The Horizon Zero Dawn: Liberation graphic novel represents the second, four-issue volume of the ongoing Horizon Zero Dawn comic series which are based on the famous video game by Guerrilla Games. The graphic novel was originally printed in single-issue form but is now gathered into one graphic novel edition along with several other visual goodies. This volume collects issues #5-8 of the Horizon Zero Dawn comic series.
First A Confession
I’ll start off and confess that I never played the Horizon Zero Dawn video games even though I own the first one on PlayStation 4. Even though both games in the series won several accolades and high praise I just never got around to it. But that didn’t stop me from collecting all the single-issue format comic books that have been released by publisher Titan Comics, the King of video game-related comic book series. Because you know, “I’ll eventually get to them”, famous last words. Regardless, being in the media I’m familiar with the games’ heroine and some of the back story. I mention all this because I went into reading this collected edition of comics without knowing much about the characters. Nevertheless, it didn’t seem to impede my enjoyment of Volume 2 of this ongoing series.
The Back Story
The story takes place a thousand years after a global catastrophe has reduced Earth into a lush, thriving eco-system that is dominated by animal-like machines. These machines dominate land, sky, and sea while humans struggle to survive in a tribe-like fashion.
This volume is set during the events of the original Horizon Zero Dawn game. Our heroine, Aloy, had begun a search for answers to the machines which lead her to the town of Meridian. Once there she helped Erend bring bad guy Dervahl to justice for the death of his sister, Ersa. Later on, Aloy sets out to find the home base of the Eclipse cult, whom she suspects to be raising an army of machines, but on her way out Erend requests her help once again. An Oseram trader has been murdered by Korl, a known assassin of Dervahl’s and hence an accomplice to the murder of Erend’s sister. Naturally, Erend seeks retribution for one of his sister’s murderers. On their journey, Erend reveals the story of the “liberation” of Meridian, and how his sister, Ersa, was murdered.
To the casual observer, the main story here might seem to be about Aloy and Erend’s journey. In actuality, the riveting tale is how Erend’s sister, Ersa came to be murdered.
Writer Anne Toole, who is known for contributing to games like Ghosts Of Tsushima: Director’s Cut and the original Horizon Zero Dawn game as well as Marvel Comics’ Women Of Marvel #1, does an amazing job of making you care and become impatient with anticipation to hear about Ersa’s rise to leadership and inevitable fate.
With Issue #1 I was a little uncertain if I really needed to hear Erend’s storytelling and visions of the past. By the time I hit Issue #2, I couldn’t wait to hear more as Erend is very thorough in making sure Aloy, and us readers, are aware of how Ersa became the woman she was. In between the interludes to the past, Toole treats us to action sequences and visions that seem to jump straight out of the video games. It takes confident writing to hold a reader’s interest when that reader already knows “the ending” and Toole does a great job keeping the reader invested.
Personally, I’m into comic books for the artwork. If I can read a comic book that has art that is pleasing to me and my eye, regardless of the writing, then I’m a happy camper. Sure this is a biased take but we all have our personal tastes.
That being said I wasn’t previously familiar with Elmer Damaso and his work as an artist. What I noticed in this collected edition was his use of strict lines and vibrant colors. But I also noticed that his characters’ faces were drawn with a manga-like style that paid homage to classic Saturday morning cartoons, and that’s not meant to be a negative comment at all. I also noticed that some of the faces and emotions reminded me of my beloved Speed Racer cartoons and comics. My analysis was apparently spot-on as his bio (printed at the end of this graphic novel) reveals that Damaso has worked as a manga and comic book artist for nearly 20 years with previous work on titles such as Speed Racer, Hero Factory, etc.
I was amazed at the ability of Damaso to draw character faces and emotions with fewer lines than I’m used to and then on the flipside pencil in large amounts of detail, e.g. the lines in Aloy’s hair. In the end, Damaso’s art style was the perfect answer to capturing the tension in the panels containing the video game-like sequences.
This collected edition totals about 116 pages. Within those pages, you get all four single-issue comic books as well as all variant covers, a foreword penned by Ben McCaw, the game’s Narrative Director, as well as some background about the world of Horizon. These last two pieces are critical and sufficient reading to be able to jump into this volume with no other prior knowledge of the Horizon Zero Dawn lore. Rounding out the volume is a sketchbook, machine trading card illustrations, concept covers, samples of art in progress, and creator biographies.
All in all this collected edition contains a side story interlude that does nothing to ruin the overarching story contained in the video games. Think of it more like a side-quest with the reward being the enrichment of the Horizon Zero Dawn mythos. After reading this if you haven’t played the Horizon Zero Dawn games you’ll certainly feel compelled to. The action scenes within the comic alone portray the action RPG tension that is surely captured in-game!
Title: Horizon Zero Dawn: Liberation Graphic Novel
Author: Anne Toole
Artist: Elmer Damaso
Colors: Bryan Valenza & Stelladia
Letters: Jim Campbell
Cover Artist: Peach Momoko
Release: March 1, 2022
Publisher: Titan Comics
Format: 116 pages, full color. Mature Readers
Expected cover price: $17,99 / £14,99.
Note: this review was done on a digital review copy provided by the publisher.