Review by Frank Plowright
Some certainty settled on the time-hopping Max Caulfield by the end of the first Life is Strange graphic novel. She’d transferred to an alternate timeline where she was reunited with her childhood friend Chloe Price, and appeared to have found happiness. That probably would have remained the case were Dust not a touching and melancholy experience matching the Life is Strange game, leaving us crying out for more from creative team Emma Vieceli and Claudia Leonardi.
As Waves opens it’s 2016, two years after Max merged with her equivalent in that timeline, and she shares a Santa Monica apartment with Chloe and their friend Rachel. The difference between the world that Max departed and this one is that it’s Chloe and Rachel who have the intimate relationship, not Chloe and Max. Despite that, everything seems settled as Max isn’t being pulled back to other times and alternate worlds, but then sees someone whom she suspects is, and there are small things Chloe shouldn’t know, yet does.
Vieceli doesn’t depart very far from the mood she set in Dust, but the balance is certainly different, almost the entire first half of Waves being slice of life drama with little in the way of mystery, let alone time travel or dimension shifting. It’s a balancing act, with Vieceli confident enough Leonardi can sell these scenes with her expressive personalities in order to hook the readers without the gimmicks. Of course, she can do this, and Leonardi captures the inner sadness afflicting all the main cast as they go about their lives. This extends to the young man Max can see, but who seems invisible to anyone else. Even before we come to know him, Leonardi’s ensured we know he’s also troubled via his downbeat look.
Around halfway through Tristan steps up from occasionally seen puzzle to fully fledged supporting character, and with him the, for want of a better term, super powers also reappear. However, it’s briefly and relatively subtle, the concentration remaining on the relationships between the various cast members, and a moment of crisis eventually leads to Max making a big decision. We’ll see how that plays out in the third volume, Strings.
Waves is very good drama, but as Life is Strange is based on a video game with a specific purpose, albeit one that prioritises sympathy for Max, there may be an expectation of more content that’s beyond the everyday, and a step into crime fiction near the end may not be enough. Anyone who feels that way would be missing out.