Reading “Strings – Part 1 of 4”

I think I spent the time in between each issue of the second arc of Life is Strange anticipating major Chloe/Rachel drama because it just seemed so obvious to me that at some point they were going to have to deal with the possibility of a long distance relationship and the total availability of Max.  All that stuff ultimately took a major backseat to the more immediate plot revolving around Tristan’s introduction to the book, which makes sense given the need to expand the cast a little bit beyond our three heroines.  I mean, I could read stories about the friendliest of love triangles each month with no problem, but I suppose there does have to be something else going on in between the feels dumps of long chats about relationships.

It’s really fun when covers play with familiar iconography and graft it onto character concepts. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The standard cover of this issue wraps around the book in two parts with a playing card motif.  On the front we have Max, Chloe, and Rachel looking like they always belong in a deck of cards (I know this is not a novel visual concept, but it still delights me when I see it) with one face down card set beneath them.  On the back it’s revealed that that card is Tristan, throwing a bit of chaos into the group’s relatively well-ordered lives.  It’s a nice thematic nod to the way that Tristan’s introduction in the previous arc has precipitated a major upheaval in the status quo of Max’s life.  Last issue closed with her promising to tell Chloe and Rachel everything because of what had happened since she’d met Tristan, and given the utterly bonkers nature of Max’s backstory (“I come from a different timeline where everyone you know and love is dead except me, and also there were a lot of murders and other dark stuff that happened”) the usual associations with playing cards like fragility, uncertainty, and the whims of fate are totally apropos.  For the purposes of this issue itself, Tristan’s relatively minor; he’s there, but it’s also very clear he would rather not be because there’s a lot of baggage that Max needs to unpack, and it’s not the most comfortable thing for someone she’s just met to witness along with her close friends.


This is the whole issue in one wordless panel. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi)

The entire first half of the book is just these four main characters sitting in their apartment unpacking everything that’s happened with Max.  It’s like an extended recap of the entire Life is Strange series, but with added feels.  Rachel is understandably upset by the thought that there’s a reality where she and Max never met because she was murdered and also by the realization that Max and Chloe totally got together in the aftermath of that trauma.  Chloe seems to process everything much more efficiently, which I guess makes sense given the fact that she’s the focal point of all Max’s positive feelings.  It’s honestly amazing how much better adjusted this Chloe is than any of the other ones we’ve seen; as soon as she groks that Max left a different Chloe behind, she’s down with the idea that Max needs to try to leave.  This Chloe’s doing okay; the other one lost everything.  Max seems mostly relieved that she’s finally shared this massive secret she’s been sitting on for two years, and Tristan would just like to get away from all the awkwardness of this very complicated living situation.  Given his powers, this is so on brand for Tristan it hurts.

Because the first half of the book is a massive feelings and data dump, the second half packs in a fair bit of set up for this story arc.  Rachel flirts with Dex, the High Seas’ keyboardist (who maybe is signalling that he’s trans or just that he needed a cooler name for his musician persona) and it comes out that the band is touring the East Coast next, with their first stop being an arts festival that is also where Rachel will be going for her acting gig.  Chloe announces that she’s going to travel with Rachel, and we can all see that this is rapidly going to turn either into a road trip story or the majority of the cast is getting sidelined so that we can focus more on Max and Tristan’s misadventures with superpowers.  I obviously am hoping very much for the former, which is almost a guarantee that it will be the latter.


Rachel is having a bad day. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi)

Random Bits

  • The background designs on the cover are Tristan’s shirt design and the spiral icon that Max presumably drew on the note board in the kitchen (itself a callback to the original game’s rewind visuals).
  • Max recognizing the sculpture as a representation of the Arcadia Bay storm continues to tease that there’s something weird going on with Chloe, who we’ll remember has been getting unwitting flashes of things from Max’s other reality.
  • Tristan apparently thinks he could use his powers to step through dimensions, which, yeah, okay.
  • Rachel is deep in her feelings, and I want that explored so much more.
  • Just give me a High Seas spinoff already.  The more I see of this band, the more I want stories centered on them.

Reading “Waves – Part 2 of 4”

It’s been a while since I dove back in with Chloe, Max, and Rachel, so let’s take a look at Life is Strange #6.  To refresh, we’re in the middle of a story about our three heroines struggling to get by in Los Angeles a couple years after Max landed in a timeline where Chloe and Rachel are both alive and the storm never hit Arcadia Bay.  The first issue of the arc established the new status quo, with the trio living in a cheap apartment where Max is working as a freelance graphic designer; Chloe has a steady job as an auto mechanic and a budding career as an artist; and Rachel is doing all the side hustles with auditions, Youtube videos, and a series of regular jobs waiting tables.  Chloe and Rachel have both just gotten their first breaks, and they’re full of feelings because Rachel’s job would take her to the east coast for six months and Chloe is worried Rachel will resent her for having some success while she’s still struggling.  Max is white knuckling through not using her powers anymore for fear of losing a pretty good thing despite her obvious sadness that Chloe isn’t available.

Chloe’s t-shirts continue to be pretty sweet though. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi)

The cover for this issue features Max, Chloe, and Rachel hanging out and looking cool in sunny LA (you know it’s LA because there are palm trees behind them).  It’s a lovely picture of them, but it lacks the symbolic imagery that we’ve seen on most of the other covers so far.  The only thing of note is that Rachel is facing away from Chloe and Max, but there’s very little in the issue to suggest any sort of significance to the composition.  The Chloe/Rachel drama that I was anticipating at the end of the last issue hasn’t yet materialized; they’re mostly pretty in sync here, primarily because they’re worried about Max, who is growing ever more worried about the secrets she’s been keeping from her best friends for two years.


