With the next instalment of the Deus Ex franchise set to touch down later this year, Square Enix together with developer Eidos Montreal have kicked off something called Deus Ex: Universe, a trans-media initiative that aims to expand the Deus Ex canon with books, comics, games and eventually movies. Set some time after the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution but before this year’s PlayStation 4 title, Mankind Divided, Titan’s Children’s Crusade comic series is the first such fruits of this labour.
This first issue sees Human Revolution protagonist Adam Jensen joining up with Task Force 29, a special branch of Interpol that has a mandate for dealing with anti-augmentation and augmentation focused terrorist acts. Set in the city of Prague, we get a grand impression of how the world has started to deal with the augmentation crisis set in motion by the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Those who support anti-augmentation movement are incensed with prejudice that the encroaching spectre of augmentation is diluting the ‘purity’ of humanity, while those who embrace these new cybernetics do so out of necessity; their need to augment themselves and others often brought on by tragic circumstances.
Set against the backdrop of a siege on a pro-augmentation terror group who have abducted a bunch of ‘natural’ children for unknown purposes, writer Alex Irvine uses the ensuing battle and subsequent consequences as a trigger-point for much larger themes. These include how augmentation affects our perception of what it means to be human, as well as the role that journalism plays in fostering those perceptions and how our successors would function in reshaping the world with this newly found technology. It’s deep stuff for sure and i’m hopeful that as the series finds its feet a little more that these concepts and themes are more fully explored.
Of course, stuck slap bang in the middle of the conflict is Task Force 29 and by proxy, Adam Jensen himself, but what’s intriguing about this is that Jensen is treated as an outsider; his augmentations and chequered history keeping him at length from the group’s trust. In particular Jensen clashes with Miller, the somewhat obnoxious leader of the unit and from the get-go things become rather frosty between them to say the least.
This leads straight into one of the problems with the comic though – it’s really quite difficult to connect with any of the characters outside Jensen himself. The reason for this is two-fold; firstly, many characters are introduced right away and the issue length simply isn’t sufficient to provide a decent amount of depth for any of them (Jensen is the exception obviously because he has a known background, but that’s a copout of sorts from an exposition standpoint), while the other reason is that many of them don’t actually get to do a whole lot and so aren’t that interesting to begin with. Here’s hoping we get to see more of these other folks in later issues.
Where things pick up a bit is with the action scenes. Drawn by artist John Aggs, these frames are well realised, showing off a variety of dramatic angles as Jensen and his new teammates engage with their pro-aug dissidents. Though largely defined by bursts of furious gunplay, there are a few occasions where Jensen utilises his powers from the game, such as his Icarus Landing System, for example. Equally, Aggs does a good job of transferring the aesthetic feel from Deus Ex: Human Revolution into the comic, with the hacking and combat vision modes proving wonderfully familiar to fans of the 2011 PS3 title.
Though accomplished in action scenes, Agg’s work isn’t consistent all the way through however, with some distant character and background work appearing less detailed than in other frames. It’s fair to say that some definitely look better than others creating an uneven look across the issue. Of special note though, are the fantastic pro and anti-augmentation adverts that bookend the comic, since not only are they supremely easy on the eye but they also help in contributing to the background of the larger themes that drive the overarching Deus Ex narrative.
With a universe that deals with as convoluted themes as Deus Ex, it was always going to be a challenge to focus that into a comic-book narrative. Nevertheless, despite shortfalls in character exposition, Irvine has done an accomplished job, deftly weaving denser issues around an action packed scenario that makes Children’s Crusade perfect fodder for folks looking for their next fix of Deus Ex canon.
A solid start to the Children’s Crusade saga, this first issue has problems trying to get the audience to buy into the characters, but the interesting developing themes, nods to Deus Ex: HR and well-drawn action scenes bode very well for the series going forward.