It’s October, which means it’s Halloween and it’s the duty of every content creator to do some kind of horror-themed content. As a result, I’m taking a look back at WildStorm’s second series of Resident Evil comic books, the four-issue Fire and Ice series published between 2000 and 2001. This time around, WildStorm have ditched the anthology format in favour of a continuous, original story revolving around a bunch of original characters, the hitherto-unknown Special Tactics and Rescue Service (S.T.A.R.S.) Charlie team.
Last issue, Falcon’s Charlie team made short work of a circus full of infected zombies and were introduced to a new team member, munitions expert Raquel Fields, who is hiding a hideous mutation on her arm. Having recovered a disk naming two Umbrella facilities (one in Alaska and one in Mexico), the team has split into two and the last issue ended with Falcon’s sub-team face-to-face with a literal Day of the Dead south of the border…
Issue two opens in Alaska with the second sub-team (the knife-wielding Australian Quan Williamson, former zoo security guard turned semi-superhuman bad-ass Patrick Brady, and team leader Rosa Cardenas) riding snowmobiles down the frigid mountains of Alaska. There’s a little bit of dissension in the early going as Quan, whom we were informed through a few dialogue boxes and brief snippets of his backstory has a bit of a problem with authority, takes umbrage with Rosa’s orders. However, a stern word from her is enough to quell that and he heads out while a monstrous bear watches on.
The story then jumps back to Mexico where Falcon’s team (including newcomer Raquel and tech-savvy Jesse Alcorn) open fire on the legions of zombies in an ironic perversion of the Day of the Dead festival. Oddly, despite Raquel being the munitions expert, it is Jesse who prepares a bomb while Raquel covers him; however, while doing so, she discovers a strange, bony growth coming out of her arm and decides the best way to deal with it is to chop it off with a meat clever!
Meanwhile, back in Alaska, Brady tries to allay Rosa’s concerns over Quan’s absence by theorising that he has a crush on her; she dismisses this, however, and suggests, in a near-inaudible whisper, that she would be more interested if Brady had a crush on her. We’re only on the second issue, guys, are we really doing this sort of thing? I guess it’s an easy, cliché, artificial way of creating some kind of investment in these characters so we care more when their lives are in jeopardy or they get infected or die but it just kind of comes out of nowhere as I’m not really seeing anything that suggests any kind of sexual tension or attraction between any of these characters.
Anyway, they are interrupted by some kind of flying creature; it’s not really revealed what it is but it’s apparently threatening enough for the two to rush back to their snowmobiles to get their weapons. However, they are stopped in their tracks when they find they are surrounded by large, monstrous bears and bipedal walruses whales, and even a particularly fearsome looking penguin!
Back in Mexico, Raquel blows the explosives but gets into it with Jesse when he inexplicable runs towards the explosion rather than staying clear (honestly, the artwork doesn’t make it massively clear what’s going on in these panels). Falcon quells the dissension and gets the team back on track towards their primary goal (…pretty sure we just saw that with the other sub-team…). Raquel draws Falcon’s attention to a particular piece of artwork in one of the ruined houses that bares a set of runes that Falcon says match up with those identified by Jill Valentine and Chris Redfield from the Spenser Mansion. This despite the impossibility of even spotting such a small, insignificant set of etchings and Jesse scoffing at the importance of the painting.
The clue leads the team to Umbrella’s laboratory, a temple-like structure somewhere in Mexico, and while I like the attempt to call back to the puzzle solving elements of the videogames…the team had a disk of data that led them to Alaska and Mexico. They acquired it from Umbrella so why were they just knobbing around in town rather than going directly to the lab? Why did they need to find an obscure clue to lead them to the obviously ominous structure? It just feels like they could have driven through the Day of the Dead festival and fought those zombies on the way to the lab and weaved the puzzle elements in some other way, like opening the entrance or something.
The story jumps back to Alaska, where Quan has just finished setting up the “evac helipad” (which just looks like some lights stuffed into the snow) when he gets called back to assist Rosa and Brady with their situation. It turns out that whatever has infected these animals hasn’t just allowed whales and walruses to walk on land but also allows penguins to fly (so I guess the thing that flew at them earlier was a penguin, then…). Thankfully, my earlier criticisms regarding Brady’s suitability as a S.T.A.R.S team member comes to the forefront here as, though he’s able to blow the leg off a mutated wolf…thing and knock out a whale with the butt of his gun, he stupidly trips and falls in an effort to save Rosa from being beaten and skewered to death by a bear and walrus. As he falls, he smashes his face on an ice-hard rock but it only stuns him; in other comics and media (and in real life) this would probably kill him but I guess Raccoon City puts a lot of funding and effort into training and toughening up their zoo security guards.
Luckily, a mysterious individual and his sharp-shooting comrade, Mr. Venk, tranquilise the creatures and load them, and the S.T.A.R.S. team members, into their van to transport them back to preserve Whitlam’s research. If you’ve read WildStorm’s original Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine, or my weekly reviews of each issue of that series, you’ll recognise the names and faces being tossed around in these last few panels: the unnamed, monocle-wearing man is Klaus; he and Mr. Venk appeared in WildStorm’s original comic series where they recruited the troubled youth Dexter Whitlam (who had transformed to and from a “G”-like creature using a stolen sample of Umbrella’s G-Virus) to Umbrella in issue five.
I quite enjoy how this series allows WildStorm to expand upon the roles of the original characters they created to fit into the Resident Evil lore; as I mentioned last week, none of these characters are particularly engaging or visually interesting thanks to them holding on to a lot of the worst one-dimensional clichés of comic books of the nineties (bulging muscles, a disdain for authority, and a penchant for leather and violence) but I’d much rather see these minor characters getting a bit more of the spotlight than WildStorm creating even more uninspired original characters.
What lets this issue down, though, is the artwork; the art wasn’t particularly striking in the first issue but it’s even worse here. While Lee Bermejo (who would go on to much bigger and better things at DC Comics) and Shawn Crystal make decent use of shadows and lighting, the creatures are bland, boring, and rendered very gloomy; it’s not always clear what’s attacking the characters or what is going on, and everything looks painfully simple and dull. It also doesn’t help that the issue doesn’t really have any of the blood, guts, and gore that the original mini series showcased; the macabre spectacle tends to salvage the lacklustre writing of WildStorm’s Resident Evil comics and, without it, we’re left with these clichéd, one-dimensional characters who are trying way too hard to look, sound, and act tough rather than exuding the effortless cool and charisma of Resident Evil’s most popular characters.
Are you familiar with WildStorm’s Fire and Ice Resident Evil comic books? What are your thoughts on the plot and characters so far? Which obscure or forgotten Resident Evil videogame or character would you like to see expanded upon in other media? Do you have a favourite piece of ancillary Resident Evil media? Drop a comment down below and come back next Tuesday for my review of issue three.