"The Last of Us: American Dreams" #1 by Neil Druckmann and Faith Erin Hicks is a comics spin-off of the survival horror/action adventure game "The Last of Us," developed by Naughty Dog Games for Playstation 3. The main character of the game is Ellie, a young girl who is making her away across an American post-apocalyptic landscape many years after a fungal disease has wiped out much of the population.
The game isn't out on shelves until June 2013, so unlike most spin-offs, "The Last of Us: American Dreams" #1 really needs to stand on its own, even though it is also supposed to function as a prequel to the game. Druckmann and Hicks' story is a good introduction to Ellie and the setting of "The Last of Us," but it's also mostly setup and slow characterization.
Ever since the wild success of Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games" trilogy, post-apocalyptic settings have been in vogue and verging on overexposure. "The Last of Us," with its setting and female teenage main character, is an obvious part of that trend, but its main character is younger, someone who reminded me more of old Beverly Cleary books than Suzanne Collins.
"The Last of Us: American Dreams" #1 begins with a wordless three-page exposition, and Hicks' facial expressions and background detail show the reader plenty about Ellie's state of mind and state of the world she lives in. It's an unusual move to begin the story without dialogue or text-box info dumps, and Druckmann and Hicks handle it nicely.
Hicks' cartoony, happy line and style are at odds with the grim setting, but Rosenberg's gloomy colors are pitch-perfect for horror and for the gothic environment of the military prep school. On the other hand, Hicks' art is right for the true template or shape of the underlying story, once the reader looks beneath the façade of post-apocalyptic trappings.
The story itself is actually a classic "new kid" school story, including the goal of sneaking out of the school, fighting off bullies and making friends. It's even true to type in how existing students size up and literally call the newcomer "new kid." "The Last of Us: American Dreams" #1 ends up feeling more like a middle-school boarding school story than horror or action/adventure, but the last page points Ellie back towards a bigger world, so the series is unlikely remain in the school story genre.
The debut issue of "The Last of Us: American Dreams" is engaging enough, but it is also almost entirely derivative. However, "The Hunger Games" itself was extremely derivative, following in the footsteps of "Battle Royale," Stephen's "The Long Walk" and before those, a long tradition of gladiatorial or one-survivor plots. What distinguished "The Hunger Games" was its superb suspense and pacing and to a lesser degree, its fusion of the reality show with to-the-death combat.
In "The Last of Us: American Dreams" #1, Druckmann and Hicks' dialogue is engaging, their characters are likable and the storytelling flows enjoyably and smoothly. The details add up to a good experience, but thus far, the story isn't memorable or exceptional. That may change in future issues, as the plot comes closer to converging with the unknown, future events of the videogame.