Rachel gives Max some encouraging words. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

This is the kind of issue in series that I tend to really enjoy; conversations about relationships and deep feelings always feel so much meatier than a bunch of cool actiony bits; that Vieceli consistently hits those beats instead of being like, “Hey, Max can do some cool stuff with her time hopping!” makes me appreciate this series all the more as it carries on.  The first character whose deep feelings get discussed explicitly is Chloe, and, because drama is best when it’s filtered through the prisms of other characters perceptions, the Chloe exploration happens via a conversation between Max and Rachel.  While leaving a dentist’s office where Rachel has just gotten her teeth cleaned and polished (for publicity reasons; this is still LA), the two of them discuss Chloe as the core connective tissue of their relationship.  Max sees herself as the source of Chloe’s anxiety about Rachel’s job offer; though Rachel doesn’t speak explicitly about it, she likely considers all the other ways Chloe has been abandoned in her life when she tells Max to stop being so hard on herself.  They’re both right in their ways, but they also both make assumptions about Chloe that have the potential to create some interesting tensions later.  Chloe definitely still has some of those anxieties, but the way she speaks with Max later in the issue, asking her not to shut herself off, demonstrates that this Chloe is far more emotionally mature than the one that Max is thinking of.


Max is having a rough couple years. She should get some therapy. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Contrasting with the fixed ideas of Chloe that Rachel and Max are grappling with, we get a lot of self reflection from these two characters about themselves and the ways that they’ve changed.  Rachel is very open about the possibility that she would have become a shallow, image focused person after trying to make it in LA for so long without Chloe’s help.  That jives with the way she was characterized in Before the Storm; Rachel Amber has always been very adept at making herself blend in with whomever she’s around, and too much chameleoning without someone like Chloe to act as her anchor could easily have diffused her sense of self in some unhealthy ways.  Max, meanwhile, continues to reflect on how she’s been so steadfast in her determination not to use her powers anymore; she wants to be the kind of friend who is dependable, although her obsession on this one thing has made her overcompensate in ways that continue to shut her off from Chloe especially.  The core tension for her at this point is figuring out whether she even can tell Chloe and Rachel about her powers without alienating them (the evidence in this issue suggests that she’s probably safe confiding in them, although her own misgivings are certainly relatable).


To contrast with Max’s personal crisis, Chloe shines through as a remarkably stable and caring friend here. All things considered, this feels like Chloe at her best, even as she’s worried about not knowing Max anymore. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

While Max is deep in her feelings and Rachel does some self-reflection, Chloe’s core action through this issue is a meditation on the ways that things are different from how they used to be.  Max’s refusal to talk about her powers has produced a stark asymmetry between how Chloe remembers her and how she is now.  Part of the asymmetry in perception is because this Max is literally not the one that this Chloe grew up with, but on a more real level, it’s because Max has changed and hasn’t explained to Chloe what the changes actually are.  The dissonance between our memories of a person and the person before us can be extremely uncomfortable if it’s not sufficiently explained, and Max definitely has avoided doing that work with Chloe.

Setting aside character beats, it’s also worth noting the subplot with the Emo Kid who Max has noticed around town.  He apparently has the power to make people forget him, which he uses to do petty thefts.  Max, likely because of her own powers, is mostly immune to his tricks, and she’s curious to find out more about him because she hasn’t encountered anyone else with powers before.  This goal ties in with the aimlessness that Max has felt as she’s made herself stay in this timeline; perhaps Emo Kid’s appearance is connected with the reason she’s been around for so long.  Of course, discussing the reason Max has been in a given timeline implies that she’ll either need or want to move on once things are resolved.  This timeline’s Chloe is unconsciously having flashes of things that are remnants of other timelines, and at this point I’m expecting that Max will be whisked off to a different set of circumstances once the arc ends, ideally after we get confirmation that the Chloe and Rachel of LA are going to be fine and continue to be happy together.

Reading “Waves – Part 1 of 4”

The last time we checked in with Max, she had hopped timelines from one where she was supposed to be dead to a new one where Chloe and Rachel Amber are alive and well in Los Angeles just like they had always planned.  It was a good place to leave off the series if that were your inclination; our heroine has found a stable place with the promise of some semblance of happiness.  It’s also an ideal place to carry on the story considering how much hay can be made of Max being stuck in a world where her best friend (with whom she’s in love) is happy with someone else.  Rachel Amber was the specter of the original game’s story, always a part of the atmosphere surrounding Chloe and Max.  Now she’s a physical presence, the person whom Chloe romantically loved first, and perhaps most.  Even after setting aside the relatively puerile love triangle model where Max and Rachel might vie for Chloe as rivals, there’s a lot of good potential for strong feels without pitting these characters who should naturally like each other in direct competition.

Max is on her own this time. (Cover by Veronica Fish; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue’s cover plays to the deeper issues that Max is working through under this new status quo.  Focusing on Max’s face, we see her in the moment just after she’s taken a photograph.  Slipping out of her instant camera is the snapshot, showing a farewell sign as she leaves Oregon behind.  Above her head are blue butterflies, the series’s ubiquitous symbol for the unexpected consequences of Max using her powers.  This new arc flashes forward from 2014 to 2016, and we learn quickly that Max has decided that she’s not going to use her powers anymore.  She’s in a stable timeline, and she needs to make the best of the situation.  Her return to Arcadia Bay isn’t even history anymore; she’s literally cut off from her home, living (relatively) abroad with the ever present reminder of Chloe and Rachel to keep her from using her powers to try to make adjustments.

