The first few frames begin promisingly. The notoriously scarce bonfire reverberant of so many of the game’s withered travails burns against a glum, cheerless battleground; the only source of hope and safety amidst a barren, corrupted land. It’s a sight enough to strike fear into the very essence of Dark Souls players, but it’s a feeling that ebbs with further reading, and although abundant in its own whimsic charm, the first issue of Titan’s Dark Souls doesn’t quite match up with From Software’s revered action-RPG.
Writer: George Mann
Artist: Alan Quah
Publisher: Titan Comics
Available: Out now
A review copy was provided by the publisher.
The main narrative follows Fira; an iron-willed knight whose memories have since become fragmented by the corruption choking the land of Ishra, in pursuit of the Tooth of Andolus – the powerful totem of a light-bringing dragon who was obliterated long ago. She finds herself in the tentative company of Aldrich, a tattooed Scryer who guides her on the path unto Andolus. For now, he’s a relatively standard sidekick, offering cynical quips now and then to offset the issue’s tenser moments.
Driving this first issue, however, is Fira’s hazy past. Whilst we see glimpses of her estrangement from the Knights Order and the loss of her family – it’s kept well-distanced, forming focal points of intrigue that will no doubt be elaborated upon in further entries. Noticeable too is the palpable sense of distrust pervading the pair’s brittle relationship. Uncertainty is something all too familiar to players of Dark Souls, and allowing this tentative sense of unease to surface within the comic’s characters is an authentic, balanced choice by Mann.
The comic is laid out like a traditional graphic novel, but Quah’s art style is closer to an oil painting than the more accentuated designs of Marvel or Alan Moore comics. The issue’s awareness of Dark Souls’ hapless futility is best realised early on, with the first few pages capturing the eerie solitude pervasive to the beloved series, but Quah tends to veer off in distinctively less Soulsian directions.
This issue’s Crystalline Labyrinth is strikingly florid compared to the game’s woefully gothic atmospheres, with its vibrant blues and pinks bleeding dreamily into one another in an almost total departure from the series’ stark depictions. The lack of detail in settings themselves lends a light sense of uncertainty vaguely echoic of the Dark Souls game, but their extravagant colour schemes distance the comic from its source material considerably. It’s whimsically beautiful in its own right, but it isn’t quite Dark Souls.
Haziness is cut decidedly short when it comes to the novel’s (albeit limited) cast though, with some of the most beautiful moments existing in the crippled humanity Quah translates from the game’s playable protagonist. Combat segments are overlain with a pleasing melodrama reminiscent of the game’s tense encounters, but I found myself most often captivated by the attention to facial detail apparent in the equally haggard Aldrich and Fira.
Encounters themselves are noticeably plot-driven than those of the game, but they’re comparatively brief as a result. Whilst much of the game’s allure rode on its challenge level, the extensive, punishing skirmishes Dark Souls is known for are less easily realised outside the interactive medium. Whilst Quah’s elegant and merciless depictions of Dark Souls’ combat strike closer to their source, the story’s culminating baddie is toppled after only a few frames, and in a way that feels as distanced from the series’ try-hard philosophy as can be.
Mann and Quah’s collaborative effort yields an intriguing fantasy novel, but as of yet, it doesn’t feel like a Dark Souls comic. It’s daubed with impressive colour work, imposing designs and elusive characters, but its lurid palette and anticlimactic battles feel far-flung from From Software’s Gothic tone.With characters now established and backstories alluded to, however, this potentially grants room for a greater focus on source material in future installments. Titan’s comic offers some promising embers; let us just hope the bonfire doesn’t dwindle.