Edited by Kaitlin Campos
Well, this is certainly an odd mash-up. On the one hand, we have Lara Croft, star of the Tomb Raider video games, famous (or infamous, depending on how you slice it) for their over-sexualized and large-breasted protagonist (though, it did receive an overall positively-reviewed reboot last year, which toned down Lara’s cup size but garnered its own brand of controversy), and on the other hand we have Gail Simone, critical darling and beloved comics author, in many ways the face of women in the comics industry and famous for doing really solid and well-written female characters.
Though, honestly, it’s not that surprising that Simone found her way to the Tomb Raider franchise, as she’s been on something of a kick lately with updating and perfecting characters who were once considered less-than-stellar examples of women in genre fiction, such as Red Sonja. Personally, I’ve always found Simone’s work hit-and-miss, though I haven’t really read all that much of it (most of my knowledge of her work comes from Secret 6, which was pretty good overall, B- or so) and I’ve never played any of the Tomb Raider video games, so I’m going into this pretty much from an outsider’s perspective (real change of pace, I know).
The basic story of Tomb Raider #1 is meant as a direct follow up to the events of the recent game, so expect spoilers for that, but they’re not exactly big spoilers. Over the course of the game, Lara and her team of hangers-on went looking for some mythic island and found it, after which they were trapped there and subsequently tormented by a group of local cultist ne’er-do-wells. Most of her team dies, but Lara and a few buddies do manage to escape the mysterious island.
Now, some time later, Lara is suffering from survivor’s guilt (hey, that’s the title of this story arc; at least on the cover— on the inside, it’s called ‘season of the witch,’ for reasons that elude me) and is haunted by terrible dreams. As are the handful of other survivors. There are some bigger forces at play that come up in the comic’s conclusion, and I won’t be getting to those till later on, but forewarning, there will be spoilers. The biggest problem with Tomb Raider is that it makes the dangerous assumption you’ve already played the game. The comic is formatted so that most of Lara’s dialogue revolves around the events of said game to the point where, if you took a shot every time she mentions the ship or the island, you’d be severely plastered by the end of the issue.
The problem with this is that it doesn’t leave much room for endearing character traits. Lara is presented to us as this big ball of tragedy and broken psychosis, so it’s hard to relate to her. It’s not that tragedy can’t result in empathy for a character, but we need to be able to connect to a character prior to their tragedy to truly sympathize with them, otherwise these are just bad things happening to somebody, and not to somebody we care about. For comparison’s sake, I’ll point to another character who often suffers from this mistake: the Hulk.
In a lot of the bad versions of the Hulk, such as the Ed Norton film, the character is introduced to us as someone who is broken and tragic and haunted and broody and he becomes tedious. His scenes are a drain on the audience, because all we’ve seen of him is tragedy, and there’s no contrast, no better side. We only know him as a guy who cries about his misfortunes 24/7. Now, look at Mark Ruffalo’s Hulk in The Avengers. He eventually does break down about his Hulk-ness, but for most of the film’s running time he’s cordial, in control, and portrayed as a really nice person who’s still trying to do good despite his problems, and as such, we can relate and empathize with him, so we care when he does express his tragedy over being the Hulk.
That’s what’s going on here with Lara. The entirety of Tomb Raider, she’s only hitting 1 note and that note is fragility due to trauma. With no break or contrast or investment otherwise, it starts to get exhausting and annoying by the issue’s conclusion, as we’re basically listening to a broken record that we’re meant to sympathize with on a purely intellectual level of not wanting bad things to happen to other humans. The issue’s conclusion is also very weird, involving a thoroughly impossible flash flood that basically forces a mystic element into the new series. It’s odd for something that leans so heavily upon the reboot game’s story to inform both the narrative and the audience investment that the comic is bringing in this completely out of nowhere plot about magic and curses and stuff, which was not present in that game.
(Spoilers all this thrilling action is just a dream sequence in the opening pages, nice mislead Dark Horse previews page)
Overall, Tomb Raider feels like something that doesn’t need to exist, and it’s hard to think that even fans of the game would be interested in this— if only because it undoes a lot of Lara’s development from the Tomb Raider game. The game ends with Lara supposedly in a place of strength, as the point was to explain her origin story, but here it feels very much like we’ve hit the reboot button on that character development and sent her back to the realms of fragility and vulnerability she spent an entire video game getting out of. Besides that, most of the issue feels severely padded-out, and the action is disappointingly short, with a new mystery that feels simplistic and not very attuned to providing interesting set pieces or plots. I’d give this issue a miss unless you’re a hardcore Tomb Raider completionist.