Current Reviews


Sunday Slugfest - Zombie #1

Posted: Sunday, September 17, 2006
By: Keith Dallas

"Part 1: The Getaway"

Writer: Mike Raicht
Artist: Kyle Hotz, Dan Brown (colors)

Publisher: Marvel Comics (Max)

Editor’s Note: The first issue of Zombie (a four issue MAX limited series) will appear in stores September 27.

Average Rating:

Michael Aronson:
Keith Dallas:
Michael Deeley:
Kelvin Green:
Mike Williams:

SPOILER WARNING: The following reviews discuss the plot developments of the issue.

Michael Aronson

Something’s rotten here, and it’s not just the zombies.

Cardboard characters? Check. Horror movie clichés? Double-check. Absurd and idiotic logic that not even Uwe Boll would touch? Check, check and check! Smells like another stillborn corpse that rolled out of the editorial office of Axel Alonso. Think he’ll actually ever use that office to edit anything?

So two imaginatively-named criminals, Gyp and Shorty, decide to rob a bank and run into Simon Garth, professional bank teller. Simon utilizes his divinely-derived banking skills to persuade the two men not to take his busty female coworker as their hostage, but to take him and her together. Oh, and Shorty’s also the driver. You might be wondering why two criminals would think it wise to take two hostages, how they intend to force both of them into the car while Shorty has to drive, and how Gyp can take care of both of them. The answer is so much zombie meat. But apparently it was good enough for Axel Alonso, so it should be good enough for us.

But the police have already surrounded the bank while the criminals are inside it, so how do they plan to get into their car, while handling the two hostages, and escape from the police at the same time? The answer is so much rotting flesh. But apparently it was good enough for Axel Alonso, so it should be good enough for us.

As they’re speeding away, they apparently slow down before a roadblock and have a little conversation about what they should do next. There are police there, but they don’t notice the car at all, or apparently the line of police cars chasing them from behind. Also there are men in radiation suits, but what the hell, why not plow through them? But from three yards or so away from this roadblock, how are they able to floor it and crash through parked cars and other obstacles with little damage? The answer is so much spilled brains. But apparently it was good enough for Axel Alonso, so it should be good enough for us.

Once again they appear to slow down as they approach some kind of burning hubbub with lots of humanoid figures standing in piles of flame, yet it never dawns on any of the characters what these people might be or that they should maybe not exit their car. Yet as soon as they do get out, having collided with a zombie or three and seeing their mangled features up close, they go to check on the victims rather than watch their own backs. Why do they seem so surprised when these things start chomping on them? The answer is so much diseased blood. But apparently it was good enough for Axel Alonso, so it should be good enough for us.

The rest of the issue follows all the tired and turgid motions of the usual zombie movie – characters distrusting and yelling at each other, seeking shelter, surrounded by zombies – and there are still more displays of Bizarro World logic, but frankly it’s not worth groaning over further. We’re talking about a series written by Mike Raicht, pupil of the equally inept Mike Marts. We should just be glad they got the name “ Simon Garth” right.

Every time Kyle Hotz reappears in the comic industry, his art make visible improvements from his last outing, and his last outing is often fondly remembered. While no one’s going to want to remember Zombie, at least he’s doing a fine job warming up for the much-deserved high profile assignment that no one remembered to give him. Way to utilize your talent, guys.

The only benefit of this being a Max book is that surely no one will pay any attention to it. It follows gracelessly behind the inspired Marvel Zombies series and hopefully no one will think to associate the two. R.I.P.

Keith Dallas

Zombie stories are tragic tales of dysfunctional group dynamics involving characters who end up fighting themselves, making stupid decisions or putting their own individual interests above the needs of the group and consequently ruining the entire group’s chances of survival. In any engaging zombie story the protagonist’s real opponents are not the undead mindlessly driven to eat him; the real opponents are the living people surrounding the protagonist, the people who he mistakenly trusts and depends on and who either intentionally betray or inadvertently fail him. The fundamental theme of the zombie sub-genre is that the human race can’t help but sabotage itself; the dismal message that gets advanced from zombie story to zombie story is that human society is utterly flawed, incapable of living harmoniously with each other. Homo sapiens do not strive to perform a “greater good”; the species strives only to satisfy its self-interest. Even when confronted with a completely dire situation that requires nobility and heroism, human behavior will still be petty, corrupt and self-serving.

Mike Raicht understands the essence of a zombie story. His first issue of Zombie anticipates the reinforcement of these essential zombie story themes as it collects together its (albeit stock) characters: two bank robbers, a young seemingly defenseless female, an Army private, and our supposed gallant, selfless hero, Simon Garth. The manner in which Raicht sets up his story leaves me wondering how the shit will hit the fan. (The shit always hits the fan in a zombie story.) Through selfish, foolish or negligent actions, which one of these characters is going to turn the situation from grim to fatal? The zombie story offers that kind of sick enjoyment: watching someone “screw the pooch” and doom his entire group. The end of the first issue doesn’t signal how events will unfold, but what I principally admired about this issue was its pacing and artwork.

The issue is frenetic: its goings on move from one tense (and expectedly gory) situation to the next. The cause of the “zombie outbreak” isn’t divulged…, which doesn’t bother me because I find the most boring part of a zombie story is the explanation of how the dead were raised; the character dynamics are more interesting and crucial to the workings of the story. I’m also more curious to find out if by the end (or even middle?) of the mini-series Simon Garth becomes a zombie. Garth is already established in the “regular” Marvel Universe as “the walking dead.” Will the Marvel Max version share the same fate?

