The new horror comic series from Dark Horse, Survival, is marketed in promotional material as ‘Red Dawn meets 30 Days of Night‘, and one issue in this feels like both an accurate and wildly inaccurate description, to the point that it makes you wonder what might be coming later in the series. However, this first issue proves to be an interesting and engaging read that makes you want to come back next month to find out more.
Survival begins with a news report, talking about an incident in Russia, where rebels have taken over a military base on the Chechen border. Over the next few days of reporting it becomes clear that a serious incident has taken place, following a world-wide media blackout, and a nuclear reactor meltdown. From here we travel to Talkeetna, Alaska, a real world town a few hours outside of Anchorage with a population of just under 1,200 people.
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A small plane has crashed into the woods outside of town, and a couple of teens are heading out there to check it out. Upon arriving at the crashed plane the two kids head inside to try and see if they can find anything cool. However, what they come across is a dead body, strung up and mutilated, with a shirtless man with clawed, bloody hands, covered in Cyrillic tattoos.
Whilst this is happening, Emma Reed, a young woman in the army, is driving home with a couple of friends from her training. Emma’s father is a hardcore former Green Beret, who lives in the woods and ticks a lot of the boxes for ‘crazy former army dude’ stereotypes. The three of them are heading to an annual armed forces meet up that happens around Talkeetna, where Emma’s father will be waiting for them. The trio have barely arrived at the gathering and made introductions when the girl from the plane comes rushing in, crying for help, and the gathering comes under gunfire from the woods.
Survival feels like a bit of a mystery story so far. There are small clues scattered throughout this first issue as to what might be going on, but so far there’s nothing really concrete to go on. And that aspect of the story is really enjoyable. It’s nice to be on the same page as our protagonists, to not know what’s happening or the reasons why. We get possible hints at the start, with the news reports about the events in Russia, but is that connected, is it just background flavour, is it being included because that’s stuff the characters will know and might draw conclusions from? We don’t know yet, but I found myself going through the book a second time looking for possible clues trying to figure it all out.
There are answers to be found; looking at the solicitations for the next two issues you can get some more information on what’s going on in this series, and what’s to come. And whilst I’m not going to reveal any of that here, it does raise some more questions, thanks to some of the language and names used. There are hints here of something more than the normal going on, with it not just being an outside force armed with guns as the invading men unleash a zombie-like creature in their assault. But it seems like the series is going to be putting a unique new twist on the monster story in upcoming issues.
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The characters introduced here vary in level of depth and characterisation. Emma and her father are given the most time out of all of the characters. As Emma and her friends are driving to meet her father we get small flashback panels that show that her father was not always a kind and caring man, that his time in the military has made him into a stern, demanding figure. This has clearly had an effect on Emma, and she seems to be carrying a lot of unresolved trauma around with her. You get a sense in this first issue that her relationship with her father is going to be a big focus of the book, and that the other characters might not get as much attention. This issue feels like a prime example of that, with there being a handful of other characters who get names and things to say, but the story never really treats them as more than just background characters.
The art on the book, by Bryndon Everett, and Natalie Barahona, looks really good, and there are some really cool moments to be found in this first issue. There are some splash pages that look absolutely fantastic, such as a flashback page regarding Emma’s mother, and the final moment of the book, that really help to sell some of the bigger moments in the story, and hammer home some shocking points.
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The best thing about the art, however, is the character design. Every character looks really good in this book. The art team are great at presenting age, and where in other books characters can look relatively similar even with decades between them, here you can see the different age groups and generations. Emma and her army buddies look fresh faced, and barely out of their teens, with Emma in particular having tons of great detail in her face. Meanwhile, there are men who look old enough to be her parents, and others older still. Even the child characters look like teens, clearly distinct even from the younger adults. It might not sound like much, but having read a lot of comics where distinct ages seems to be forgotten about and you only ever really get child, adult, elderly, it’s great to see this spectrum presented here.
Survival looks set to be an interesting read, one that has a very solid foundation with this first issue, and could end up going off in a lot of different directions. Now that a lot of set-up has been done I’m looking forward to seeing how much the book leans into the horror, and if it can end up feeling more like 30 Days of Night than Red Dawn.
Survival #1 is out now from Dark Horse.