WARFRAME #1 by Matt Hawkins, Ryan Cady, and Studio Hive
WARFRAME #1 is a striking adaptation of the hit video game. With a high-action plot and incredibly detailed art, fans of this free-to-play series should prepare their wallets for the arrival of this fantastic comic book.
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Space Battles Done Right
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Developing a comic around a video game property comes with a number of unique challenges. With much of the source material already developed, the new narrative needs to find a way to balance new information with respected lore. That said, when Image Comics released previews of WARFRAME #1 during San Diego Comic Con, I was understandably nervous. WARFRAME is one of my favorite online video games, with an incredibly rich lore and a beautiful, techno-organic aesthetic. Writers Matt Hawkins and Ryan Cady and artist Studio Hive had a high bar to leap before they sold me on this book. Did they succeed in adapting these space ninjas onto the page? Or will this series die in the cold, eternal reaches of the cosmos?

Feel the Power

warframe #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

WARFRAME #1 is set in Earth hundreds of years in the future. At that time, a mysterious alien race known as the Grineer has risen to power. The Grineer have perfected the sciences of cloning, genetic manipulation, and cybernetic augmentation. As such, they have crafted the perfect army of high-tech drones. Under the command of Captain Vor, a grisly commando that is more machine than man, the Grineer have attacked a human village in search of Orokin artifacts.

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The Orokin were an ancient race of technologically advanced beings. When their society died, their most powerful artifacts were hidden away. The Warframe armor lay among these artifacts. These highly advanced weapons bonded to a “pilot.” This bonding granted the pilots control of the elements themselves, and a mastery of weaponry. The Warframe developed these soldiers into the legendary Tenno warriors.

The Tenno were once thought dead, but as the Grineer attack the village, one lone soldier appears amidst the flames. Though he only manages to save one of the villagers, a young girl blinded by the fight, the Tenno now seeks revenge for all those who died. Baring a gun, a sword, and his white Excalibur armor, this Tenno seeks Grineer blood.

Space Violence

Warframe #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

As mentioned earlier, the hardest facet of adapting video games comes from the lore itself. Writers need to approach the lore with respect. At the same time, they have to tell their own story. They have to invite something new to the world. Hawkins and Cady did exactly that in WARFRAME #1. Their joint narrative imbues the WARFRAME universe with a new sense of wonder. Not that spacefaring ninjas in super-suits need a whole lot of extra wonder. The pace feels lightning quick but without gimmick. The tension is always center stage, leaking from the page and making the war zone that much more important.

The only place I find complaint with the plot is in the fact that not a lot happens. From page one, the main focus is the lengthy battle between Excalibur and the Grineer forces. There are some meaningful moments between the young villager and Excalibur. But these aren’t the main focus of this issue. These details act as background fodder for the incredible battle sequences.

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Normally I would have issue with the lack of potent narrative, but WARFRAME never portrays itself as a potent narrative. It is a game where you fly your spaceship to an alien world and use an alien katana to slice up bad guys. Thankfully, the narrative backbone does exist in WARFRAME #1, but I’m glad that it doesn’t float directly to the surface. It makes this comic more faithful to the original game, in many ways. More importantly, it places the focus on the true protagonist of the series: Excalibur.

The Voiceless Soldier

Warframe #1
Courtesy of Image Comics

For the most part, characterization is incredibly well done in WARFRAME #1. While the young villager only exists for the sake of providing backstory and tension, she has enough personality and motivation to make her feel like a real person. Surprisingly, the strongest characterization of the whole book comes from Captain Vor. While the game has some focus on this grisly baddy, he never really finds his voice in it. In WARFRAME #1, though, we get to see into Vor’s head when a moment of doubt turns into unbridled rage. Vor doesn’t fully trust or believe in the Grineer Queens, and that makes him feel self-conscious. That detail works to develop this antagonist into something more than an ultimate evil archetype, saving him and enhancing this book.

Excalibur himself poses an issue for this story. As a character, he is meant to exude confidence and order, and through WARFRAME #1, he doesn’t talk. Excalibur’s entire characterization relies on the narrative and the artwork. In both fields, I believe the creators succeeded. While I could have done with a little more focus on the characters, there are some surprisingly tender moments between Excalibur and the little girl. He wants to save her, but when he stands in the mud, surrounded by Grineer, you can almost sense his regret. Excalibur doesn’t need to kill these soldiers. He could simply fly away on his ship. However, he chooses to stay.

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Without voicing a single word, Excalibur speaks leagues. Much of this stems from Studio Hive’s amazingly detailed painting style. The artists behind this project have created an amazing painterly aesthetic that is vibrant and rich. More importantly, they manage to make this world even more visceral and badass than it already was. The visuals show a level artistry that most artists necessarily stray from for sake of deadlines, and it is definitely an amazing sight to behold.

Final Thoughts: WARFRAME #1

WARFRAME #1 isn’t a perfect comic. Some fans may not take to the no-holds-barred combat centered storyline. Some may want more of a plot backbone. But as a look at the hit MMORPG, WARFRAME #1 is a roaring success. At its heart, this narrative was a literal thrill to read. I had as much fun reading the story as I did playing the game, which never happens. Even the ASSASSINS’ CREED comics, with their stellar story, have never once inspired that feeling. If nothing else, WARFRAME #1 has me itching to pick up the second issue in this series.

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