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The Sordid History Of Resident Evil Comics

Comics based on video games are few and far between, as only the most popular games seem to warrant a conversion to ink and paper. Capcom once had dreams of expanding the world of "Resident Evil" to comic-reading audiences, but those plans didn't always work out the way fans might have expected.


Long ago, when "Resident Evil" was still in its infancy, Capcom tried to reel in as many potential fans as possible with a line of comic books. However, instead of putting its best foot forward and winning over readers, the "Resident Evil" comics stumbled out of the gate with all the grace of a shambling zombie.

While Capcom managed to turn "Resident Evil" into one of the greatest horror game franchises of all time, that was in spite of the cross-media curse. Many audiences remember the "Resident Evil" movies (no matter how hard they try to forget) for their general poor quality and constantly getting everything wrong about the games. However, the series' bad luck with adaptations began with the comic books. Seemingly nobody could quite master the art of translating "Resident Evil" onto comic book pages.


If you want to know why you don't see studios clamoring to make new "Resident Evil" comics, this might shed some light on the answer.

Can't keep a story straight

Every "Resident Evil" game builds on previous entries. What started as a simple mansion incident involving mutagenic viruses and the machinations of an intelligent leech evolved into globe-spanning conspiracies and countless doomsday scenarios. Any significant story retcons could unravel the whole narrative, so once a plot point was introduced, it had to remain canon — for good and for ill. It seems the comic writers never got that memo.


Comics publisher WildStorm worked on some of the first "Resident Evil" comics, and while the company's artists were up to the task, its fact-checking department lagged behind and the writers got a lot of in-universe facts wrong. These aren't just quibbles that would only annoy die-hard "Resident Evil” fans, though; the comics make some pretty egregious errors on par with the movies. Prime examples include the series-iconic t-virus and G-virus, which WildStorm's writers used interchangeably. In fact, the comics claim that Lickers are a product of G-virus experimentation and not caused by the t-virus going full Cronenberg body horror mode.

Lickers are far from the only victims of contradictory comics lore. In the WildStorm titles, "lucky" individuals can resist G-embryo impregnation, but they are rewarded with zombification instead of having a creature chewing its way out of their ribcages like in the games. Also, in the comics, the Umbrella Corporation intentionally caused the Spencer Mansion incident to test the t-virus. Umbrella might be evil, but it is still supposed to follow the scientific method.


Keeping lore straight is important in any story, and the "Resident Evil" comics have quite a spotty record.

The DCeased webcomic

Long before independent storytellers learned they could achieve fame and fortune by creating webcomics (like in the case of "One Punch Man"), established comic studios used the internet to market their hard copies. Many studios still do that, but they also experimented with various online promotional methods before discovering the true power of internet marketing. Many attempts have been preserved in internet archives, but some have been lost to the digital void.


According to internet archivist/YouTuber ScorePN, when WildStorm started publishing "Resident Evil" comics, the company ran a special promotional offer. Each week, readers could download or print a new page of a digital-only comic from the WildStorm website. After collecting all 15, audiences could print a special cover (released after the final page) and staple everything together for their own physical copy of the book. Sounds fun, right? Well, the promotion proved successful enough to warrant a sequel webcomic – and then DC purchased WildStorm.

Even though WildStorm was technically a separate company under DC, its comics were absorbed into the new parent company, including unique properties such as "Gen 13" and licensed comics like "Resident Evil." However, that only applied to physical media. Webcomics, namely the promotional "Resident Evil" one, were scrubbed from the WildStorm site. Nowadays, DC's official comic library doesn't archive the internet-exclusive pages, and not even the normally reliable Wayback Machine has managed to preserve them.


The "Resident Evil" webcomic has effectively been deleted from internet memory. Unless you saved or printed out the comic when it was released, you can't read them without digging through mountains of fan forums — and praying that the copies you find are virus-free.

