Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories
illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming
Despite the fact that there’s a pretty strong overlap between fans of each medium, comic books and video games have had a strained relationship, to put it mildly. Comic book characters have rarely found good representation in video games—with a few notable exceptions—while, likewise, comic book adaptations of video game properties usually smell of the “cash grab.”
That’s why this collected anthology of comic adaptations of three of Valve’s own video game properties is so interesting, especially considering who’s credited with writing the stories within: Valve itself.
You would think the fact that this book was literally “written by committee” would be one of its shortcomings, but, in fact, the stories in this book are all extremely strong examples of great plots with equally wonderful dialogue, and are routinely very funny. Like the video games from which they’re adapted, the comics start in media res, throwing readers right into the thick of the action, allowing the plots’ backstories to slowly seep in as readers progress.
The anthology offers comics based on Left 4 Dead, a game depicting the zombie apocalypse; Team Fortress 2, a first-person-shooter that involves players taking on different specialized military-based roles in order to take out the enemy squad; and Portal 2, a physics-based puzzle game set in a world of mad science gone even madder. Each of these premises are as different as can be, and yet the creator the book credits collectively as “Valve” delivers in a big way, knowing when to hit the throttle on the action or comedy, or when to dial things back and let drama and emotion take hold. “Sacrifice,” the story based on Left 4 Dead, is the strongest of the group—which is probably why the book’s editors decided to give that one top billing. Portal 2’s“Lab Rat,” though, comes in at a very close second, offering a dramatic and chilling look into the mind of the obsessed.
In terms of the book’s visuals, most of the illustration can be credited to Michael Avon Oeming (according to Dark Horse’s online catalog—the book itself offers no actual credits), though other in-house Valve artists also provided artwork. Overall, Oeming’s signature style pervades each property’s world—but the art changes in important ways to truly match the very different moods and aesthetics that each setting needs. Left 4 Dead is bloody, dark, and gruesome, echoing the tried and true conventions of horror comics and films, while Team Fortress 2—the least cohesive story in the anthology, but easily the one with the biggest and best laughs—goes for full-on action-cartoon, replete with enormous, manly jaw-lines and even a character with chest-hair perfectly sculpted to resemble Australia.
While the Valve Presents anthology isn’t groundbreaking, it is very, very good, and an achievement in the crossover between two popular forms of media that have always had a hard time seeing eye-to-eye. And though this collection would be great fun for people who’ve never played the three games from which each story takes its elements, experienced gamers who’ve spent lots of time in these comics’ digital worlds are in for a treat: comics that not only accurately capture the fun of these games, but also add to the experience of the games themselves. Finally—something gamers and comics fans can agree on.