much the experience of the game is visual in nature. Kowalski is an effective visual storyteller, and this becomes clear through the action sequences. The battles look like what you might expect from a Souls-like game, creating both the sense of dread and the danger that these monsters represent. The panels also effectively convey the experience of the game itself, whether it’s illustrating the Hunter’s death vision or just the look of the creatures or the cityscape. This comic, more than many licensed game adaptations, recreates what it looks like to play Bloodborne, and Kowalski’s art contributes greatly to that flavor.
For the most part, the coloring is a strong complement to the artwork. While it’s a little weaker in terms of establishing the mood of horror, it is excellent in presenting the desolation of the city of Yharnam. The use of warm colors like red and orange really help to create the sense of a fallen city, and the red backgrounds add impact to some of the action sequences. At the right moments, the colder colors drive home the Gothic flavor of the setting, particularly during the scenes after the Hunter dies. The paleness of the ghostly residents that the Hunter encounters contrast nicely with the deep blues and shadow textures of the surroundings. The final page is particularly enhanced by the colors, with good lighting of the flames offset by the smoke and darkness in the background. All of this helps to create the mood of Bloodborne and creates consistency with the tone set by the original game.
Brad Simpson elevates his already strong lettering skills with his work on this issue. In the first place, the decision to use narrative captions and an elegant font that echoes an old-style journal helps create a sense of setting. A lightly-written script and some strong splash pages make his work easier, and the dialogue balloons and narrative captions are all well-placed within the visuals. However, the lettering also strengthens the action sequences with some excellent sound effects, all of which use just the right font to convey power and motion. Even a simple gunshot uses visual space to create emphasis, putting force behind the shot. Likewise, the moment where the Hunter dies, while a moment that reminds the reader that this is a game adaptation, reflects the visual style of the game through effective use of font and color. Simpson’s work here is subtle but effective, the sign of a good letterer.
Ales Kot is a name that has grown in visibility over the past year, though this is my first encounter with his writing. However, in an unusual turn, he turns in a fairly light script to this issue. It should be noted that this is probably the wisest decision in approaching this adaptation. The game itself is extremely light on story, focusing more on the moody Gothic visuals and the hack-and-slash mechanics of the combat. The script is extremely faithful to those basic ideas, as Kot makes the decision to allow those points to take the forefront.
This series is a difficult challenge to adapt on a story level, and this is because of the game’s inherent RPG elements. As a player in Bloodborne, the Hunter is meant to be a player-identification character. Even the visual design of the Hunter is a result of the player’s choices, and the story doesn’t focus so much on the character as it does on the journey to hunt monsters. This means that the story cannot focus on the personality of the main character, because the Hunter is meant to be a reflection of the player in the game. Kot’s apparent solution is to portray the Hunter as more of an enigmatic figure, with the story focused more deeply on the action and the supporting characters. This is perhaps the best way to side-step the inherent issues of adapting this game, as it also feels authentic to the game experience.
Beyond this, Kot presents the world of Bloodborne from the view of an experienced player, but also giving an accessible experience for those new to the series. The layouts of the action sequences flow very well, and the script never adds more than needs to be said. Kot introduces all the identifiable elements that define the game, including the city and its monsters. However, he even finds a way to work in the death mechanics in a faithful way, and although the “You Died” panel screams that this is a video game adaptation, it should be a pleasurable moment for fans of the game. At the same time, Kot also introduces a new element towards the end of the issue that presents a hook for what is to come, even if it’s too soon to pass judgment on this plot idea.
While Bloodborne will more likely appeal to you if you’re familiar with the video game it’s based on, this comic is an accessible first issue even for non-gamers. While it does suffer from some limitations set on it by its nature as an adaptation, and there are moments that will feel more like a video game than a comic, this is still an issue that’s worth checking out. It doesn’t offer that much in terms of story, at least so far, but it introduces the setting and the Hunter and hints at a story that offers more than just following the game’s parameters. Additionally, the art is deeply enjoyable and there’s a sense of a deep love of the game by its creative team in these pages.
Because this title managed to overcome my usual doubts about licensed game comics with its level of passion and craft, Bloodborne deserves a blood-curdling 9/10. Though this is a $3.99 comic, this book has earned its cover price. If you’re a fan of the game, this is a comic that may interest you. Even if you aren’t, it’s worth a try simply because the visual style and the series concept are compelling in their execution. Although there is definitely room to grow and the book isn’t without its faults, it represents the video game experience in a way not often seen in comics, and that should be encouraged.
Written By Steve Sellers
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