A prequel that really wasn't

Sometimes, a movie or game will leave audiences with more questions than answers. If those questions can be summed up as, "How did this happen," then a prequel is often in order. For instance, anyone who wants to know why Chris Redfield was in Africa during "Resident Evil 5" could find out in a prequel tie-in comic. Sadly, no such thing actually exists, despite what marketing claimed at the time.


The final "Resident Evil" comic published by WildStorm, simply titled "Resident Evil," was marketed as a prequel to "Resident Evil 5." Ads for the comic promised readers would "Find out what led Chris Redfield to Africa and learn the dark burden that haunts him!" On the surface, it sounds like more adventures with everyone's favorite boulder-punching BSAA agent. Instead, the story follows agents Mina Gere and Holiday Sugarman. Never heard of them? That's because they were invented for the comic and never appeared anywhere else in the franchise.

Despite claiming the story would tie into Chris and the fictional African village of Kijuju, the "prequel" comic revolves around the fictitious countries of Grezbekistan, Ubelandia, and Urador. And instead of the parasitic Plagas, the comic's main crimes against nature are just more G-Virus spawn. Oh, and the "prequel" introduced an "Ubersoldat" zombie a decade before the series invented the slightly-less uber (but infinitely more canonical) "Soldat" monsters in "Resident Evil Village."


Was WildStorm's final "Resident Evil" comic supposed to tie into "Resident Evil 5" until writers lost the plot, or was that claim a marketing ploy to push sales? The world may never know.

Ada Wong can't catch a break

Everyone who has played a "Resident Evil" game gravitates toward a different character. For some, it's Leon Kennedy, and for others, it's Jill Valentine. Another popular choice among fans is Ada Wong, the franchise's international femme fatale of mystery. She constantly plays every side against each other in pursuit of her "true purpose," and she has cheated death countless times. Unfortunately, she doesn't receive the same awesome treatment in the comics.


Ada Wong first stepped into comics with WildStorm's "Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine," an anthology of stories that includes, among other tales, abridged retellings of the first two "Resident Evil" games. Since Ada premiered in "Resident Evil 2," she also appears in the related comic. While she seemingly plummets to her death in both stories, the comic doesn't call for her to miraculously save herself off-screen and then toss Leon a life-saving bazooka, so she apparently just dies full stop.

In China, audiences received their own "Resident Evil" comics which try to one-up that death. While Ada dies in the first Chinese "Resident Evil" comic, she is later revived by a man with a god complex because he wants to marry her. Meanwhile, in another Chinese "Resident Evil" comic continuity, Ada is infected by a monster and begins to mutate, which is as icky as it sounds.


To be fair, all this happened before Ada Wong became extremely popular through various sequels and remakes, but it still flies in the face of continuity.

Non-licensed characters in a licensed world

When a video game is successful enough to warrant a cross-media extension, it stands to reason audiences will want to see their favorite characters in new adventures, like missions that take place between different franchise entries and reference past events. If a comic doesn't feature beloved established characters or big callbacks, can it even be considered part of the series?


While the first WildStorm "Resident Evil" comic includes adaptations of the first two games, it also features many new stories and characters. After the anthology ran its course, the company only developed new tales disconnected from the games, starting with "Resident Evil: Fire and Ice." Instead of starring recognizable characters, this comic focuses on the new S.T.A.R.S. Charlie Team and its members. This decision caused several problems, as the story alternates between calling the group "Charlie Team" and "Charlie Company," possibly because two authors held joint control over the narrative.

The new inclusions don't end with just Charlie Team/Company. The comic might have crammed in classic enemies such as Lickers, but the bulk of its antagonistic elements, from the main villains to the all-new X-Virus, were made for the comics. None of them appear in subsequent "Resident Evil" material.


While comics such as "Fire and Ice" reference past "Resident Evil" events, namely those from previous "Resident Evil" comics, they never feature the characters who participated in them, let alone characters from the games. Why? That's just the cost of doing business — and was allegedly a requirement spelled out in the licensing agreement.

WildStorm was big on recycling

WildStorm has five "Resident Evil" comics to its name: "Resident Evil: The Official Comic Magazine," "Resident Evil: Collection One," "Resident Evil: Fire and Ice," "Resident Evil: CODE: Veronica," and "Resident Evil." However, only three of these are made up of all-new material from the studio. 


