I love zombies. I love zombie stories. I don’t like much other horror, but there’s something about zombies—I think that they serve, easily, as a metaphor or, as writer Justin Zimmerman says, a “socially relevant subtext,” for things like mass consumer culture (Dawn of the Dead), AIDS (28 Days Later) or the invasion of Iraq (28 Weeks Later). In The Killing Jar, zombies are a mataphor for drug addiction, and especially the meth plague running rampant in rural and small town America right now.
The Killing Jar takes place in a small rural town of Saguache, pronounced “Sa-Watch,” where main character Anna lives with her young brother after the death of their sheriff father some years earlier. Anna has been aware that something drug-related has been happening to most of the town’s inhabitants, has even had nightmares about it, but stays because, well, she says she has nowhere else to go, which may be true, and may be how many residents of small rural towns feel — though given how smart she is, and how resourceful she is, I started to feel her being there was one of the weak points of the plot, and that’s only because I like her so much as a character, which I know is weird and contradictory to say.
Most of the town is addicted to some kind of unnamed drug, and something went wrong with the last batch (Intentionally? Unintentionally?) such that they turn violent when three drugrunners bring in the latest batch. Like, ultra-violent. Most of the addicts are transformed into unthinking….well, zombies, though some, the leaders, seem to have some coherent thought, enough to organize the mob, and form plots.
And, like in all good zombie stories, the few non-zombified folks must band together to survive. Conflict ensues. Zimmerman does a good job of giving most of the innocents (or not-so-innocents) enough dialogue and action to make them believable characters, but no so much that the story is weighed down with exposition.
My one main dislike was in the character of Griff, the leader of the drug runners, who I thought, since he’s penciled in somewhat dark, was black. Griff doesn’t even need drugs to be ultraviolent, but ok, fine, I’m basically ok with that. It’s just his speech—Zimmerman gives him what I thought was a horrible Black English Vernacular voice, with the sort-of-equivalent, and awful to read, spellings—things like: “Sheeit” and “Gettin’ yo’ panties in a bunch, Jimmy?” and “Ah, home’s a’ight.” Except that, much later in the story, another character calls him a “white trash piece of—” so I guess he’s white? Which made me even more uncomfortable, somehow.
Which may be the one minor drawback to the art, otherwise awesome, by Russell Brown. It’s all black and white pencil. Super-detailed, and gruesome, maybe somehow more gruesome than if the panels had been colored, since it forces you to think a little bit more, like, those black specks on Anna’s face? Oh, that’s splattered blood. The black and white of course also adds a stark feel, perfect for a nowhere small rural town, even without zombies. And there’s a two-page spread early on, a landscape, that’s just beautiful.
Unfortunately, maybe I’m too zombied out by now. I know it’s a horror story and I shouldn’t expect too much of a seamless storyline, but I found myself not quite willing to “suspend disbelief” in the set-up. Again, Anna’s staying in town when she apparently knows something is very wrong seems odd. And, the zombie leaders, and the fact that zombies have leaders, are never explained, really. In the ‘extras’ section, we learn that this story was originally a movie script. I’d always thought that a comic/graphic novel format would allow for more info to be included, but maybe not? Maybe stuff got cut out? But then maybe if it had been included I would be complaining about too much explanation.
But, it’s zombies. It’s a B-movie. We want to get to the action. So, suspend that disbelief and get on to the fun!