The butterfly tattoo on Max’s wrist is a lovely touch. She understands it as a symbol of the unintended consequences that pop up when she uses her powers; we as readers recognize it also as emblematic of the Chloe that loved her. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

The time skip serves to get us over the undoubtedly awkward transition from Max reintroducing herself to this Chloe, who hasn’t seen Max since her family moved to Seattle, to Max becoming an integral part of Chloe and Rachel’s life.  The point of this story appears to be Max working to maintain a hard won equilibrium; she seems to be getting by as a freelance photographer and graphic designer when we catch up with her, and over the course of the issue it becomes clear that she’s rebuilt the friendship that she and Chloe had as children.  Max has a good thing going, and all it cost her is being constantly reminded that there are alternatives in her grasp where she and Chloe could be together.  Of course, our Max is a ridiculously responsible person, and at every turn she reminds herself that there are no purely good outcomes.  There’s no way she’s going to be the one who makes the waves here.  Instead, it’s clearly going to be about Rachel and Chloe going through a rough patch in their relationship.  Both have steady jobs in addition to side hustles with various levels of success (Chloe is an auto mechanic, but she really wants to make abstract art out of scrap metal, which feels like a very Chloe development in this timeline; Rachel is struggling to land an acting gig while she builds a Youtube channel about makeup tips and holds down a job as a waitress).  Their lives are extremely humble, and likely more than a little precarious given the milieu that anyone who lived through 2016 as an adult would understand.

In case you were wondering, yes, Max is still very much in love with Chloe. She’s really good at not making it anyone else’s problem though. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

While the economic factors are certainly present and may become more prominent in subsequent issues, the core tension between Rachel and Chloe here is more centered on their differing attitudes towards their own ambitions.  Both are taking their first steps towards realizing their creative dreams, but they have polar opposite attitudes in how they handle these changes.  Rachel has gotten her first acting job with a touring company doing some Shakespeare (nods to Before the Storm abound with Rachel, which is appropriate because that was a fantastic prequel series in its own right as long as you ignore the post-credits coda of the last episode), and she’s already accepted it.  The problem is that it’s a tour on the East Coast that’s going to last for six months.  Rachel’s hunger for a chance at doing what she loves is totally understandable, but her decision to accept the job before she even discusses it with Chloe feels like a warning of trouble to come.

Enthusiastic Chloe is best Chloe. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Contrasting with Rachel’s unilateral decision-making is the news that Chloe has made her first sale of an art piece.  She’s thrilled, but she also worries about telling Rachel because it’s legitimately hard to see others being successful when you aren’t.  The contrast in impact versus thoughtfulness between Chloe and Rachel’s respective bits of news is staggering.  On one hand you have Chloe having a small personal success that will bring in money, benefiting the household, and not negatively disrupt anyone’s lives; she agonizes over sharing this positive news because it might make Rachel feel like a failure in her own projects.  On the other hand, Rachel accepts a job that will require her to travel across the country for half a year and leave her girlfriend behind.  It’s undeniably an opportunity that she should pursue, but her insecurity about telling Chloe until it’s already a done deal is going to rock the boat.

Max, you are a good friend. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Standing back from this buildup of potential dramatic energy is Max, who is doing her absolute best at being the supportive friend.  She gives Chloe solid advice about trusting that Rachel will be happy for her, which likely plays into Chloe’s own decision to not press the issue with Rachel’s job.  It’s a difficult emotional position for Max to be in; we know intimately that Max’s memories are full of moments that she shared with a different Chloe, and there’s no way she can push those away.  Still, she makes the selfless choice and advises her friend to put more trust into her relationship with Rachel.  The cost of this is clear when Max has to excuse herself after Chloe and Rachel resolve to work out the thing with the job; every choice has consequences, and Max isn’t going to make a choice that benefits herself knowing that it could hurt someone she cares about.  I’m sure this will all be put to the test once Rachel’s on tour and Max and Chloe find themselves living alone together, leaning even more on each other emotionally.  It’s going to be great.  Also, probably terrible.

Reading “Dust – Part 4 of 4”

As Rachael has been playing through the Dragon Age series, she’s developed a guiding ethos for all of her decisions that goes something like this: When Alistair (her favorite character from Dragon Age: Origins) is present, she will always choose what she thinks Alistair would most want because no one else in the game world seems to be that concerned with his needs or desires.  Alistair is a figure within Dragon Age lore who exists primarily to be the plot’s whipping boy; several major decision points in Origins revolve around making a choice that’s going to either be very bad for a lot of people or lead to Alistair personally suffering in some way.  It takes a lot of work to set up a story where Alistair both gets a happy ending and nothing too tragic happens to anyone else.  I feel like Chloe Price fits a similar mold in the Life is Strange universe.

On the one hand, Max and Chloe are the best together. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

Unfortunately for Chloe, the original game only presents so many potential variables in the story, and consequently achieving a “happy” ending for her isn’t possible without dooming a lot of people (even then, there’s no circumventing Rachel Amber’s murder or Chloe’s dad’s death or any number of other smaller traumas).  The choices available to the player are much more constrained by the nature of the story; Alistair’s caught up in epic fate-of-the-world heroics while Chloe is just a teenage girl trying to survive in a hometown that hasn’t felt like a home for her in a long time, but the basic idea is still present in both narratives.

