4 out of 5
Taking place after the prequel Perfect Dark Zero but before Perfect Dark, Greg Rucka’s Perfect Dark: Initial Vector tracks some of the hows and whys of an important rise-to-power for all-encompassing business dataDyne between the two games.
Well, look, on the off chance that you’re reading this as a Greg Rucka fan – i.e. me – and not as someone who has played the Perfect Dark video games – i.e. also me – there’s no learning curve here. Trust that you are good without any foreknowledge. And beyond that, there’s zero game-yness to the book; it reads very much like a Rucka novel – somewhere between the proficiency of Atticus Kodiak and Tara Chase – and even has hints of things that I’d say would pop up in some of his later comics, like Lazarus. It’s also maybe kind of weird reading about a fictional viral pandemic that’s set in the (then) future of 2020, when we have a real viral pandemic going on currently, but the book was written in 2005, and fifteen years in the future was a good near-future date for its tomorrow-technology approach, so it’s, y’know, just coincidence.
In the world of Perfect Dark, said virus was limited to Canada – a superflu of sorts, and one that dataDyne came up with the vaccine for, paving its way to become a world power. This puts it in competition with a couple of other mega-corporations, which Daniel Carrington – benevolent leader of the Carrington Institute – is opposed toward. To that extent, beyond his own contributions to the world (flying cars!), he also runs a secret ops group that’s out to upset the control of these mega-corps, and Joanna Dark, our main character, is part of that group.
The first Perfect Dark game took place some time after this, with Dark a supreme agent and, like, fighting aliens. Perfect Dark Zero – a prequel to the first game to which this book is a sequel – covers Dark’s fights alongside her father as they scuffle with dataDyne’s CEO, ousted at the end of that game. The power vacuum that leaves is our starting point: Frederich Murray, creator of the virus vaccine is a likely candidate, as is Cassandra DeVries. And “Initial Vector” has Joanna inserted in to ops to discover some tricksy info on the former, while Carrington himself learns about the latter.
There’s some benefit to have not played the games, given that Perfect Dark’s (the game) plot kind of ruins where this book has to end up, but that said, we know that Murray is the greater-evil of these two CEO-potentials, so the focus on him, with Cassandra as more of a supporting character, is warranted, and sets the stage for some killer Rucka action in which Joanna is pitted against ridiculous odds (and dataDyne shock troops), but intuits and shoots her way through. Greg, as he has proven in both book and comic form, is great at detailing these action beats, but the stitching between – learning more about Murray, Carrington, Dark – is also supremely enjoyable and well-written, avoiding cookie cutter characterizations (perhaps excepting Murray’s sadistic lackey, Hayes) and making the characters real enough to believe them in this extra-real world.
The book does fall a little flat when trying to consider the morality of its killings – this is based on a first person shooter, after all, so Dark goes around pew-pewing plenty of folk – but it’s admirable that Greg tries to poke at it. There’s also a very odd bit (for Greg) when Dark is first introduced which kind of sexualizes her. It’s out of place, and the only moment in the book like it, which almost makes me wonder if it was like a Microsoft / Rare (developers of the game) mandate that there be some mention of Dark being attractive or something.
This aside, if you’ve burned through your Rucka novels and have been avoiding his works based on licensed materials, don’t: PD: Initial Vector could’ve absolutely come from Greg’s own brain, taking some world notes from the likes of Lazarus and combining it with the secret ops vibe of Queen & Country.