The Tomb Raider Archives are large, hardcover, editions of the popular, original, Tomb Raider comics series. As Dark Horse Comics are getting ready to release volume 3 of the Archives, I’ve taken it upon myself to read these stories for the first time. The first volume has five separate stories: “The Medusa Mask”, “Ancient Futures”, “Dead Center”, “Shangri-La”, and “Jungle of Honduras”. This review is on The Medusa Mask.
The story introduces Lara in the best and yet the most offensive way possible – with her wearing full Islamic gear (the burka, hijab and niqab) to get away with a stolen item. I mean cultural appropriation is one thing, but to take religious/cultural gear and use it to get away with theft – unless the character is evil – is crossing the boundary just a little bit. As if that isn’t just a tad offensive enough, Lara then reveals herself as half-dressed under the garments, and is quite proud of it, which is fine if you’re in a country which has a more liberal outlook; but that’s not quite where she is. As the saying goes, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”. Putting aside the slightly disrespectful element of this introduction, I should say that the male characters searching her down are no better; in fact, they’re downright filthy. In order to find Lara, they force the hijabs off of the women around them. This is completely abhorrent behaviour and, I guess, meant to invoke the hatred that we will naturally feel against them (although, I wonder how many people would have recognised that it isn’t ok to dress in cultural gear that isn’t yours, in order to steal ?) Anyhow, Lara succeeds in taking the necklace, and, I’m guessing that in order to justify the theft and the way it was conducted, Croft then makes clear that she simply took back what was originally stolen anyway. I mean, this is technically a good beginning; it’s paced well, shows Lara’s fearless nature, and the art is beautiful without any noticeable problems at this stage. But, I’m sorry, I just can’t get over the disrespectful way that Lara is made to steal; and just to make it clear, I don’t wear the hijab, niqab or burka, but I am well aware of the significance that it has to most people wearing it. I don’t think they would like to see it represented in this way – to first have her succeed with theft whilst wearing it and then to put the metaphoric middle finger up at the entire concept behind the religious gear by having Lara reveal herself in the most sexual way possible.
Okay, putting that aside. The story is your typical Lara searches down some goods (the Medusa mask) whilst having to defeat enemies along the way. I do like the pacing and I think the story manages to keep an interesting cliff-hanger at the end of each “chapter”. It also has a surprise ending which I definitely did not see coming; this makes reading the story well worth it. The dialogue, however, is not always up to scratch. It notably has its cringe-worthy moments and it, at least in the beginning, tries to force the feels rather than letting it develop naturally. I also find the references to Lara’s good looks a bit over-the-top. We get it, she’s attractive, but you could just let the art do the talking in that respect. And speaking of the art, I’d say it’s mostly alright, but there are glaring anatomy and perspective errors, more so than I would have liked. It does take away from the enjoyment of looking at the art at times.
The other issue that I have with the story is that the writers take the convenient way out of making Lara do the important detective work in figuring out the location of the Medusa mask, by introducing a new character who happens to have done the key leg-work. I think the story would have been a lot more interesting if we could see the puzzle pieces being found and coming together ourselves, but I feel like we are cheated out of the “oh my goodness” moment when all the pieces come together, because we’re not taken along the Easter egg hunt ride. Around this section of the story (which is in “chapter” 3), there’s just too many convenient story-telling, like how easily they find a certain location which nobody else has happened to ever find … simply because (*spoiler ahead*) … the mountain way has always been covered in rubble which conveniently just cleared with an avalanche miraculously in time for Lara and co. to find. This kind of story-telling is just lazy to me and, frankly, boring. There’s so much more that could have been done here, but I guess we want to reach the conclusion as swiftly as we possibly can. Oh well … moving quickly onto the next story then …