This will be a biased review. I’ve been waiting for TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE #1 since Dark Horse announced the new continuity earlier this year. After finishing the reboot video game in 2014, I quickly jumped on the first series around TOMB RAIDER #6. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed, but the “Secrets and Lies” arc (TOMB RAIDER #7-#12) blew me away. The quality of the art, story, and challenges raised to Lara Croft were a high point in the series that hasn’t happened since.

In other words, I’ve stayed invested in the series hoping for a return of that magic. The first series wrapped in 2015, in anticipation of Rise of the Tomb Raider. After that video game, Dark Horse released TOMB RAIDER II from 2016 to January of 2017. Although this tied up some loose ends from TOMB RAIDER, the art and writing were competent but lackluster. Going into this comic, I’ve put a lot of hope into TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE.

Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly wrote the script, and Ashley A. Woods and Michael Atiyeh drew and colored, respectively. Did they restore my hope for the series and Lara Croft? I think they did — or at the very least, I’m hopeful.

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The Art Was a Shock — But it Did Grow On Me

The biggest shock in my reading of TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE #1 was the somewhat cartoony art. Lara Croft and the world look more stylized than previous incarnations of the tomb raider. Woods strips human figures down to the minimum number of lines needed to define their forms. This becomes obvious if you notice that the only thing making the world three-dimensional is Atiyeh’s exceptional coloring. Although that’s true for most comics, there is not much in the line art guiding the shading. I don’t know if this is intentional, but Woods’ style makes Atiyeh’s coloring more necessary than in other works.

If I appear overly analytical of the art, it’s because much of this comic is told in images. There weren’t many, but some moments did distract me from the story. Panels saw Lara’s face take on different shapes and unnatural expressions. Others depicted her limbs in uncanny arrangements, given the actions she was trying to pursue.

Yet despite that, I’m feeling slowly won over by the art of the book by some of its subtleties. Look at how Woods drew nicks into Lara Croft’s fingernails. For all the rock climbing Lara does, you’d expect nothing else. Atiyeh’s use of shadows and light on certain characters and backgrounds heightened the suspense at the right moments. One of the panels even made me pause and say “wow” out loud. And I do love the way Woods blocked the action scenes and handled the layouts.

The revelation of St. Christopher’s hidden church. The unexpected color palette change and light made me gasp. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Just because something is different doesn’t mean that it’s bad, and that’s how I feel about the art. It will be the same team for the next two issues, and I look forward to seeing the development of their unique style.

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The Comic Consists of Two Related but Separate Stories

Yet for what the art occasionally lacks, I was overwhelmingly pleased with the script and how it presented Lara Croft.

I’m a sucker for creativity, and I give Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly high marks for what they did. The narrative of TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE #1 is relayed in a series of three messages Lara leaves on an answering machine. The person she calls is none other than Jonah Maiava, Lara’s big-brother figure of both the comics and the video games. The messages serve as an exposition that feels natural to the story. The reason for three messages is that Lara can’t make up her mind on what to tell Jonah. This is active, off-screen dialogue that reveals elements of their relationship — not just narrative summary.

And why is she in danger? We learn that Lara is investigating a hidden sanctuary that Trinity — the evil organization — is attempting to ransack. Although Lara generally aims to thwart Trinity’s machinations, she’s tracking them down this time for a different reason. In this case, it’s to discover more about the role they played in the death of her father. It’s a pretty standard plot — but it shows what Lara’s motivations will be for this arc. As mentioned, it’s the art that reveals Lara’s actions towards this goal — not the text.

Lara delves deep into the hidden church. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Therefore, what we have in the comic are two interwoven stories. There’s Lara’s ongoing conversation with Jonah’s as she struggles to find the words for why she’s on her own. Then, there’s her present struggle with Trinity, as depicted shot by shot, action by action.

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The Story Highlights the dual Brutality and Tenderness of Lara Croft’s Character

In my mind, what makes Lara Croft an interesting character is her capacity for violence and compassion. If you read the answering machine messages, you get the story of a young woman concerned about her friend. She vacillates between downright lying and firmly declaring her resolve without fear of the truth. If you read the story of the pictures, however, you see Lara break into a building and murder a small contingent of paramilitary soldiers. With a vengeance. That’s terrifying.

We see Laura’s hunter instincts enter the action. Image courtesy of Dark Horse Comics.

Yet, at least for the reboots, that’s Lara Croft. If you play the games, you’re rewarded for killing mooks in creative, over-the-top, and improbable ways. Yet you also see her doubt, her fear, and her perseverance in-between the slaughter. Orphaned at a young age, she cares about her friends — and won’t stop fighting until they’re safe.

This character is who I wanted to see in the comics, and this is the character their strongest arcs have shown before. I’m happy to say that this Lara Croft is back. I highly commend the entire creative team for this (including Hannah Fisher’s excellent cover art as well).

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I’m very happy with this story. As a long time fan of this character in Dark Horse, I’m glad to see this arc starting strong. My advice is not to be put off by the art. Give it a chance, even if it is a departure from what has come before.

There are three more issues planned for this arc, no doubt wrapping up early for the movie premiere on March 16, 2018. I hope that this series continues to explore Lara’s character as much as the plot. It could go either way — for better or for worse — but I feel good about what’s to come.

Read TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE #1 when it releases on November 22, 2017.

TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR'S CRUSADE #1 by Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly; Ashley A. Woods and Michael Atiyeh
I feel good about TOMB RAIDER: SURVIVOR’S CRUSADE #1. Although the art may be off-putting, it does grow on you, and there are some excellent panels. Where the story shines, however, is it’s characterization. By intertwining two tonally antagonistic plots, we get a full characterization of Lara’s tenderness and brutality. If you like what Dark Horse has done with the rebooted Lara Croft, I hope you’ll give this series a try.
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