Authors: Dan Hauser and Sam Lake
Illustrators: Fernando BlancoPublisher: Titan Books
Genre: Video Game Comics
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A Healthy Outlook on Life
This article features minor spoilers for Max Payne, Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, and Max Payne 3.
Ever since the first Max Payne game, fans have clamored for a comic following everyone’s favorite alcoholic, pill popping badass. Seeing as the first two games’ cutscenes were done in a comic panel style, it only seemed appropriate. Time went on, and nothing came of it, and after Max Payne 2: The Fall of Max Payne, it seemed like fans would be stuck without what they wanted. Then, Rockstar Games, who had purchased the rights to the franchise from Finnish developer Remedy, announced Max Payne 3, and as a part of their marketing leading up to the game they would release three official comics written by resident genius Dan Houser, and Max’s original scribe, Sam Lake.
Picking up a few hours before Max has his life altering encounter with “the coked up kid of New Jersey’s most powerful mob boss” at his favorite dive bar in Hoboken, the book follows Max as he shuffles lifelessly through his day, reliving various traumatic experiences from his past. As he sits in his apartment, drinking, he flashes back to his time as one of New York’s finest, his rough childhood, his brief and bloody fling with Mona Sax, and briefly, even his happier days as a married man and father. As the story progresses, we get a glimpse into the life of a broken man, who thinks he has nothing left to live for until a lone gunshot changed the course of his life.
As probably the biggest Max Payne fan in my state, I could not have been more excited about the comics, and I anxiously checked Rockstar’s website daily for new info. I downloaded each of the issues as they were released, and even won physical copies of the first issue from one of Rockstar’s many events. Being as huge a nerd as I am, and despite having the digital copies already, I decided to pick up the hardcover collected edition from Rockstar’s warehouse. As a hardcore fan, I enjoyed every panel of the comic, and soaked in each detail about Max’s mostly unexplored past. Of special note were the scenes that flashed back to his childhood. Houser and Lake did a fine job of crafting a subtle and disturbing vision of a broken home that left permanent scars on Max, and forged him into the cold, hard boiled man we’ve come to know and love. There are a lot of good moments in here for anyone who wants some more Payne in their lives.
However, as a whole, the three issue arc is fairly inconsistent. In Max Payne and Max Payne 2, Max was more apt to metaphorically express himself in his inner monolouge. When Houser took over writing duties for the third game, he crafted a Max that was ultimately familiar, but slightly more sarcastic and vocal about his opinions. I’m not saying this detracted from Max Payne 3, rather it’s quite the contrary. But in the short 36 or so pages of actual story in this volume, having both Lake and Houser write Max’s inner voice proved to be very distracting. You can blatantly tell when one writer took the helm over the other. Lake’s writing is more like a dark poet regaling us with his woes, where Houser is more focused on the moment and sounds like an average New York gumshoe. Both writers are great at what they do, but together they clash too much to maintain Max’s character.
On the plus side, the art is brilliant, and perfectly captures James McCaffery’s aged detective as he looks and moves in Max Payne 3. There’s some hardcore action scenes that let artists Fernando Blanco and Matt Wilson play with their reds and browns as Max guns down thugs. And overall, the art captures the gritty feel of Max’s PTSD recollections. There’s also some cool concept art for the game itself that gives you a look at how they developed the post Fabricas Branco incident Max, as well as some level and enemy concepts. Rockstar has only gotten better at letting their art department’s work reach the public, and we all get to benefit from its beauty.
Sure, this is not the greatest or longest book, but I still enjoyed it. The great art and insight into my favorite video game character’s past was worth the relatively cheap $10 admission fee. If you’re a fan like me, pick it up and enjoy all those delicious details and wonderful panels, and know that even if you aren’t 100% satisfied, you’ve at least supported one of the best video game developers out there. If you’re not a fan, I can’t think of any reason for you to buy this volume, especially since the comics are available in digital form for free from Rockstar.