Anyway, the point of all this is that what Chloe wants figures in pretty centrally to the conclusion of this story, which is really sweet and also likely to cause Max a fair bit of grief as well.

Aww, Max. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi & Andrea Izzo; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover of this issue highlights the motif of Max’s grief pretty well with a portrait of Max looking pensively to the side.  A crack runs down the middle, splitting between Chloe on one side and the flurry of butterflies that have served as the visual motif for Max’s trips into the multiverse on the other.  The composition telegraphs pretty strongly that Max will be faced with a decision that probably involves leaving Chloe behind; it’s not my favorite resolution (I let a whole town of people die so Max and Chloe could be together after all).  Past issues have made it increasingly clear that whatever is going on with Max’s powers is becoming increasingly unstable, and nosebleeds simply aren’t a sign of good physical health in these sorts of situations.

What finally gets explained in this issue (probably with a bit too little preparation) is that Max has been flickering through timelines because she’s somehow become displaced from her own timeline.  Every time she jumps streams, it’s because she’s being pulled between two or more realities, none of which are actually supposed to be hers.  The implications of this become almost immediately apparent to Max; she can’t stay in her current timeline with Chloe, and she’s not entirely sure where she really belongs.

Since that revelation happens early in the issue, much of the story is about Max coming to terms with what she has to do and sorting out her relationship with Chloe.  The structure of the issue is relatively light on action, but it’s heavily consequential for dealing with a lot of unresolved issues relating to Max and Chloe’s relationship.  They finally discuss Rachel Amber and what she meant to Chloe, which is viscerally satisfying; anyone who paid even mild attention to the original game could tell that Chloe and Rachel were in love, but to have it made explicit is great (I think this is one of those instances of queer romance where it’s sort of infuriating that the original writers didn’t just make it textual, even if it’s clear from subsequent material that they fully intended the relationship to be read that way).  Max confronts the possibility that she isn’t supposed to be in this timeline at all.  Chloe comes to terms with her own grief and reaches a place where she can be okay if Max has to go away.  It’s all very short on plot, but chock full of genuine feels for all the characters involved.  Basically, this issue is a highly refined version of the fanfiction formula, and I’m here for all of it.

On the other hand, Chloe and Rachel Amber are OTP. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

The ending of the issue serves as a satisfying conclusion to the story arc that’s been playing out since the first issue of this series.  Following Max’s decision to stop fighting the pull of the timelines, she disappears from the reality we’ve been following, leaving Chloe to mourn the loss of her second love but with the support of some great friends who care deeply about her.  Max, meanwhile, has to choose a new multiversal destination, and she decides that the best thing she could do is look for a reality where Chloe actually gets what she wants for a change.  The issue concludes with Max appearing on a beach in Los Angeles where Chloe and Rachel Amber have been hanging out.  If the series were ending with this issue, then it’d be a fitting place to leave off; the possibility that Max could start over with Chloe in a world where she wasn’t subjected to all the traumas that we’ve seen her go through.  At the same time, there’s a great narrative hook implied in this moment that I’m really excited to see play out as the series continues.  Max has voluntarily placed herself in a timeline where Chloe got everything she wanted; knowing that, the question of how Max will fit into this Chloe’s life is an interesting one, especially after we’ve just spent an issue establishing that Max really is in love with Chloe.

Either way, Max decides to let Chloe choose, and that’s the best thing of all about the issue. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo)

Reading “Dust – Part 3 of 4”

A lot of the second issue of Life is Strange felt like a series of nods back to the reality of the game itself; Max has encounters with characters that players got to know and love pretty deeply during the original story, and much of what Vieceli explores in that issue deals with coping with the consequences of Max’s decision not to let Chloe die.  We get a series of could-have-beens that are naturally extrapolated from the ending where Chloe’s murdered by Nathan Prescott in the bathroom at Blackwell and the storm doesn’t wipe out Arcadia Bay.  With this issue, we’re moving away from the relatively binary paradigm of the game’s two possible endings into the far more transformative world of authorial reimagining.

I imagine that Chloe keeps all these photos in a shoe box after Max tosses them because they’re not up to her exacting standards. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The issue’s cover features an array of Max’s signature Polaroid photos strewn over a surface with various bits of graffiti by Chloe drawn across them.  Max herself is the central subject of all the visible pictures in the composition.  Chloe is present in only a single pictures as a disembodied hand lightly grasping Max’s.  The key juxtaposition of the cover is between Max’s own self image (all of these pictures are fragmented and focused only on parts of Max’s whole) and Chloe’s own impression of her (notes of encouragement and admiration are partially visible on several of the photos).  Perhaps the most surprising thing that I take away from looking at this cover is that Chloe has branched out from Sharpies and also makes use of Micron pens when the situation doesn’t require a fat felt tip.

