Mark Millar and Robert Kirkman have had similar career paths, both rising to fame in Hollywood thanks to successful adaptations of their creator-owned comic book titles. While Millar focuses on film adaptations of his work (Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kingsman), Kirkman has made an indelible mark on television thanks to the wild success of The Walking Dead. This led to the writer developing an Outcast TV show for Starz and eventually landing a production deal with Amazon Studios, where an Invincible animated series is currently in the works.
As with Millar, who is now creating comics specifically for Netflix, it’s hard not to look at any new Kirkman comic as a pitch for an adaptation in another medium, including video games, and indeed his latest, with artist Lorenzo De Felici and colorist Annalisa Leoni, has a design aesthetic and storytelling structure that are very video game-friendly. Oblivion Song: Chapter One (Image) collects the first six issues of the sci-fi survival horror series, which follows a scientist action hero as he rescues people from a hell dimension full of alien monsters. It’s been 10 years since the Transference, an interdimensional anomaly that transported a sizable chunk of Philadelphia to the nightmare world of Oblivion, and Nathan Cole is still looking for his brother, one of the 300,000 citizens who went missing that day.
For most of this first arc, the scenes in Oblivion have minimal dialogue, relying on suspense and action to drive the story. This is where the video game influence is most prevalent. Oblivion is a vast, visually engaging environment that would be very cool to explore with open-world gameplay. It is wild and organic, with green growths that look like tree branches mixed with tentacles and spider webs. The overall look is very slimy. The growths will often bunch up and curve into intestinal formations, the landscape looking like it’s made of ever-expanding guts.
Oblivion Song has an exceptional opening scene, creating strong momentum for the story while upending reader expectations. The first page is all about fear as it shows two humans sprinting through the unusual setting, hunted by a hooded man with a sniper rifle. A full-page spread accentuates the terror of this moment, spotlighting the shooter, though he’s not a threat. That comes later when a monster smashes into the building the shooter is perched on, revealing that this potential villain is actually here to save people from a rampaging beast. That blurring between hero and villain becomes a major theme as the story continues. Kirkman makes Nathan a compelling character by gradually revealing information that changes his motivations and introduces new consequences for his actions.
The scenes in Oblivion feature heavy action and sci-fi spectacle that would strain a TV budget, but the scenes in Earth’s dimension feature ensemble drama that will be very familiar to fans of Kirkman’s work. Extramarital affairs, work-life balance, PTSD, and struggles for government funding all come into play as Kirkman explores the lives of the people around Nathan, some of whom have had their own harrowing experiences in Oblivion. As thrilling as De Felici’s and Leoni’s art is for the Oblivion sequences, the most powerful visuals come from these smaller, more emotional scenes.
When a loud noises triggers an Oblivion survivor’s PTSD, De Felici captures the overwhelming weight of the woman’s trauma with a panel positioned from under the table she’s sitting at, using the silhouette of the tabletop to darken the panel’s upper half so it looks like she’s being crushed. De Felici’s compositions and Leoni’s expressive coloring enrich the character interactions, making it so Kirkman doesn’t have to spend too much time breaking down individual relationships; the interpersonal dynamics read so clearly in the artwork.