(Pierre Boisserie/ Malo Kerfriden; Titan Comics)
The concept of zombies and reanimation of the dead have roots in ancient cultures, the Bible, mythology, Gothic literature, film, comics and so on. So when the advertisements for The Rage called this book “A shocking and controversial new take on the zombie genre” I thought I’d take a look.
Pierre Boisserie (writer) and Malo Kerfriden (artist) offer a refreshing take on the genre with a story that takes place in the City of Love. Paris experiences a pandemic where only children become affected by a virus that turns them into zombies. Boisserie and Kerfriden blend familiar tropes like having an appetite for human flesh with new concepts like non-permanent effects of the virus and the lack of decay.
Kerfriden’s art blossoms when it comes to embracing the changes in the zombie genre. His line work is clear and establishes both character and setting wonderfully. The coloring is well done, particularly when showing the infected children. They aren’t like typical zombies with sunken eyes and decaying bodies. Instead they are colored with a mixture of green, gray and yellowing hues that imbue sickness rather than rot. The uninhabited and lower populated areas are eerie, but they aren’t colored in a way that leaves them dank and grimy.This isn’t the entirely post-apocalyptic scenario we’re all too familiar with when faced with zombie stories.
Kerfrien has a solid grasp of body movements and action. His usage of cause and effect in his action sequences is strikingly clear and purposeful. Each panel moves seamlessly into the next making the story flow at a nice pace. There are only a couple of instances where I became confused due to flashbacks or scene changes, but after a second read, I noticed contextual clues that, while subtle, do provide the necessary information for readers to understand what’s happening in the story.
These new concepts do offer a distinct take on zombies and add to the conversation of moral dilemmas often faced with this genre, but there are a couple of problems that prevent this story from being fully shocking or controversial.
The story’s central character, nurse Amina Riviere, joins the government’s removal service run by Captain Steven Bernard. After the initial outbreak of the illness, the affected children were moved to quarantine zones spread across the surrounding area. The responsibility of the removal service teams is to remove “cured” children out of those zones into safety.
This is one of the ideas that I liked most about The Rage. There’s a cure and our characters don’t have to walk aimlessly through a post-apocalyptic world to survive the holocaust. A cure is attainable. It’s within reach and it gives hope to the typical hopeless zombie-filled worlds we’re used to. This is an important aspect of this comic and here’s why: It shifts the controversy from “what would you do to survive?” to “how should we cure this?” It’s not necessarily about outlasting your neighbor, but waiting for them.
Steven mentions to Amina that the children were injected with hormonal markers that go off once they’ve reached puberty and the virus no longer survives in their bodies. It just wears off for some reason. Suspense doesn’t rely on survival, but patience. The issue lies in the rebel faction, Herod’s Militia, who believe in the extermination of the children.
Boisserie reveals Amina’s history mostly through flashbacks. This is how we learn of her son, Theo, and the death of her step-sons, Matthew and Adrian, by Theo. Originally Amina had told Steven that she wasn’t married and didn’t have kids. Eventually she runs into her husband, Fred, while out on a mission and discovers that he became a member of Herod’s Militia, angered by the death of his sons by her baby. This conflict is sort of brushed over as they team up later in the second volume to rescue Theo.
We learn that Steven has been providing children from his removals to a laboratory where scientists experiment on the children in order to find a vaccine for the virus. Steven isn’t completely aware of the extent of their plan, but it’s later revealed that the scientists do not plan to cure all the children, but rather monopolize on the vaccine and exploit it for financial gain.
Unfortunately for Boisserie and Kerfriden, the idea of a vaccine isn’t fully developed and forces a knot into the plotline of the story. If the factions are aware of a cure, whether it’s through vaccination or waiting the virus out, Herod’s Militia is completely unnecessary to the story. Sure there is some motivation for killing the children due to deaths of family, but because of the known probability of curing the illness, it is nothing but vengeful killing. Boisserie and Kerfriden were heading in the right direction, but fell short in execution.
Part way through volume two, Amina finds Theo by breaking into computer records and rerouting her teams’ designated removal zone to the quarantined area he’s located. It’s there she finds a young girl named Irina Albo, who is unaffected by the virus and inexplicably has some control over the children. She is snuck out of the quarantine zone along with Theo before they learn about the laboratory. Amina is found out by Steven and brought to the lab with Irina with the intention of studying Irina for the vaccination.
Looking past Herod’s Militia, the most significant issue with The Rage is the unclear and abrupt ending to the second volume. It’s confusing and left me dissatisfied because there wasn’t much resolution. The laboratory is taken over by infected children that Amina sets free from their captivity, the government loses multiple high ranking officials, the rebels are caught join the struggle and face numerous fatalities, but the Amina and her family escape.
A blood transfusion is performed using Irina’s blood to hopefully cure Theo, but the result isn’t clear and the story ends with the line, “…all that matters is we’re together.” That’s it, but can’t be it. The story is built up to have a more satisfying conclusion than that. What about the vaccine? What about the other children? The family? None of the controversy that was brought up is settled. Open ended conclusions don’t bother me when the story is finished, but The Rage feels incomplete because of two words: The end. The ending of vol. 1 states “To Be Continued” whereas vol. 2 ends with “The End.” Either the story isn’t finished and there is more to come in another arc or the story is finished and incomplete.
This is the thorn in The Rage’s side because up until the abrupt ending the characters were developing into interesting people with motivation, the new concepts left the story with a lot of potential to grow into something great. The artwork by Kerfriden is effective and looks great. The confusion toward the end of the second volume with its unclear ending and the rushed tying-up of the threads strung together bring an end to the new found hope I had in The Rage – or did it? Hopefully Boisserie and Kerfriden will reanimate The Rage with a third volume.