On the balance, I think this panel justifies the entire miniseries. Not to be hyperbolic or anything. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Besides a short sequence where Chloe says what probably a lot of players of the game need to hear validating their decisions in either direction and an opening sequence that gives us a few more pages with the High Seas back in Seattle (Pixie, the drummer and songwriter, totally ships Max and Chloe, and while the rest of the band give her grief about it they’re all clearly in the same boat), the main events of the issue revolve around Max’s encounters with a couple of other significant figures in the Life is Strange story: Warren (whom Vieceli presents as not creepy, at least in the timeline where he was Max’s adventure buddy instead of Chloe) and Rachel Amber.  Warren’s appearance is more significant for helping catch Max (and I guess the reader if they haven’t yet figured out that she’s phasing through different timelines) up to what’s going on in mechanical terms, but Rachel Amber’s two page cameo is way more of a gut punch.  In the larger mythos of Life is Strange, Rachel Amber is a significant figure: she and Chloe were intimately involved in the years after Max moved away from Arcadia Bay, and her disappearance in the original game leaves a shadow over everything that happens.  Max tripping into a timeline (along with Chloe) where Rachel is still alive and the three of them are close friends presents for the first time within official materials connected to the series the possibility of a timeline where all the messed up stuff in the game just didn’t happen.  No Mark Jefferson arriving at Blackwell and kidnapping girls for his creep photos, no mentoring Nathan Prescott to do the same and then accidentally killing Rachel Amber, no torrent of relentless tragedy in these girls’ lives.  It’s a possibility that Rachael and I have discussed a little bit in reflecting on the series; we’ve concluded that the writers on Life is Strange and Before the Storm created a universe that specifically hates Chloe Price, but also enjoys making all of her closest people suffer too.  If there’s nothing else positive to say about this series (and I think there are a lot of things to recommend Vieceli and Leonardi’s work), they at least have given us a view of a timeline where the three girls at the center of this whole saga have a happy life together.

Setting aside the feelsy fan service, the larger implications of Max’s timeline hopping begin to come into focus.  Warren, in his late issue appearance, compares the whole thing to the premise of Quantum Leap: Max is hopping timelines in the way that Sam Beckett was hopping time periods, which presumably ends with her returning home.  Given the number of times in the last couple issues Max has tripped from one timeline to another without returning to the original one (I appreciate that these are always subtle moments that are only signaled by a shift in Chloe’s clothing), there’s a bit of hope offered up at the end of the penultimate issue of the story.  Hope for what, I’m not entirely sure; the starting timeline we see here is pretty good for Max and Chloe if you discount the deaths of everyone they ever cared about in their hometown, but it’s also not objectively the best, as evidenced by the one where Rachel Amber’s still alive and none of the stuff with Jefferson happened.  Are we hoping that Max gets to the best timeline or are we hoping that she gets to a timeline where she belongs, and are those things compatible or mutually exclusive?

There’s a small scene early in this issue where Max and Chloe are hanging out in Chloe’s trashed room after Max recovers from her most recent episode.  In the midst of their conversation about responsibility and survivor’s guilt, they notice that a bird has gotten into the house, and is now trapped.  Chloe’s befuddled by the bird’s predicament, wondering aloud why it would choose to be there when it can go wherever it wants.  Of course, Chloe and the reader both know that the bird didn’t actually choose anything; it got trapped in a place by accident due to forces outside its control or understanding.  The revelation that Max is tripping through timelines in some random, undirected attempt to get back to where she’s supposed to be is much the same thing.  The big difference is that there is a clear reason why Max would be present in this timeline: it has Chloe.

Don’t do it, Chloe! You’re releasing the metaphorical Max into the metaphorical timestream! Maybe. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Reading “Dust – Part 2 of 4”

The second issue of this series begins with Max and Chloe on the road back to Arcadia Bay.  Max has apparently recovered from her weird involuntary multidimensional fugue state, and the pair have guessed that this sudden reassertion of a version of her powers has something to do with their hometown.  The present is predicated on the events of the past, and the only thing that Max and Chloe know to do in this situation is head back to where they started.

All these folks are from Arcadia Bay, but it’s a little odd that Joyce doesn’t get a more prominent spot given how central she is to this issue. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi & Andrea Izzo; Image credit: Comic Vine)

The cover for this issue hits on the idea of the influence of old ghosts.  The camera floats overhead as Max and Chloe, stand among a crowd of spectral outlines of Arcadia Bay citizens who were killed in the massive storm that all the rebuilding is meant to commemorate.  This issue is all about revisiting places and memories in an attempt to get closure, but it also tries to grapple with the sheer magnitude of things happening outside a person’s control.  This Max and Chloe are all that’s left of their hometown, and they both struggle with dealing with the weight that their survivor’s guilt puts on them because of it.  Spirits are heavier than you’d think.

The first thing that Max observes on the road back to the beginning is that it’s hard for her to imagine returning to Seattle when everything is done with.  She has this creeping sense that they’ll reach Arcadia Bay and just stay there.  The conversation feels immediately resonant to me because it recalls a similar conversation that Rachael and I had the first time we went back to Georgia to visit my family after our move to Oregon.  We were going over our spring break for a couple days’ visit after living in Portland for about eight months, and we had to calm irrational fears that we wouldn’t be getting on a plane coming back when it was time to go.  There’s a lot of love for Georgia between us (it’s always going to be where we met and became friends and fell in love), but we moved away because we needed to go someplace different.  Our old home didn’t quite fit the way that our new home does; it makes sense that there’d be some trepidation in going back to a place where you feel you no longer belong.  For Max and Chloe that feeling has to be significantly magnified with all the associations their hometown carries.  Max especially has some worries to deal with considering that she’s still tripping through timelines (she passes into two different versions of her present just while Chloe tries to get the truck running after it breaks down, and she doesn’t go back to her original one).

