A prequel to the much anticipated survivor horror game The Last of Us by Naughty Dog studios (they of Uncharted fame), The Last of Us American Dreams#1 follows a young girl by the name of Ellie as she struggles to adjust to a mandatory military school for orphaned teenagers. There, she deals with bullying and contempt on all fronts: from an excessively militant and controlling administration, to malevolent older boys. When a tough older girl with attitude to spare named Riley comes to her rescue, they begin a rivalry and a tenuous partnership that looks to be the foundation of the upcoming series.
Ellie quickly establishes herself as a girl easy to like. Not as tough she wants to be, she acts hard and unshakeable in the faces of authority or other students, but in quiet little moments to herself, the weakness and frailty of a young girl seeps out. She practices cursing and tough little catchphrases in her bed by herself, desperate to sound intimidating. When we first meet her, she’s alone on a bus, bearing witness to the brutal seizing of an infected citizen. She shrinks nervously in her seat, fumbling nervously with the string of her hoodie. In the very next scene, when confronted by an old friend, she feigns invulnerability and independence. When an older boy beats her up, she hates that she needs saving. The double life has been comic book fodder for decades, and Ellie lives a rich one.
Writers Hicks and Drucksmann do well to create a post apocalyptic landscape subtly and vividly with brief yet powerful vignettes occurring just in the periphery of the main story. In one scene, Ellie finds herself tasked with cleaning a truck recently used in combat. Tucked away in a corner, she notices the gnarly remnants of a severed hand. After a brief moment of shock, life goes on. She just gets back to cleaning.
Hicks (of webcomic Demonology 101) proves a real creative star in Last of Us, crafting the story with the game’s creative director as well as handling art duties. She lends a nicely textured, thick-lined, cartoon-y style that lends some levity to the grim environment, and deftly manages the right mix of toughness and innocence that the story calls for. Youth exposed to brutality seems a point of emphasis for the series, and Hicks elegantly skirts along the line between hardened and vulnerable with Ellie’s wide eyes and freckles. In a pop culture market overflowing with post apocalyptic yarns, The Last of Us American Dreams #1 finds a unique point of view in its heroine, and that should be plenty to keep people’s attention.