Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1 – An Archaeologist’s Take

Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1

Jackson Lanzing (Script), Collin Kelly (Script), Ashley A. Woods (Line Art), Michael Atiyeh (Colors), Michael Heisler (Lettering), Hannah Fisher (Cover Art)
Dark Horse Comics
November 22, 2017

Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1 is the first comic in a new Lara Croft series, making it a good spot for readers new to the character to jump in. If you’re new to Lara Croft, perhaps some background information is in order, as Survivor’s Crusade #1 doesn’t give you any. The comics are based off the main character from the Tomb Raider video game series developed by Core Design, published by Eidos Interactive, and first released in 1996. The games follow the fictional Lara Croft, a wealthy British archaeologist, on her travels around the world collecting various artifacts from ancient tombs and ruins while simultaneously dodging booby traps and enemies.

Cover image for Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1, (Ashley A. Woods, artist), release date November, 2017

Lara Croft made her comic book debut in 1997 in Tomb Raider/Witchblade #1, a special crossover comic produced by Top Cow Productions. Though there were several other crossovers with Witchblade, Tomb Raider secured its own fifty-issue series with Top Cow Productions which ran from 1997 to 2005. In 2014 Tomb Raider changed hands to Dark Horse Comics, who began producing the series to tie into the 2013 reboot of the video game series.

Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1 begins with Croft climbing out of the ocean and up a rock face into Corniglia, Italy. Through a series of recorded and deleted voicemails to her friend Jonah, we find out that Croft is in Italy pursuing the Order of the Trinity, a mysterious organization stealing artifacts of supernatural power, for answers regarding her father’s death. Originally believing Lord Richard Croft had taken his own life a few years after the disappearance of her mother, Croft has discovered that Trinity had actually assassinated her father. After a violent run-in with some of Trinity’s men in a hidden cathedral in Corniglia, Croft ultimately finds out that someone referred to as the Cardinal may be the one behind the death of Lord Croft. After one of Trinity’s men makes a comment regarding the reason behind her father’s death, Croft vows to find out the truth and destroy Trinity for good.

As an archaeologist myself (more specifically a bioarchaeologist), I can assure you that if you’re looking for archaeology in the world of Lara Croft you won’t find it. There isn’t much that’s archaeological about Croft or the comics. Just like Indiana Jones, they’re just about as far from real archaeology and archaeologists as you can get, though the newer video games have tried to improve their approach to cultural heritage. If you’re willing to set aside the fact that Croft is supposed to be an archaeologist and look at her simply as an intelligent, strong, determined woman set on discovering the truth behind her father’s death, by any means, then you’ll enjoy the Tomb Raider series.

Overall, Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1 feels very much like the Lara Croft comics readers may already know. While it is a little puzzling as to how Croft ended up in the waters below Corniglia in the first place, the comic jumps right into the exploration and action sequences we’ve come to expect of the Tomb Raider series. And Googling images of Corniglia itself reveals that the brief images we’re shown of the village are a fairly good representation. From there, creative license is used to place Croft in an enormous secret museum, of sorts, underneath a cathedral. The museum, which is more of a multi-room chamber that Croft describes as resembling a museum, holds some artifacts that we’re not given much information about. The only artifact Croft gives any sort of attention to is an ancient map which, strangely, includes Antarctica. As an archaeologist, I can tell you that a secret, multi-room chamber like the one Croft moves through doesn’t exist; the map, however, felt like it may have been inspired by the Piri Reis map.

The Piri Reis map, believed to have been compiled in 1513 by cartographer/Ottoman admiral Piri Reis and argued to include depictions of the coast of Antarctica

What I appreciated the most in this comic was Lara Croft herself. As a woman archaeologist, I can tell you that I’m not the only one who was unhappy with the image that the original Tomb Raider games and comics had attached to women in archaeology. Thanks to the sex symbolism of Lara Croft, women in archaeology became more associated with big boobs and short shorts than with the actual work we were conducting. The comics as of late have worked really hard, and successfully, at moving away from the sex symbolism of the past and rooting Croft in realism. Survivor’s Crusade #1 demonstrates that this trend continues. Croft still looks like Croft and we don’t doubt for a second that it is Croft. She still has her long brown hair, khaki pants, and tank top, but they’re not designed to make her physical appearance stand out above her intelligence. Replace the gun holster on her belt with a trowel holster (yes, they exist) and I can easily envision Croft as one of my colleagues working on an excavation.

My favourite image for its archaeologist realism is the cover. While writing this review, I was four weeks into a five week excavation and on several days had worn an outfit almost identical to the one Croft wears on the cover: khaki pants with a red flannel shirt. My work boots are very similar to those that Croft wears. I wore a buff around my neck to keep the sun and cold wind off my skin. My long brown hair was pulled off my face in a similar ponytail. With that image came the first time in Tomb Raider history I could actually say, “yeah, I am Lara Croft.” The final step in a complete Lara Croft transformation would be rooting the comics within more realistic practices and ethics of archaeology itself, which at least the games seem to slowly be attempting (as my colleague Andrew wrote about in my earlier mention of Tomb Raider‘s cultural heritage aspects).

Tomb Raider: Survivor’s Crusade #1 presents itself as an easy stepping-on point for those who haven’t read any of the Lara Croft comics. There are enough hints at a backstory to keep new readers intrigued. By the end of the comic we know that Croft and Jonah have had some sort of falling out—Croft has done something to put a wedge into their friendship. We know that Trinity is responsible for Lord Richard Croft’s death, and we know that his death was because of his refusal to do something. At the same time, however, readers like myself might find themselves frustrated in not knowing that backstory, as it features prominently in this comic. Many new readers may find themselves unbothered and trusting that the series will reveal that history as it goes on. Others, however, might want to engage in a little archaeology of their own by delving into the Lara Croft comics of the past to learn about where she may be going in the future.

Stephanie Halmhofer

Stephanie Halmhofer

I'm an archaeologist in Canada! I'm currently working on my PhD, focused on how cults use archaeology and pseudoarchaeology to build and support their mythical and mystical origins, and if pop culture has any influence over that. I'm also a big pop culture nerd - I love movies, books, video games, and comics, especially those involving archaeology, cults, the occult, sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure. She/her.