Going home mood. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

In the town, the fear of falling back into Arcadia Bay’s gravity well becomes more acute as Max starts having visions of alternate timelines where the town wasn’t destroyed.  While standing outside the Two Whales Diner (where Chloe’s mother Joyce used to work), Max has a vision of a reality where Arcadia Bay is still intact and Chloe didn’t die (why wasn’t this timeline available in the original game?).  Unlike previous jumps, this one is pretty clearly only a vision; when Chloe grabs Max’s hand to try to pull her out of the condemned building she gets pulled into the vision too, but then it fades and they’re both back in their current timeline.  This new development shakes Chloe deeply; she’s never experienced Max’s powers firsthand, and on this initial trip she has a near encounter with Joyce.

Aww, Chloe. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Given Chloe’s history with loss, her reaction to almost seeing her dead mother is understandably big.  Chloe’s defining moment in her life is the death of her father; every decision she makes after that point is influenced by her grief.  There’s a sense that Chloe has spent already spent years dealing with survivor’s guilt where it’s still new to Max, but it’s a whole different thing to be placed in proximity to someone loved and lost.  The possibility of reclaiming Joyce is new and hopeful and disorienting, and Chloe hasn’t had all the experience that Max has with actually being able to manipulate the timeline and feel like there’s a way to make everything turn out okay.

There a small moment in the midst of Chloe’s freak out over nearly seeing her mom where Max panics and begs Chloe to reassure her that she’s not mad at her.  It’s a moment that feels really relatable as that gut reaction to finding someone you care about being upset where you immediately wonder if you’ve caused the distress somehow.  It’s also a totally self-centered move, which makes sense with Max because of her constant feeling of responsibility for everything (if you could rewind time to redo any action until it turned out the way you wanted, wouldn’t you start to feel responsible for stuff that no reasonable person would think was within your control?).

Aww, Chloe! (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

The issue ends in Chloe’s wrecked house.  There Max views a timeline where there never was a storm, but Chloe died in the bathroom at Blackwell.  Max speaks to Joyce here, while Chloe listens helplessly; she doesn’t exist in this timeline anymore, so there’s no way for her to join Max and actually get that reunion that she’s craving.  Instead, Max has to carry on a double-sided conversation, responding in kind to both Joyce and Chloe’s questions while doing her best to convey a message between two people who are unaware of one another, much less able to communicate.  It’s a rough situation for everyone involved; Chloe and Joyce seem doomed to never see reunite in a single timeline, and Max is constantly burdened with seeing what-could-have-beens that she can’t control.

This is the most sensible thing Chloe has said all issue; too bad letting go of a sense of responsibility is pretty much the last thing Max is going to do. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Learning Sketchbook 8: Fanart

Snow didn’t happen, and it’s probably not going to happen, but in the mean time, I did a thing that I actually quite like.  I believe Rachael described it as “adorable” when she saw me working on it the other night, so I’ll take that as a positive sign.

Doing my first original fanart was a fun experience overall, although it involved a lot of questions and furtive googling of reference photos.  That’s getting ahead of myself though.  First, here’s the initial sketch that I did to plan out how to pose the figures.

It is entirely possible that it’s time I learned how to use my scanner instead of relying on the phone camera.

The lighting on this image isn’t great, but it does have the basic components of the figures sketched out for proportion.  I’ve gotten in the habit of just using my 4H pencil to do the roughs when I’m planning precisely because the lines are pretty hard to see in photos; it makes final cleanup a little easier, especially since most of this gets covered by the softer graphite when I start detailing.

It’s a little easier to see the contrast in this photo that I took after I finished doing most of the work on the left figure.  I’ve not practiced heads in profile as much as three quarter and forward facing views, so it took me forever to get the mouth to look the way I wanted it to.  I think I redid the nose as least once too, because I realized it was way out of proportion with the size of the head.  I’m quite pleased with the look of the hair though, and the shoes could look a lot worse.

Here’s the drawing after I finished most of the work on the right figure.  I’m not so happy with the boots, but everything else looks pretty good.  I realize there should be a more detailed design on the front of the tank top, but there’s only so much I’m willing to do at this point.  Getting two fully clothed figures in relatively good proportion is a challenge by itself.  Also, I’m inordinately proud of the hands; I did a lot of modeling with my own hands to get a sense of how each one should look, and I think they came out okay for the amount of detail I was able to do.  Not visible are the first time I did the right hand way too small so that it looked like a little baby hand on an adult sized arm.

And here’s the finished piece with a few final details put in like a little bit of shading on various parts of the clothes and a ground for them to stand on.  Things that I would want to think about more next time include being more conscious of light sources; there are parts where I added some shadows assuming an overhead light, but it’s not consistent across the whole composition.  I’d also want to think a little bit more about proportion, especially of the heads.  They look slightly oversized in comparison to the rest of the bodies, and I think that would have been easily avoided if I had just been a little more thoughtful when I was sketching out the initial figures (I have to remind myself that I’ve hardly practiced any techniques with body drawing beyond gesture, so some wonkiness is probably forgivable).  Despite that complaint, I am pleased with myself that I remembered Chloe is supposed to be significantly taller than Max and managed to add a decent crouch to her stance so they could more easily do the romantic forehead to forehead pose.

Also, because Rachael’s birthday was this week, I drew this.

Reading “Dust – Part 1 of 4”

During December last year I decided to do something outside my creative comfort zone as part of the various holiday festivities that were going on; it was a rough season for a variety of reasons related to just feeling like there was too much that needed to happen, and in hindsight it was likely a poor choice on my part to add new things to the list of activities.  Nonetheless, I decided it would be fun to have a go: I wrote some fanfiction.

