Expanding upon the lore of The Last of Us, American Dreams delivers a brilliant narrative focused on character building and making us, the readers, immediately care about what’s going on. Presented with some beautiful art that blends an element of style with reality without ever going over the edge, it’s nice to receive a comic that simply isn’t a marketing tool. It may be too early to peg The Last of Us: American Dreams as a breakout hit of 2013, but as of now the comic is certainly on the path of such a thing if the first issue is indicative of the overall quality of the series.
+ Writing is perfect in the tone it captures.
+ Faith Erin Hick’s art style really creates a wonderful mood in the game along with being nice to look at.
+ The story isn’t being too obvious in laying out clues or point blank telling us the history of everything.
- This was only the first issue and I want more immediately.
Taking something from one medium to another is by no means an easy feat nor is it one that results in immediate success. At times some rather brilliant moves can be done when a film/TV show is expanded upon by becoming a novel or something else, yet most of the time it’s obvious we’re only receiving a franchise expansion as a means of a marketing tool.
Despite whatever mindshare a franchise may have, in this case an anticipated PS3 game, there’s the belief that it may be required to give things a little push; hence a comic book is released. In the case of The Last of Us: American Dreams we thankfully don’t have a comic that’s an obvious marketing ploy since it’s a straightforward, and rather refreshing, character driven tale that doesn’t evoke the feeling that its purpose was solely to bolster sales of the game come June.
At this point gamers are already familiar with video games going the comic book route since we’ve seen such a thing from Halo, Mass Effect, Infamous, and even Army of Two. We’ve seen some good and bad entries in the past decade or so, but American Dreams is one of the better, if not in the immediate top 3, entries that has been released thanks to the combination of a character driven story that’s well written and art that manages to evoke a unique identity throughout.
Those who don’t want to be spoiled about The Last of Us need not worry since American Dreams is a prequel to the video game. That alone may sound like an obvious, and perhaps cliché, move to expand upon the franchise without showing the full gamut of narrative strands the game may offer, but it works rather well based on what’s offered in the first issue.
Set several years prior to when The Last of Us takes place, American Dreams follows a thirteen year-old Ellie, the co-protagonist in the game, as she enters a boarding school for orphans run by the remnants of the military. Right from the beginning of the first issue it’s obvious that Ellie is a kid that has had a tough life, not just because of the ever constant fear instilled by the fungal infection and those already plagued by it, but because she’s known nearly nothing but disappointment for the entirety of her life.
Part of the brilliance exhibited by American Dreams is that the writing is exactly perfect for the characters and the world it’s set within. There may be a heavy feeling of bitterness and world cynicism in Ellie despite her young age, but it’s handled well by writers Neil Druckmann (Lead Writer on The Last of Us) and Faint Erin Hicks. In a world that is close to becoming a shell of what it once was, Ellie comes across as a believable character, despite her adult centric conventions, that has no problem making her feelings known or standing up for herself – especially when it comes to someone trying to steal her Walkman.
Since this is only issue one of a four part series not many of the thematic or narrative cards were shown or played by Druckmann and Hicks, but what was on display impressed me greatly. With minor elements of foreshadowing and glimpses as to what the world is like at that given moment, I appreciated how the tone of the comic never shifted from Ellie to fill us in on something else, such as what Joel was up to or how the infection/outbreak first started. Just like its video game counterpart, American Dreams is all about building character within a story without any compromises and it does an excellent job at accomplishing such a thing.
Accompanying the engaging narrative of American Dreams is the beautiful art created by Faith Erin Hicks. To those looking forward to The Last of Us it may be weird to see a younger Ellie and the world of Boston not depicted in the same hyper-real fidelity that Naughty Dog has accomplished in the game, but the art is nonetheless some amazing stuff as it perfectly fines the spot between being stylish yet not betraying the tone that has been created in the game.
Keeping bright colors to a minimum to reflect the rather bleak world and outlook Ellie has, the art in American Dreams is something I want to see in motion. Perhaps saying such a thing is odd, but there’s an immediate believability in how Faith has gone about drawing Ellie and creating the world around her which resulted in me being captivated from the very first page. The art created by Faith may still be an acquired taste as some people may not dig it, but it’s nice to see the world of The Last of Us adapted into something that isn’t abstract for the sake of being “different” but is instead unique and adds an extra dimension to something that’s already well established.
Right now it’s somewhat hard to predict where American Dreams will go next since there are still three issues left, but as of now the series is off to a tremendous start. With writing that shows it knows how to capture the essence of a character, even if it’s in a different medium, fans of The Last of Us will likely be thrilled with American Dreams if they pick it up. Unless the series suddenly degrades into something it isn’t, I think we’ll finally end up with one of the best video game based comic book series to ever hit the market.
The Last of Us: American Dreams - Issue 1 is now available in comic shops across North America
A review copy of this product was provided by the publisher