Thursday, May 30, 2024
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Comics Corner – Horizon Zero Dawn #1 review: this comic book sequel kicks off a grand hunt

Horizon Zero Dawn is one of the most eagerly anticipated game-to-comic adaptations of recent years. It arrives at the perfect time for existing fans of the hit open-world game from Guerrilla, alongside the PC release of the PS4 smash, and set to fill the gap between the original title and the just-announced sequel, Horizon Forbidden West. Publisher Titan Comics is sticking to the property’s roots too, partnering with game writer Anne Toole to pen the next chapter in the post-apocalyptic world, with art by Ann Maulina. But can pen-and-paper adventures fill the gap of the hyper-realistic world players came to love?

Cover A – Stanley ‘Artgerm’ Lau (Courtesy of Titan Comics)

In short, yes – albeit by subtly changing tack from the games. The series (which kicks off with a free prequel issue, available here, with the first issue on sale digitally and in comic stores from 5th August, with a selection of six covers), is a more personal and emotional affair than the often bombastic game, and the focus is squarely on Talanah, rather than the game’s protagonist Aloy.

The free issue is an essential read to understand the first main issue – but it’s free, so why wouldn’t you? – establishing Talanah’s restlessness at having become Sunhawk, leader of the Hunters Lodge. When Aloy departs after helping secure Talanah’s position, the new leader finds herself drowning in bureaucracy and overseeing petty squabbles, with the political system she’s inherited resisting any changes she tries to institute. Taking a hunting contract, ostensibly to “clear her head”, Talanah sets out into the wilds, meeting up with Aloy once more and encountering a terrifyingly powerful new breed of the robotic beasts that stalk the fallen world.

As the reader heads into issue one proper, it becomes clear that Aloy casts a large shadow over the series, despite being the deuteragonist here. The comic is broadly split in two, with the first part focussing on Talanah’s continuing hunt, which is in part inspired by Aloy’s departure, and the second a flashback to her finally catching up to Aloy. For fans of the pairing, this is where their companionship is most highlighted, with pointed dialogue between the two, and the occasional too-long moments of eye contact.

Perhaps more so than in the games, the relationship between these two women is central, but by shifting focus to Talanah, it allows this once-secondary character to enjoy some welcome development. We’re unlikely to see either character officially outed here but there’s an undeniable tenderness between them that extends beyond their canonical relationship as Hawk and Thrush – or teacher and student, to the unfamiliar.

While the main mystery for the series at this early point is the appearance of the new, more dangerous machines, there are threads being woven more deeply. A new character called Amadis – who lives apart from the existing villages or lodges, instead known as “The Man in the Woods”, a sort of bogeyman to scare children with – threatens to throw a wrench in the works, first rescuing Talanah and then questioning the very structure of the Lodges, perhaps planting a seed of doubt in her mind. It will be interesting to see how this develops as the series progresses.

The pacing of the issue feels a little odd in places though, with several protacted hunt scenes – no doubt an attempt to channel the mechanic from the games – feeling a little repetitive, and the switch to flashback being a touch jarring. The issue also ends on a note that’s less cliffhanger and more gentle drop, with no real sense of the threat to come. Hopefully, the balance improves in future.

Cover E – Peach Momoko (Courtesy of Titan Comics)

However, whether it’s those extended hunts or just the quieter, conversational moments, there’s a fluidity to Maulina’s art that makes the issue a visual delight. She brilliantly captures the grace and power of the leads, making each battle with the mechanoid predators feel dynamic and dangerous. There’s a particularly beautiful sequence in the free prelude issue where Talanah runs across a field to skewer a wolf-like machine, which Maulina delivers as a single panel on a double-page spread, with echoes of Talanah as she moves creating a brilliant sense of motion on the page. It’s a fantastic way to capture the savagery of Horizon Zero Dawn’s world.

Colourist Bryan Valenza deserves note too, with an almost dream-like palette that creates a slightly more impressionistic take on the game’s 4K HDR world, but complements the more introspective nature of the story well. Small details really make the pages pop too, notably the sinister glow of the machines’ eyes.

Anyone hoping for a definitive scoop on the characters, settings, or plot of Horizon Forbidden West through the comic may be disappointed – at least so far – but this is still shaping up to be an important addition to the wider story. The deeper focus on the cast helps to flesh out this universe in closer, more personal ways than the game or its sequel may have time for, particularly when it comes to Talanah. If the pacing issues improve as the series goes, this will be a must-read for fans of the game.


The Verdict: 4/5

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