As the name suggests, "Collection One" isn't its own new book, but a reprinting of select stories from "The Official Comic Magazine" gathered into one omnibus. Collected editions of previously released comics are nothing new, but this was an odd case: since this collection was published before the fifth issue of the anthology series, the latter's tales didn't make it into the book. 

What was truly surprising was the route WildStorm took when adapting another work for American readers. When it comes to WildStorm's release of "CODE: Veronica," well, its origin is a story and a half.

Instead of producing its own all-new comic adaptation of "Resident Evil CODE: Veronica," WildStorm localized a Chinese comic series, originally published by Tinhangse Publishing, based on the game. The English version's script is credited as being "rewritten" by Ted Adams and Kris Oprisko (who wrote the lion's share of previous WildStorm "Resident Evil" comics), but large portions of the dialogue are also taken straight from the original game's script. In other words, WildStorm repurposed content from multiple sources to create a kind of Frankenstein's Monster of a "Resident Evil" adaptation.


The Chinese comics got pretty wild

"Resident Evil" is a specific flavor of video game. The developers have a series of rules for each "Resident Evil" entry to maintain a "verisimilitude of a realistic world," according to designer Yoshiaki Hirabayashi. When Chinese creators were given the "Resident Evil" license to make comics, though, they went five flavors of wacky and essentially invented their own "Resident Evil" world — one where science is replaced with magic and tofu.


The Chinese "Resident Evil" comics were published by two different companies: King's Fountain and Tinhangse Publishing. King's Fountain handled the first comic, "BIO HAZARD 2," which is a rollercoaster of insanity. The comic spends its first 14 issues adapting the game, and the remaining 46 volumes forge their own mystical path. The game's protagonists trek through alternate realities, encounter characters who never show up in the games, and briefly rip off "Dino Crisis." Oh, and several characters learn to channel their chi into blasts of "Dragon Ball Z" style energy.

While the subsequent Tinhangse Publishing comics didn't try to remake "Resident Evil" in its own image, they still sprinkled in a few crazy flakes. For instance, chi blasts are still a thing in "BIOHAZARD 3 LAST ESCAPE," and unlockable joke character Tofu is transformed into an actual canon character made out of tofu and a dog's spine. Meanwhile, Tinhangse's last "Resident Evil" comic, "biohazard 0," rewrites Lisa Trevor into the wife of Billy Coen and inserts a bondage dungeon into the narrative.


If you've ever read the Chinese "Resident Evil" comics, you can never truly say you will see its plot twists coming.

Underpaid (or unpaid) employees

Since Tinhangse Publishing took over "Resident Evil" comics in China after King's Fountain, you might assume the company would try to please Capcom. Instead, Tinhangse apparently cheated its employees out of their paychecks.


Tinhangse had a good thing going for it. The studio produced four original "Resident Evil" comics (more than WildStorm), but apparently its higher-ups didn't like to share the wealth. In 2002, the company was hit with a doozy of a lawsuit claiming it didn't pay its employees. Nineteen workers asserted that in 2001, Tinhangse changed their employment status to "self-employment" and didn't give them what they were owed. Of the nineteen artists, ten were awarded between 3,000 and 30,000 yuan (approximately $465-$4,644 today).

While this news might come as a surprise to many readers, people familiar with Tinhangse might view it as the continuation of a trend of dubious decisions. The company was founded by artist Xu Jingchen, who, according to Game Studies, initially made a name for himself with two unlicensed "Street Fighter" comics. One of these comics took established characters in new directions (e.g., Ryu and Chun-Li get married), while the other used the characters' likenesses but changed their names. 


Eventually, Capcom stepped in and let Jingchen create official "Street Fighter" comics — under tight supervision. This might explain how Tinhangse got permission to develop "Resident Evil" comics in the first place. Unfortunately, these comics turned into a headache for the employees helping to make them a reality.