I’ve been in love with this cover since I saw it many months ago. (Cover by Claudia Leonardi)

I haven’t written fanfiction since I was in high school (maybe even earlier); by that point I had realized that I had to create my own worlds to tell stories in if I ever hoped to make money at the whole writing thing, so I let go of playing in others’ worlds.  That doesn’t mean that I didn’t steal heavily from things that I enjoyed; I just knew that you had to maintain plausible deniability for the sake of monetization (there’s probably still floating around in my archives a short story I wrote which my English teacher submitted to a local writing contest on my behalf that was essentially X-Men: Evolution fanfiction with the serial numbers filed off).  Flash forward a decade and a half, and I’ve seen too much of the fiction world to ever feel like it’s a place I could break into on a professional level; it’s more immediately rewarding for me to just think about the stories that others tell instead of trying to craft my own.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t get the itch to try occasionally, and fanfiction, with its built in supports of established worlds, characters, and histories felt like a place where I could stretch my creative legs a little bit.

The problem, of course, is that in the intervening years I fell out of the habit of consuming fanfiction.  When you’re a kid with no money of your own, fanfiction is an excellent way to extend your time with stories that you love, as long as you’re willing to accept that things won’t always be exactly the way that you’d like.  I have hangups about continuity in stories and the definitive version of what happened, which means that taking the leap into someone else’s version of characters I love is sometimes daunting.  You’d think I would have adjusted to this long ago as someone who enjoys serialized superhero comics, but the realization that different creators’ runs on established books amounts to a series of fan interpretations (especially if the franchise has been around for over half a century) didn’t come until relatively recently.  It turns out that I never actually stepped away from fanfiction; I just started consuming an owner approved form of it.

The point of all of this long-winded navel gazing is that I’ve begun reading the Life is Strange comic book miniseries that’s being put out by Titan Comics.  It’s written by Emma Vieceli with art by Claudia Leonardi and colors by Andrea Izzo, and it is totally fanfiction presented in a professional comic book format.  You have to think of it in this way because it’s a licensed story based on a video game series that has at the core of its mechanics and story the problem of branching paths and unintended consequences.  While the broad strokes of the story are the same for everyone, each player has a slightly different experience of what happened with their own Max and Chloe.  It’s a story that can’t have a definitive sequel because that would require imposing a definitive ending that invalidates a lot of fans’ own experiences with the game.

Chloe’s tagging has grown exceptionally meta in the intervening year. Also, who knew she was a Dali fan? (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

Thankfully, Vieceli is cognizant of this problem.  She’s writing a Life is Strange sequel story with the full acknowledgment upfront that it’s only one of a multiverse’s worth of possible sequels.  In this story, Max and Chloe are alive and living together in Seattle a year after the destruction of Arcadia Bay.  They’ve found their feet with new friends and the support of Max’s parents.  Things are good for them; it only cost the lives of everyone they knew back in their hometown.  Whatever choices you may have made when you played the game, there’s assurance on page one that in a multiverse of possibilities things happened the way you remember, and this is just a different Chloe and Max.

I expect there will be at least one panel of Chloe being amazing per issue of this series. Also, I dig the zombie tee shirt as a reference to Chloe’s status as an quantum immortal; the jeans with the pleats on the knees feel a little too contemporary for 2014. (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

A narrative move that I find most satisfying here is the re-centering of Max’s powers as essential to the story.  Given the events of the game, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that whichever fate Max chooses for Chloe and the town, she’s unlikely to continue using her rewind power going forward.  That doesn’t matter here though, because instead of actively playing with the timeline, Max’s powers have begun going haywire in a more involuntary way: she begins having flashes of alternate realities, at first in small ways like a change in Chloe’s hair color, and then in increasingly more extreme scenarios until she flashes to a timeline where Chloe died.  The issue ends with Max settling back in her native reality with Chloe in Seattle, but because this is the beginning of a larger story they resolve that they need to head back to Arcadia Bay to see if there’s an explanation for what Max is experiencing.  The fact that it’s the one year anniversary of the storm and the Prescotts are having the town rebuilt as a memorial to their dead son who was a murderer and secretly the apprentice of a sociopath photographer surely has nothing at all to do with these developments (I mean, they might not; there’s no clear sense of causality in Life is Strange connecting Max’s powers with any temporal events; even the storm might just be an unrelated fluke in the multiversal scheme of things).

It’s probably this leap of logic that Chloe makes at the end of the issue that feels most tenuous about the story that’s likely to unfold.  On an emotional level, I’m all for a story where she and Max return to Arcadia Bay and do a lot of processing of their survivor’s guilt and all the messed up stuff that they went through; I’m not sure there will be a satisfying way to connect all of that with the reality hopping beyond Max doing some subconscious stuff that won’t get sorted out until she gets her head straight about her and Chloe’s trauma.  Even so, I’m here for this miniseries because I continue to have a deep and abiding affection for these characters, and I want to see a story where they can be happy.

Assorted Thoughts That Don’t Fit Elsewhere

  • This miniseries is to the Life is Strange game as Chrono Cross is to Chrono Trigger, except it’s a direct sequel instead of a side story and there are no weird cat men lurking in the shadows (that we yet know of).

