— The following post contains spoilers.
Before they came out, I was really looking forward to the Tomb Raider comics. It didn’t matter that my feelings about the series’ reboot had cooled significantly as time went on, I was still excited to see where Lara went next. After all, as she said at the end of the game — tantalisingly mysterious notebook in battered, bandaged hand — she wasn’t going home…
#1: SEASON OF THE WITCH
Couldn’t tell you what that title means. It’s probably some vague reference to Himiko, but, given that the Sun Queen comes to play a very small part in the upcoming arc, it seems little out of place. It’s probably there because it sounds cool.
It’s a bit of a moot point, this, given that we now know that the upcoming novel The Ten Thousand Immortals is set before these comics — cool move, story department… — but Lara’s assertion that she isn’t going home at the end of Tomb Raider is immediately shot to pieces at the opening of Issue #1, because — you guessed it! — she’s home. And waking up from a particularly disturbing nightmare, one which serves as a nice reminder of what she lost on Yamatai and which also happens to be one of the comic’s strongest scenes.
It’s an excellent opening. The only issue I have with it is Roth’s dialogue in the final few panels, as he wraps Lara in his malefic embrace and pulls her over the edge of the waterfall. ‘We just want you to stay. With us. Forever. And ever. And ever.’ Yeah… there was absolutely no need to say, ‘And ever,’ at all, let alone twice. But, as we’re going to discover, cheesy dialogue is a recurring theme in this arc.
That, and Jaffa Cakes.
The panels in which Lara wakes and mourns for her fallen friends introduce us to the little yellow boxes used to provide both background exposition and Lara’s thoughts on what’s going on throughout the comics. I really wouldn’t mind them — after all, exposition is usually a good thing — but they’re just so clumsy sometimes, not to mention often filled with more of that cheesy writing I mentioned above. They do their job, though, so I can’t really say much more than that.
Lara’s musings are interrupted by Sam — they live together — screeching her name from another room, which is followed by Lara discovering that her friend, now sporting a no doubt Himiko-inflicted handprint-like bruise or scar on her upper arm, has fallen out of bed — the implication being that she’s been having nightmares about Yamatai, too. (Who wouldn’t?)
After making sure Sam’s all right, Lara proceeds with some gentle probing, only to have her head ripped off by a suddenly furious Sam, who demands that Lara, ‘Quit being so weird!’ before storming off to bed, leaving Lara to answer her apartments abruptly ringing phone — and then, after a panicked call from Jonah, take off for a desert in North America.
Just like that.
It’s a jarring transition. No doubt it was executed that way in order to put across the immediacy of Jonah’s predicament, but it nevertheless feels a little rushed. Still, after a brief truck-ride through said desert with a rather flat, stereotypical American gentleman, Lara arrives at Jonah’s trailer, ready to confront whatever might lie within. Never fear, though! Nothing bad can possibly befall our heroine, for she carries with her trusty climbing axe!
I get it, I really do. After her ordeal on Yamatai, the axe has become something of a comfort item to Lara, a security blanket. It’s understandable — the thing saved her life time and time again on the island, and will — as we’ll find out — save it time and time again. But my GOD is it overused! It’s almost always there. To the casual observer, it might seem that Lara goes nowhere without it. She probably takes it to shops, too, using it to pull Jaffa Cakes off the shelves into her carrier bag.
Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme. But I just can’t overstate how sick I am of the climbing axe. I’d better get used to it, though, because after it having featured prominently in the trailer for 2015’s Rise of the Tomb Raider, it doesn’t seem as though it’s going anywhere any time soon.
More’s the pity.
Back inside the trailer, though, Lara is confused to find most of Jonah’s possessions enclosed in little plastic baggies. She doesn’t have much time to ponder the peculiarity, though, because Jonah himself appears moments later, pointing a gun at her face, convinced — at first — that she isn’t the real Lara. He gets over it soon enough, though, and proceeds to inform Lara that he thinks he’s become the Jonah, from the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale. He believes that he’s been cursed, cursed because — apparently — each of Yamatai’s survivors took something with them from the island, stole something, a piece of some unknown house. Jonah further explains that there are four guardians, and four calamities to build this house, and that the circle has to be broken. Whatever that means.
