The first issue of Dark Horse’s new series, Lara Croft and the Frozen Omen, is finally out and it seems to be off to a great start so far.
This five-part series by Invisible Republic writer Corinna Bechko follows the adventures of “Classic” Lara Croft and fellow archaeologist Carter Bell as they race against time to stop cultists from getting their hands on some ancient ivory artefacts and using them for their nefarious purposes.
Will the intrepid duo save the world from destruction? I guess we’ll find out over the course of the next few months! For now, here’s what I have to say about Lara Croft and the Frozen Omen #1.
The following review contains plot spoilers, so if you’re planning to buy and read the comic yourself (UK readers click here), feel free to scroll down to the last section for a spoiler-free summary. 😉
The Story (So Far)
Issue 1 opens with the scene featured in last month’s preview, with Lara risking life and limb to rescue her colleague and friend Carter Bell’s injured pet sparrow hawk in Turkey’s Antalya Province. We learn that Bell has taken up falconry since we last saw him in Temple of Osiris and is currently working in Istanbul, where he’s studying ancient ivory miniatures. I feel like I should nitpick a little here as Antalya and Istanbul are not only quite far from each other but the harbour the two archaeologists sail into doesn’t really look like Istanbul. “Istanbul isn’t what I expected”? You’re spot on there, Lara. But I digress.
The story then cuts to the British Museum – Lara’s new workplace – where we find out that a priceless artefact carved from mammoth ivory has vanished under mysterious circumstances. A quick review of the CCTV footage and questioning by museum security ends up raising more questions than answers so Lara decides to take matters into her own hands and stalks the lead suspect, her colleague Jon. Alerted to Lara’s presence, the suspected thief flees towards a nearby taxi, prompting our heroine to follow suit and ultimately end up at Heathrow Airport.
At this point, the action cuts to a cave in Croatia, where a horned man named Mr Green (most likely the series’ chief antagonist) humiliates his lackey and stands around a fireplace muttering the ominous (but hilarious) “Soon. Very soon”. No, I have no idea what will be happening soon. Perhaps we’ll find out in the next issue.
Back to Lara, who is now in sunny Belize and still hot on the trail of her wayward colleague. Uncertain of Jon’s motive for stealing the artefact, Ms Croft eventually finds an abandoned Jeep and footprints that lead her to a wooden hut in the middle of the Belizean rainforest. Ignoring a phone call from Carter, she goes looking for Jon and finds him dazed and delirious on the floor of the hut, babbling about how the ivory piece had wanted to come here and whatnot.
But before Lara’s able to get any sensible answers from her colleague, she’s attacked by some creepy vines. To be continued…
OK, first of all, it’s clear from the get-go that Frozen Omen isn’t going to be dealing with any delicate issues such as Lara’s mental state following her ordeal on Yamatai (this series is based in the Lara Croft universe, after all). Her banter with Carter Bell at the start of this issue, the mystery theft at the museum, and the sinister horned Big Bad all point in the direction of good ol’ pulp adventure. So you may want to suspend your disbelief if you don’t want to ruin the comic for yourself. Just roll with it.
Storywise, I think Bechko does a good job of setting things in motion and her cliff-hanger ending certainly helps build up the suspense for the next issue. The plot (thin as it may be) develops at a steady pace but I felt that the issue ended somewhat abruptly and just as Lara was beginning to make sense of the situation.
As for the opening scene in Turkey, the question of whether this scene was really necessary is a matter of personal preference. Some reviewers felt it served no real purpose and could easily have been left out but I beg to differ. Not only does it introduce (or re-introduce) the reader to Carter Bell; this scene also helps cement the two archaeologists’ friendship and working relationship and hints that Bell’s expertise will come in handy as the series progresses. This scene might not be absolutely vital to the plot but I have no particular objections to its presence either. It did have a hawk, after all…
When Dark Horse first announced this series, I was pleased to see veteran Tomb Raider comic artist Randy Green was attached to this project. While he’s not my favourite Tomb Raider comic artist (Andy Park has that honour), his work on the Top Cow series in the late 90s-early 00s gave me faith that Dark Horse had chosen the right man for the job. No offence to either Nicolás Daniel Selma or Derliz Santacruz. Their work suited the tone of the main Tomb Raider series but would have looked out of place here. Frozen Omen pays homage to the light-hearted escapades of Lara’s Top Cow days and this is reflected perfectly in the comic art. Green’s work has matured over the years but it’s still recognisably his and, well, it’s just lovely to see our old Lara back in comic form after so many years. It’s been too long.
That said, Green’s work on this issue is not without its flaws. Lara’s facial features appear to change, sometimes significantly, from page to page (this is most notable in the first half of the issue) and there’s the occasional unusual angle, e.g. Lara’s weird mid-run pose in the British Museum. Some people have criticised Green’s penchant for drawing Lara in needlessly provocative poses – a holdover from his Top Cow days, perhaps – but the worst offence in this issue is the final scene. Sure, there’s a hentai joke to be made here somewhere but the real problem is Lara’s face. That expression truly is the stuff of nightmares. *shudders*
But, hey, we’re all allowed an off-day once in a while, right?