    Maybe just a few degrees’ lift on the eyebrows here would make this panel really work? (Artwork by Claudia Leonardi, colors by Andrea Izzo, letters by Richard Starkings & Jimmy Betancourt)

  • I like Claudia Leonardi’s art most of the time, but there’s something about Max’s face that always seems off.  I think it has to do with the way Max’s eyebrows are drawn; when she’s drawn from certain angles her eyebrows don’t move so that panels where she’s just talking carry the same expression as when the dialogue indicates she’s supposed to be really upset.
  • I really wanted to get more of Max and Chloe’s Seattle friends; they seem like a cool bunch, but the demands of fan service have our heroines jetting back to Arcadia Bay at issue’s end, so I guess that’s it with the High Seas for now.

Still More Thoughts on Life Is Strange

Spoilers for Life Is Strange are discussed in this post.

I’m more than a week out from finishing this game, and aspects of its story are still haunting me.  I’m still listening to the soundtrack extensively, and as I’ve gotten to know the songs better, I’ve been thinking about how they connect in interesting ways with the story as a whole.  I’ve also been thinking about the character of Chloe, and wondering what the deal is with fate apparently being hellbent on killing her.  Beyond that, there’s all the texture the story provides for exploring the ways teenage girls are socialized to interact with people.

On the music front, there’s the Syd Matters song “To All of You,” which plays over the first scene where the player is given the opportunity to explore Max’s school before the fateful encounter in the girls’ bathroom.  It’s a beautiful song with a lush guitar part and soothing male vocals that just kind of wash over you when you first hear them.  It’s a song about a guy who fantasizes about participating in the lives of “American girls,” which seems like a decent thematic introduction to one of the game’s biggest fascinations: the way girls interact with each other.  It’s not until the final episode when Jefferson is revealed to be the mastermind behind the abduction of girls in Arcadia Bay that the song takes on a more sinister bent (even though it doesn’t appear at all after that first scene), and we learn about Jefferson’s obsession with the loss of innocence and capturing that moment in his photography.  The speaker of “To All of You” suddenly sounds less like he’s innocently pining for something ineffable and more like he’s some kind of secret predator.  I still think the song’s quite good, but I can’t listen to it without finding its perspective and subject more than a little creepy.  Of course, not all the songs have left me with this kind of impression.  One of my favorites is the song “Lua” by Bright Eyes, which plays over a quiet scene in the game’s third episode where Max has crashed at Chloe’s house following a night of light breaking & entering on school grounds.  The purpose of the song is to meditate on the contrast between decisions made in the midst of having fun and the realization of their consequences that come in the morning after; it fits perfectly with the scene, which marks the midpoint of the game as a whole and serves to signal to the player that all the things Max has been doing are gearing up to come back with consequences (this scene’s also the single best example of the quiet moments I described in my first post on the game; Chloe puts the song on her stereo while she and Max are still lying in bed, and the player’s free to just sit and listen to the entire song while the camera cycles through static shots of Chloe’s room; Rachael described it to me as that perfect moment when you first wake up when you know there are things to do, but as long as you stay in bed it can all wait).  There are other musical moments, but these two stand out the most to me.

Chloe Price

Chloe’s destiny sucks in pretty much every timeline. (Image credit: Life Is Strange Wiki)

Moving on to Chloe, I’ve been thinking about her role in the story and the odd space she inhabits within the narrative.  Like I said in the last post, Life Is Strange is Max’s story, and Chloe’s significance in it is entirely because of her significance to Max.  I’m cool with that, and I think Chloe’s a fantastic character; what confuses me is the implication that she’s some sort of lynch pin in the time-space continuum whereby her survival past the week during which the game takes place results in a massive tornado that wipes out Arcadia Bay.  Fate seems to be conspiring against Chloe’s survival, and Max is forced to pay a really heavy cost in order to protect her, but this situation is unique in the scope of the story.  Max can intervene in lots of other people’s lives, protecting them from misfortune (the single biggest example is, of course, preventing Chloe’s father William from dying), and the consequences are never ecologically disastrous the way they end up being for Chloe.  For some reason Chloe is a unique and beautiful snowflake in the world of Life Is Strange, and I’m not entirely sure why.

One possibility that I’ve been mulling over has to do with the game’s thematic interest in coming of age.  You have the dark side of the transition from innocence to experience in the form of Jefferson’s creepy photography studio where he documents the event through his victims.  The four that we specifically learn about in the course of the game are Rachel Amber, Kate Marsh, Max Caulfield, and Victoria Chase; Chloe is in just as much danger as Max, but when they’re ambushed by Jefferson, he kills Chloe outright in favor of subduing both of them.  This is an interesting choice, because we know from Max seeing Victoria in the dark room at the same time as her that Jefferson doesn’t have a problem with photographing multiple victims in a single session.  I think the significance here is that Chloe lacks the innocence that Jefferson’s obsessed with; she’s had a really difficult life already, and the frequent traumas in her past mark her as someone who is very experienced with her world.  Chloe’s the one teenager in the entire cast who doesn’t have a veneer of innocence about her (even Nathan, who’s extremely mentally unstable and complicit in Jefferson’s crimes, comes across as sheltered in the various documents the player can see describing his relationship with his family).  That’s significant because it explains why Jefferson would just kill her rather than capture her, but I think on a more cosmic scale, it explains why Chloe is marked for death in Max’s story.  If she survives, it’s reasonable to read Chloe as not significantly changed by the events of the week (she’s a wonderful character, but I don’t think Chloe ever really grows the way that Max does).  In a story about coming of age, Chloe’s already done that; her arc is finished.

Of course, this is all speculation.