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Comics Corner – Life is Strange: Partners in Time #1 review

The Life Is Strange series has been one of gaming’s best examples of LGBTQ+ representation in recent years – even though same-sex or queer pairings are generally player-optional depending on in-game choices, there’s strong evidence that they’re the canonically ‘real’ direction.

That’s something heartily reinforced by the comic book spin-offs, where Max – the time-warping hero of the first Life is Strange episodic adventure series – is in a relationship with Chloe, her childhood best friend whose life she saved in the original game. True love rarely runs smooth though, especially when super powers are involved, and as Partners in Time begins, Max and Chloe are separated once more. A romantic break-up? No – Max is trapped in an alternate reality, living with a parallel Chloe and her girlfriend, Rachel, who in another heart-rending twist is dead in Max’s home dimension.

Life Is Strange’s Max is back – except she’s stuck in a different universe. Oops. (Cover A, art by Ilya Luvshinov, ©Titan Comics)

Unfortunately, you’ll need to do a little time travelling yourself to fully get to grips with this story – despite the “#1” on the cover, Partners in Time is very much a continuation of the story from the three previous volumes, Dust, Waves, and Strings. Comics renumbering to a new issue one is nothing unusual – particularly at the ‘Big Two’, Marvel and DC – but the practice may be slightly confusing for newcomers here. Thankfully, there is at least a three-page recap to bring readers up to speed.

Despite the deep lore knowledge required, Partners in Time #1 does try to start with a relatively clean slate, with the cast travelling together as a touring production of Hamlet. A quiet stop-over for a nature walk and some mountaineering allows for keen focus on the characters, allowing their personalities to shine through. And, like some of the best moments in the games, the use of super powers is kept minimal here – the focus remains at all times on (re-)introducing the characters, rather than getting too weird straight out of the gate. There’s only one real use of Max’s temporal powers, for instance, and that feels almost like a chance to simply  show they hadn’t been forgotten.

However, an immediate wrinkle is thrown in as we follow the narrative across both universes, almost concurrently. Although the presence or absence of Max is a clear indicator of which universe we’re in at any given time, there’s rarely more than a page to transition worlds. A host of supporting characters who are the same in both timelines can, at times, feel like a bridge, but at others their identical nature makes following the reality hops more convoluted.

Perhaps the most important character to follow though is Tristan, another super powered young adult who stems from the reality where Rachel is alive and partnered with Chloe. With the ability to phase out of reality, becoming invisible and intangible, he’d tried to help Max return to her own world, but gotten trapped there himself. Now united with Max’s Chloe – who has kept hope that Max was still alive for years – the stage is set for bringing Max home. Expect the use of powers to become more prevalent as this volume of Life Is Strange proceeds, along with more blurring of the lines between realities.

Whether you’ve been following along through the previous volumes or are jumping on here though, the returning creative team of writer Emma Vieceli and artist Claudia Leonardi remain a force to be reckoned with. Leonardi’s pages are alive with personality and packed with hidden details, all elevated by colourist Andrea Izzo, while ‘nature shots’ as the group explore the mountains on their road trip burst with splendour. Meanwhile, Vieceli’s deft dialogue is alternately packed with emotion and character-appropriate snark. There’s subtle, brilliant insight into the character’s identities and inner thoughts throughout, whether it’s Max learning to appreciate smaller moments with Chloe and Rachel – even if they’re not ‘her’ Chloe and Rachel – or showing ‘our’ Chloe’s stoic determination to bring Max home.

Time travel powers. Butterflies. Bonus points if you get the reference. (Cover D, art by Claudia Leonardi, ©Titan Comics)

Ultimately, that’s the magic that holds this comic together. Like the games, it’s all about character first, even in the midst of the strangest possible circumstances. You can practically feel the tug of Max and Chloe’s love, binding them between universes, and the gentle sadness of Max currently being with a different version of the person she loves, but having to just be friends. The emotions burn on the page, powerful, raw, and unapologetically queer.

Life Is Strange: Partners In Time #1 may not, honestly, be the best jumping on point for the series – it is, more truthfully, a re-branded issue thirteen of an ongoing story. Despite this, it is a great chapter in that longer saga, offering more than enough to hook new readers or those discovering it from the games. Just do yourselves a favour and read from the beginning to get the most from this tale of time-tossed and reality torn lesbian love.

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