In Life is Strange: Dust, Max Caulfield sets out into a confusing multiverse on a mission to find a home. In Life is Strange: Waves, Max realized that the perfect home she had found wasn’t the perfect fit she originally thought. What does that mean for her in Life is Strange: Strings, the third collection of the ongoing Life is Strange series from Titan Comics?
Life is Strange: Strings
Emma Vieceli (writer), Claudia Leonardi (artist), Andrea Izzo (colorist)
April 21, 2020
Sidequest was provided with a review copy of Life is Strange: Strings in exchange for a fair and honest review.
In Strings, both a lot happens and hardly anything at all happens. There are no chases, interrupted drug deals, or hot LA parties. Instead, Emma Vieceli takes these characters and forces them to confront who they all are after the wild events and revelations of the previous volumes. Chloe—notorious for her trust issues—has to wrestle with the fact that her best friend has been lying every day for over a year. Rachel suddenly has her own (alternate timeline) death to work out. Newcomer Tristan is so used to being a loner that the value Max places in him catches him completely off-guard.
All of this introspection means a lot of characters gazing out to the horizon deep in thought, and when reading this series one issue at a time, that can be a bit frustrating, despite Claudia Leonardi and Andrea Izzo’s fantastic pages. As a collected volume, the time and space given to just letting characters process seem less indulgent and more impactful. Moments that need the space to land are given it and Leonardi takes advantage of the chance to shine.
An early page of Rachel wordlessly collapsing into a ball is one of my favorites I’ve seen this year. The page drives home the emotional devastation of learning the details of your own death. A later sequence of Max instinctively making coffee (pour-over, of course, like a discerning hipster) to help Rachel continue to process reminds me of that first iconic walk down Blackwall Academy’s halls with Syd Matters singing “To All of You.” The calm, understated way Max makes the coffee for Rachel underneath their conversation reveals as much about her character as any piece of dialogue could hope to.
Max’s queer narrative really comes to the forefront in this collection. While largely confined to subtext and a few too-brief smooches in the original games, it’s been noticeable all throughout the comic and seems to be more important the longer the book runs. From taking the time to explicitly label Rachel and Chloe as a couple to a touching, loving dream sequence between Max and the Chloe of her memories, the queerness of these people’s lives is on display without shame.
These are normal people leading normal lives, sure, but Life is Strange is at its best when it knows that there’s no such thing as normal. In the comic series, queerness steps up to fill in the gaps left by the more mundane mysteries that drove the games. Chloe, Max, and Rachel live in a borderline poly unit, after all, with a (very literally) colorful cast of supporting characters propping them up. It’s as normal a life as anybody else leads, and reflects the queer relationships I see (and have been in) in the real world.
From the start, Life is Strange has been a slow-paced comic series and that only intensified when Max arrived in Santa Monica in Waves. That slow pacing plays much better in collected volumes, but, even so, Strings felt like a bit of a false start to Max’s mission to return to her original timeline. That’s because narratively, it is. Max and Tristan try to train their powers together while Chloe and Rachel plan their cross-country road trip. With a parting of the ways in the future, tearful goodbyes seem inevitable. When things go awry, those goodbyes are postponed, however, and Max is left back at square one. As a reader, you’re right there with her as the mystery of Max and Tristan’s powers deepens without answers in sight, and the core group of Max, Chloe, and Rachel remains together.
Even so, you’re not left feeling like nothing changed at the end of the book. Max’s resolve has been tested and is firmer than ever, and frankly the more time we spend with this happy, healthy Chloe, the better. Fittingly, Rachel Amber is the real star of this book. Vieceli has rewritten Rachel’s story, taking the character in Before the Storm and giving her a happier fate (and better characterization) than she got in the first Life is Strange. Questions surround Tristan, and mysterious glimpses of Original Timeline Chloe—the one left behind back in Life is Strange: Dust—serve to drive Max, Chloe, and Rachel forward more than ever as they take to the road to chase their literal and metaphorical ghosts.
Life is Strange: Strings takes the story of these three forward, unquestionably, but won’t be all things for all people. Was Life is Strange a story about Arcadia Bay and the people there, or was it about Chloe Price and her ones who got away, Rachel Amber and Max Caulfield? There’s overlap between those answers, certainly, but that overlap is long in the past in Strings, and as the trio head out on a road trip to the east coast, Arcadia Bay doesn’t seem to be in their future.
Kaitlyn Lyons is a flailing Chicago queer fueled mostly by iced coffee. She won’t shut up about comics or her Pathfinder games and is an unrepentant fangirl of all things Elf-y. She tweets about this and more at @ArrowShootyKate.