I vividly recall playing the video game Half-Life for the first time. While it was a terrific first-person shooter in it’s own right, the biggest draw of the game was the vivid and robust world the developers built within the game. Valve Software continued to build on this world in Half-Life 2 and their episodic series based on the franchise, and I was swept along for the ride with each new installment. I’m a big fan of this universe! So, when I read about the independent, fan-made project that aimed to create a comic book set within the Half-Life universe I was equal parts excited and leery. I’d love to be able to revisit this universe, but I’ve read my fair share of fan-fiction and indie comic books in the past, and the majority of both have been less than stellar. Which makes A Place in the West #1 a true surprise. Not only is it a well-dressed return to the Half-Life universe, but it’s a solid comic book in it’s own right. Check it out for free here!
Writer and Co-Writer Ross Joseph Gardner and Michael Pelletier may be relative newcomers to the comics scene, but you can tell they’re big fans of the Half-Life universe. Everything you love and remember about the world of this series is delivered with spot-on perfection, and besides the lack of a certain glasses wearing hero, I was back and it felt awesome! Gardner and Pelletier nailed the subtle gloom of the aftermath of the Combine invasion that is such a big part of the game series, but the writers don’t overdo it as so many pieces of fan-fiction tend to do. Any fan of the Half-Life series should read A Place in the West, and that includes the guys over at Valve Software, but the creators are also writing a really well put together comic book story. The characters are rich and compelling, the plot is interesting and works well in the overall Half-Life universe, and the pacing, despite a few hiccups, was fun.
Where A Place in the West truly shines is in the work of artist Heath Heil. I was pleasantly surprised to see such a high level of skill when I began reading this ish, but as I read on to see page after page full of detailed panels and wonderful character emotions, great design and color choices, and a style that simply fits the Half-Life universe perfectly, I was blown away. I love an artist who shows his work, and the beautiful snowfall panels are really great work.
Although, there were a coupe of hiccups in some of the transitions that forced me to turn back a page to figure out where I was at some points, the writers put a lot of story into this single issue, and I wouldn’t trade that pacing for anything. While the art was amazing, I’d like to see more risks. This issue #1 had a lot to squeeze in a single issue, but I’d love to see bigger panels and more of the familiar universe we know in all it’s alternate dimension brutality.
Being an independent, fan-made comic book based off of a video game license, I was not expecting much at all from Half-Life: A Place in the West. To be honest, I don’t really expect much from the comic books based on video games that are put out at all, even by big name publishers. Usually they’re halfhearted attempts that rely way too much on a genre that simply tells stories in ways that comics do not, becoming just another form of DLC with no real substance. Issue #1 of A Place in the West, however, nails the universe it’s sourced from without being overzealous, and could easily be a licensed comic book from a big name publisher doing a Half-Life comic that I would actually buy off the shelf. While there is something here for readers who may not be fans, or even know of, the Half-Life series of video games, I’m not sure they’d get the same experience, knocking the book down just a notch or two. Check it out at APlaceInTheWest.net