To continue to milk the release of the Resident Evil 3 remake (Capcom, 2020), I figured I’d spend the next few weeks taking a look back at the official comic book magazine released by WildStorm between 1998 and 1999.
Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine ran for five issues and mostly featured stories that filled in events between, during, and after Resident Evil (ibid, 1996) and Resident Evil 2 (ibid, 1998). Many of these stories and events, and the characterisations of familiar Resident Evil characters, may have since been rendered non-canon by subsequent sequels and reboots but, nevertheless, these comics do a great job of fleshing out the Resident Evil lore outside of the videogames.
Issue one released in March 1998 and featured cover art by the always-fantastic Jim Lee and four full-length stories. The first, “S.T.A.R.S. Files” (Adams, et al), is a minor prelude to Resident Evil in which Albert Wesker is charged by his mysterious superior officer to form two teams to investigate a series of murders in Raccoon City.
Wesker compiles a report (how very Resident Evil) in which he runs down each member of the Bravo team and his Alpha team, their abilities, a bit of their backstory, and how much of a threat they pose. He talks about his willingness to blackmail Barry Burton into being his second-in-command, criticises both Rebecca Chambers and Brad Vickers, and gives a little bit of background to Chris Redfield and Jill Valentine. The story ends with the Bravo team heading out to Raccoon Forest and Wesker promising that the team won’t find out anything. Obviously, this story was written long before Resident Evil Zero (Capcom, 2002), so the Bravo team exists simply to be written off but this story, while brief, does provide some insight into Wesker’s motivations and mindset at a time when he was still a one-note, clichéd villain rather than a superpowered mastermind.
The second story, “Who Are These Guys?” (Adams, et al), sheds a bit of light into how all of those files and notes you pick up in Resident Evil titles are created by showing the story, and degeneration, of Ada Wong’s boyfriend, here called John Fay. It turns out that John was the scientist responsible for experimenting with the Tyrant-Virus (T-Virus) on animals, such as dogs and sharks, thus creating some of Resident Evil’s most memorable bio-organic weapons (BOWs).
In the course of his research, and the story, John contracts the T-Virus and begins degenerating into a zombie; he just about manages to scrawl out passwords and codes for Ada before being blown to pieces by Jill. This was an interesting story, fleshing out a character I don’t think we’ve ever seen in the videogames and visually detailing the degenerative process the T-Virus has on a human. It’s quite fun to see how John’s note was written out, and how all he amounts to is being just another zombie to be dispatched during the game.
“Dangerous Secrets” (Oprisko, et al) mixes things up a bit by telling a story about the survivors of Resident Evil as it literally takes place two days after the end of the game. The story is, basically, a recap of the events of the first game, recreating the team’s first encounter with a zombie, the infected crows, the fight against Yawn and Enrico’s assassination, their battles with the Hunters, Wesker’s betrayal and death, and the destruction of both the Tyrant and the mansion itself.
Tying in with the previous story a little bit, “Dangerous Secrets” also shows the characters actually using the files and notes they found in the mansion and Umbrella’s laboratory to their advantage to piece together what happened, how the T-Virus was created, and what it does to those infected. There’s also a really amusing part where Chris and Rebecca both reference how Jill was captured and imprisoned in a cell but Jill remembers the events slightly differently, believing that it was Chris that was imprisoned. This is a great reference to the contradictory story parts the player encounters when playing Resident Evil and good way of pasting over those continuity errors before the production of the Resident Evil remake (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2002) and other sequels; the idea being that each scenario is as valid as the other as it’s simply from that character’s perspective (it’s also slightly implied, through Jill’s thought bubble, that Chris is intentionally lying because he’s ashamed of being captured).
This story is also where Barry’s betrayal is revealed to Chris, explaining in detail how Wesker threatened Barry’s family to get him to go along with his plot to release the Tyrant. The story comes to an end with Chris planning on investigating Umbrella further and Leon S. Kennedy arriving in Raccoon City, effectively bridging the gap between Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2 and (although unintentionally) Resident Evil – Code: Veronica (ibid, 2000).
Speaking of Resident Evil 2, the comic’s final story, “Raccoon City – R.I.P.” (Adams, Oprisko, et al), details Ada’s arrival in Racoon City to confront William Birkin (who looks a little…different to how he appears in Resident Evil 2) just as the first zombies begin to crop up around the city (which is a bit of a continuity error as zombies weren’t supposed to appear until after Birkin is killed).
Their conversation is overheard by an unidentified third party, who then visits a bar that is promptly trashed by zombies. He heads to Gun Shop Kendo to grab a shotgun before being attacked by a zombie at a petrol station, which explodes in the fracas, killing him and his attackers.
A trucker witnesses the explosion and is immediately set upon by zombies, who are taken out by a duel-wielding Leon, thus filling in a few blanks between Resident Evil and Resident Evil 2. Despite casting a bit more focus on Ada and her characterisation and detailing how quickly the T-Virus spread to Raccoon City, “Raccoon City – R.I.P.” is easily the weakest of this issue’s four stories; it’s got a lot more continuity errors, puts far less emphasis on recognisable characters, and the art isn’t as good.
Issue one also features a really insightful interview with Resident Evil producer Shinji Mikami, who details some of the production and design influences on the game and series, directly referencing the impact Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1968) had on the game’s production. He also talks about how the version of Resident Evil released in the United States is actually harder than the Japanese version so that they could make more money of repeated game rentals (remember when those were a thing?) and some cut characters, including an original version of Barry who more resembles Arnold Schwarzenegger. In the end, this is a decent first issue; it’s more of an anthology and companion piece to the videogames rather than a by the numbers adaptation, with only “Dangerous Secrets” directly reinterpreting the videogame into comic book form. However, it has to be said that this story is easily the best this issue has to offer as it features all the characters and events you remember from the first game recreated with some stunning (and gory) art by Carlos D’Anda.
Did you ever read the Resident Evil comics published by WildStorm? Would you be interested in the series receiving a reprint as the collection is currently out of print? Do you have a favourite piece of ancillary Resident Evil media? Drop a comment below and come back next Tuesday for my rundown of issue two.