I feel I should also mention Jean-Sébastien Rossbach’s stunning cover art, which is the artistic highlight of this issue. His Lara, like that of Temple of Osiris, seems to be a pleasing mix of old and new, combining the more realistic physique of Reboot Lara with the shorts, acrobatics, and dual pistols of her predecessor. If this cover art were available in poster form, I’d snap it up in a heartbeat…
One of the things I really enjoyed about this issue was the aforementioned opening scene. Not only does it set the tone for the series, it also gives us a little insight into the world of Carter Bell, the rival archaeologist (and later friend) first introduced to us in Temple of Osiris. Granted, he only gets a few pages of story time in this issue but we soon learn that he’s studying ancient ivory artefacts in Istanbul (expertise that will no doubt come in handy later in this series) and that he’s an apprentice falconer. As someone who has a soft spot for birds of prey, I felt this was a nice touch.
With regards to our leading lady, anyone who’s hoping to find the hardened Yamatai survivor of the 2013 game in this series will be sorely disappointed. We’re back to the good ol’ days, where our heroine could climb cliffs without any specialist climbing gear, crack witty remarks even on the brink of certain death, and…stroll through museums and international airports with guns attached to her thighs? Hmm. Let’s just say the realism has been toned down a notch for this series.
Lara’s back-story isn’t touched upon at all in this issue, which is both a plus and minus. On the one hand, it allows us to see her as either the Lara from the Core Design games or the one from the earlier Crystal Dynamics games… or simply as that Lara from Guardian and Temple. In this sense, she can be anything the reader wants her to be. On the other hand, anyone who’s unfamiliar with the Tomb Raider games may be left wondering who this woman is or why her fellow archaeologist Carter Bell holds her in such high regard.
One interesting development is that Lara now works for the British Museum, although it’s not exactly clear what her role there is or how this world-class institution came to recruit someone with such a low regard for archaeological ethics. Either someone lied on her CV or the museum’s standards have slipped considerably. Maybe it’s best to file this under “willing suspension of disbelief”…
A Tale of Two Franchises
As an aside, I’d like to raise the point that the Tomb Raider/Lara Croft franchise divide is still causing a great deal of confusion, especially amongst those who are either casual fans of the series or whose knowledge of the series is limited to the 2013 reboot. This confusion was apparent in some of the reviews I read, particularly in this one where the reviewer describes the comic as a “bizarre late ’90s relic”, where none of Lara’s new identity (presumably the reboot one) is translated over, and points to the lack of “Tomb Raider” in the comic’s title as proof that Frozen Omen has no place in the series.
But who could blame them? The reboot was meant to reinvent the franchise and back in December 2010, Crystal Dynamics studio head Darrell Gallagher asked the gaming public to “Forget everything [they] knew about Tomb Raider“. And while most of us die-hard fans are well aware that “Classic Lara” has been relegated to her own new (and surprisingly decent) spin-off franchise, it’s not hard to see why some people may be flummoxed by the ongoing adventures of the shorts-wearing, dual pistol-wielding Lara of yesteryear when her younger, less fantastical counterpart is doing the rounds and being hailed as an example of a franchise reboot done well.
All I can say is, as a fan of the older games and films, I’m just glad there’s enough room in this world for two Lara Crofts and that fans have the freedom to enjoy one Croft or the other. Or both. Long live parallel universes and their ability to confuse the general public!
All in all, Frozen Omen #1 is a solid start to the new series and Bechko, Green and co deserve praise for their efforts. The art is sound (for the most part), the dialogue wouldn’t seem out of place in any of the older games (or in the more recent Lara Croft spin-off games), and the story is full of the wonderful archaeo-nonsense that many of us loved in the Indiana Jones films or older TR games.
The only major let-down, in my opinion, is that the issue ends abruptly and just as the main story was gaining momentum. Some reviewers argue that the opening scene with Carter Bell could have been shorter (or cut all together) and, in a way, I can see their point. The last few pages seemed a little rushed in comparison. But, then again, the cliff-hanger ending is commonplace in comics so I can’t really fault the writer for employing this age-old tactic. It’s a sure-fire way to get readers hyped up for the next issue.
Would the comic appeal to non-fans? Well, to be honest, I don’t really think it would as there is no real attempt to introduce Lara to a new audience. Bechko spends more time fleshing out Carter Bell in the first few pages than she does on Lara so it seems that the reader is expected to already know who Ms Croft is and be familiar with her many quirks.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As with many tie-in comic series, this one was written with Tomb Raider fans in mind and it’s clear from the get-go that they are the intended audience. And Bechko definitely delivers. But this does mean that non-fans may find the series a little hard to get into and, at worst, be left with the impression that Lara is little more than a two-dimensional, stereotypical adventurer-archaeologist who likes to climb things and strike sassy poses.
As a long-time fan, however, I found Frozen Omen a refreshing return to the days of Classic Croft. A huge suspension of disbelief may be required on your part but it’s well worth it.
Let’s see how this latest adventure develops in the next issue.