It’s been a while since I reviewed a Tomb Raider comic. The last one I wrote was for Tomb Raider #8 back in October and that story arc concluded in January. I only have my own laziness to blame, I’m afraid.
Since so many months have passed and most people who are interested in the comics have probably read issues 9 to 12 by now, I thought I’d skip a few issues and pick up from issue 13, “The Watchers”, which marked the beginning of Rhianna Pratchett’s first solo story arc.
Rhianna is, of course, no stranger to fans of the Tomb Raider franchise. Not only was she the lead writer of Tomb Raider 2013, she also wrote the 6-part omnibus Tomb Raider: The Beginning (which served as a prequel to the 2013 game) and co-wrote Tomb Raider issues 7 through 12 with Gail Simone.
So without further ado, let’s get on with the review. If you haven’t read issue 13 yet and want to avoid spoilers, don’t look down… 😉
Tomb Raider #13 kicks off at the British Museum in London. We learn that Lara is now working at the museum and using its galleries as a makeshift parkour course outside of opening hours as a way of putting her mind at rest. As she stops for a breather by the Sekhmet statues in the Egyptian gallery, she hears a noise and gets the sneaking suspicion that she is being watched. And she’d be right. A mysterious hooded stranger can be seen lurking in the shadows, just out of Lara’s line of sight.
The scene then cuts to Jonah, the self-proclaimed “Mister Sauce”, who has taken up a position as a saucier (or sauce cook) at a local restaurant. After a fall-out with the chef, he steps out into the alley to take out the trash, where another hooded stranger lies in waiting. And then the action cuts to Sam, who waves goodbye to some colleagues (or friends) and heads off to buy some cupcakes. As she leaves the shop and makes her way to the museum, she spots yet another hooded stranger following in her tracks and takes a moment to plan her next move.
The three interconnected scenes then come to a head: Jonah, armed with a trashcan lid, turns to find a mysterious parcel addressed to “the friends of Lara Croft” lying on the floor; Sam smashes a cupcake into her pursuer’s face and knees him in the groin (go Sam!) before he makes a run for it; and Lara tracks down the stranger in the museum, gets shoved out of the way, and then saves Sam from a harmless remote control.
As the two women try to make sense of it all, they discover a message scribbled on a whiteboard, commanding Lara to play a video tape. And, lo and behold, it turns out to be a ransom demand for Angus “Grim” Grimaldi, the Scottish helmsman of the Endurance who Lara (and the player) had last seen falling to his death on Yamatai.
Unable to believe what they have just seen, Lara and Sam have Kaz (Alex’s sister) analyse the tape. With the help of some technical wizardry and Sam’s sharp eye, they track the bank account to Mexico and identify the strangers as members of a group of bandits known as “Las serpientes que caminan” (or “the snakes who walk”), who are led by a woman known as “the Serpent Queen” and operate out of Mexico’s Lacandon Jungle.
As they try to process these new developments, Jonah walks in with the mystery package: Grim’s bloodied hat. Determined to save her friend but unable to pay the $5 million ransom without financial assistance, Lara swallows her pride and decides to pay her uncle a visit in an attempt to gain control of the Croft estate. Her uncle, a douchebag by the name of Mr DeMornay, is less than eager to help his niece and accuses her of being mentally unfit to take control of her estranged parents’ estate, citing her recent jaunts to Yamatai and Chernobyl as proof of her disturbed mental state.
As she seethes with anger and daydreams about smashing her uncle’s skull, Lara soon comes to the conclusion that no help will be forthcoming from him and discusses alternative solutions with Sam back at their flat. As it turns out, Sam and the others have come up with a Plan B: travelling to Mexico under the guise of a television crew looking for the legendary Chupacabra. To be continued…
While I haven’t been a huge fan of the comics so far, I admit that I rather enjoyed Rhianna’s solo debut and it’s possibly my favourite issue to date. Yes, the plot has become a little formulaic by now – Lara is once again in the position of having to save a friend in peril – and there’s still a distinct lack of tomb raiding, but there’s a promise of some actual adventuring in the next issue and Lara’s violent daydreams are among my favourite scenes in the Dark Horse comic series, little reminders that Lara may be a lot more dangerous than your average 21-year-old.
Her uncle’s suggestion that Lara should seek professional psychological help may be a nod to the Rise of the Tomb Raider teaser trailer, where we see a restless Lara struggling to stay focused during a therapy session. Which raises the question: Will Lara be attending therapy sessions simply to appease her uncle and gain control of the Croft estate or will she be there as a result of a traumatic event, perhaps one that will occur during this latest comic story arc? I guess we’ll have to see how things play out over the next few months.
And while I’m not a big fan of Sam, she does an excellent job of being Lara’s emotional anchor in this issue and it was fun to see her defend herself by smashing cupcakes in an enemy’s face. Perhaps Sam isn’t as useless as we thought. ^_^
This issue also raised a lot of other questions that will no doubt be answered as the arc progresses: Who are the “Snakes” and why are they holding Grim hostage? Are they allied with Trinity and is this all a trap? How will these events tie into the upcoming game? Will Lara ever convince her uncle of her sanity? And will we get to see Croft Manor again?
“The Watchers” is only let down by a few niggling details: the fact that Kaz has yet to explain who Trinity are and why she knows them (this was something left unresolved in the previous arc), the overused comic-book trope of resurrecting characters we had taken for dead, and its artwork. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by the beautifully-detailed artwork in the Top Cow comics but I still feel that Derlis Santacruz’s art style doesn’t really suit the series. It’s not a criticism of his work per sé as he did some exemplary work for the Chernobyl arc and he does a commendable job of recreating the British Museum and its galleries. But some of the action scenes fell a little flat in this issue and Lara looks downright odd at times.
And it’s not just the in-comic art that bothers me. There’s something about Brenoch Adams’ cover art that doesn’t sit well with me. I can’t really put my finger on it. Maybe it’s Lara’s awkward posture as she leaps over the statue. Or her odd facial expression. Her chin, perhaps. I honestly don’t know, but I know I don’t like it.
Despite my thoughts on this issue’s artwork or Kaz’s seeming reluctance to talk about Trinity, I think Rhianna Pratchett’s solo story arc is off to a fantastic start and has the potential to be the best of the series so far. With the promise of a “hearty dose of classic Tomb Raider-style adventuring” and “underwater shenanigans”, what could go wrong? Roll on, Tomb Raider #14!