To Jonah, it seems, he must kill himself to break this circle. He raises his gun to his head. Lara protests, trying to stop him, but he’s too strong. It’s not really clear from the panel whether Jonah intends to shoot himself or Lara, but, in the end, it doesn’t matter, because at that very moment, the trailer is battered by a colossal wave. In the middle of a desert. Confused? Lara, too.
As the wave tosses the trailer around like a toy, Jonah screams out the curse-bringing prophecy in full. He will have his house, wall, floor, roof and door. And each shall have a guardian, and each shall bear a calamity.
It sounds good, and had the no doubt desired effect of making you want to dig into future instalments to find out just what the hell is going on, but here’s my problem: it’s catalyst is the fact that Lara, Jonah, Reyes and Sam each took — apparently — some golden object from Yamatai. The thing is, there’s absolutely no hint of this in the main game. Not even the shadow of one.
An explanation for it all does come towards the end of the arc, and while it does render the above issue with the whole thing moot, it also brings with it its own ridiculous twists to the story. I have no idea whether all this was planned from the beginning, but the way it’s been executed reeks to me of bad storytelling, of just throwing things on in there for the fun of it.
Back in the trailer, Lara is struggling to find an escape. An unnatural calm, however, descends upon Jonah. In a quick series of panels, he tells Lara that it’s going to be okay, jams her into a life-vest, and ejects her from the trailer, Lara protesting vehemently all the while. With what are ostensibly destined to be his last words, he tells her to beware of the four guardians.
And then Lara is outside, struggling to climb atop the trailer amid the current. As another giant wave approaches, she sees the tops of what, moments before, were mountainous columns of rock, sticking out of the newly made sea, and jumps for it, her climbing axe — of course… — finding purchase in the stone and enabling her to scramble to relative safety, just in time to witness Jonah’s trailer crash into the rocks, and explode.
‘Damn it all to hell,’ Lara mutters as, all to late, the sun comes out and the trailer burns.
And that’s it, the end of Issue #1. In spite of my issues — pun not intended — with it, I didn’t mind this issue when I first read it. Despite its abrupt change of scene and cheesy dialogue, it wasn’t an awful start — I was interested to see what happened next.
A month later, I did.
#2: THE FOUR GUARDIANS
The opening of Tomb Raider’s second issue finds Lara back aboard the ill-fated Endurance, sneaking around the corridors of the ship like a thief in the night in order to get to the kitchen and obtain… Jaffa Cakes.
They seem to be an attempt to humanise Lara, to make her seem quirky — hey, Lara Croft likes Jaffa Cakes! — but I really don’t get it. I thought it was charming enough at first, but, honestly, at this point, it’s getting annoying. Perfectly acceptable in real life, Jaffa Cakes are, unfortunately, in the world of Tomb Raider, right up there with Sam.
Lara is interrupted in her sneaking by the arrival of Jonah, who she ‘kind of adores’ — *cringes* — because he kept a special box of Jaffa Cakes for her. How nice. Segue time. We find Lara back in the mysteriously-flooded desert, and despite her assumption at the end of the last issue that it was ‘all too late’, she dives on in after Jonah’s trailer anyway.
After a few intense panels, Lara manages to save her friend, only to be confronted by the guide who had driven her into the desert. Now wielding a gun, he informs her that he overheard her talking with Jonah about some gold, and now intends to take it for himself. In true reboot-Lara fashion, she deals with the situation by killing him, assisted, of course, by her trusty climbing axe.
At this point, the Rise of the Tomb Raider Xbox exclusivity debacle took place, and stopped me dead in my tracks. I don’t know if I’ll ever find the motivation to finish this one, but I wanted to publish what I had so far. I didn’t want it to go to waste, because I had a point to make with its title. The Five Calamities.
Readers will no doubt be aware that there are just four calamities in the story. I intended to sum up this piece with the opinion that the fifth calamity is what’s being done to the Tomb Raider franchise by those in charge of it — and given what transpired yesterday, I feel perfectly justified in saying so.