Although well paced, the issue lacks characterization. None of the characters are developed in any meaningful way. As a result, I’m not yet caring of their peril. I mean that I’m intrigued by the characters’ situation, but not by the characters themselves. Indeed, when one of the principal characters dies in the middle of the issue, I’m impressed by the spectacle of the death but remain unaffected by the demise of the character. The next issue needs to rectify this; a story works only if its audience cares about its characters.

I can readily expect the next issue to provide more impressive Kyle Hotz art. Hotz draws gore that effectively straddles the line between disgusting verisimilitude and bizarre cartoonishness. The style evokes a more “naturalistic” John McCrea. The slightly exaggerated anatomy exhibited by the characters (elongated chins, rail thin legs, et al), combined with appropriately de-saturated colors by Dan Brown, makes for unique, stimulating visuals.

Here’s the bottom line: if you don’t enjoy zombie stories, you need to pass this one by. Zombie isn’t going to change your mind about the sub-genre. This is not a reinvention of the zombie story; this very much adheres to the conventions of the zombie story. But if you’re devoted to the zombie sub-genre and haven’t yet had your fill of comic books involving zombies, then I’d recommend you purchase this book.

Michael Deeley

Simon Garth is a bank teller taken hostage by two robbers. They crash through a police barricade and into a town infested with zombies. The trio holds up in a rest stop with the last known survivors: an Army sergeant and a waitress. It’s the five of them versus thousands of zombies.

It’s a basic zombie story, but it’s done well. This first issue basically sets up the premise for the rest of the story. We’ve got three basically good people trapped in a small place with two heartless killers. Narrator Simon Garth is a reluctant hero whose noble nature overcomes his fear for survival. The story should really begin next issue when the survivors start turning on each other and fighting for their lives.

The mini-series is inspired by the horror comics character, The Zombie. The original Zombie was a corporate executive brought back to live by vindictive employees who practiced voodoo. His undead form was commanded by a variety of villains when Garth’s former lover wasn’t trying to save him. This series may end with the new Garth turning into a zombie.

Kyle Hotz has quickly become THE hot horror comics artist. The Hood, Man-Thing, and Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities have earned him this reputation. He does a wonderful job creating disgusting creatures that horrify and fascinate. The living look great too. Although both Garth and the robber look a lot alike, and both look like Bruce Campbell.

Mike Raicht’s story is just getting started. There’s nothing terribly new here, but the characters are interesting; a key element in a horror story. Raicht’s style is fast-paced with a little bit of humor. I have a good feeling about the rest of this story.

Kelvin Green

1973’s Tales of the Zombie was a morality tale: the story of one deeply unpleasant shit of a man cursed with a horrible undeath, and his painful attempts at redemption. It was full of the typical Marvel melodrama of the time and was gratuitously over the top, but it was also a great deal of fun.

Zombie resurrects (ha!) the titular character from the older series and restarts his story from scratch. Only this time, Marvel have stripped out all the fun emotional twists, turned the protagonist into a bit of a bland sap, and shoved him into a painfully generic scenario straight out of a low-budget 80s zombie movie. Oh, and Marvel’s favourite storytelling “technique,” decompression, is in full evidence, as very little is achieved by the end of the issue.

I’m utterly baffled by Marvel’s so-called “creative” process. The runaway success of both The Walking Dead and their own Ultimate Fantastic Four/Marvel Zombies has obviously clued the company in to a potential earner, and dusting off some of their own properties in the genre seems like a sensible strategy. But what I don’t understand is why the end result is so bland, generic and pointless. This comic fails as a superficial zombie horror because you can get all the same gore and clichés for the same price by just renting a movie, and you’ll get a complete story that way too. It fails in its attempts to be anything more than a superficial zombie horror partly because it’s so ridden with these worn out clichés and partly because none of the strong characterisation and plotting of something like The Walking Dead is anywhere to be seen (and no, swearing doesn’t count as characterisation). And it fails as a revamp of the Simon Garth property because, while the original was a little silly, there was at least some creative energy there; it went over the top, but it never just went through the motions.

The sole saving grace is the art. Kyle Hotz here applies an energetic and expressive style that’s almost grotesque at times, but that’s quite appropriate here, giving the events just enough of a hint of lunacy to lift the comic out of the morass of blandness in which the script seems intent on drowning it. Hotz’s characters are full of life and personality (well, the living ones are, at least), and his storytelling is strong and dynamic. Dan Brown chooses appropriately dark and grimy colours, although he is a bit over-enthusiastic with his highlights and shading at points, distorting the characters’ anatomy in disconcerting ways now and then. On the whole though, this is a great-looking comic.

Great-looking it may be, but Zombie is dragged down by lacklustre writing and is incredibly disappointing as a result. The original comic was a less gothy and pretentious version of The Crow; what we’ve got now is a less interesting and exciting version of Return of the Living Dead 2. What a lifeless comic.

Mike Williams:

Stop me if this sounds familiar: a mismatched group of survivors face off against a horde of flesh-eating zombies, whose origin is as sudden as it is mysterious.

What I’ve just provided is the gist of EVERY ZOMBIE MOVIE EVER PRODUCED. From George Romero’s classic Night of the Living Dead on through 28 Days Later, the genre has seen any number of variations on the basic idea of the living versus the living dead. But plot’s not important in zombie flicks; in fact, there are only two key requirements in any tale of brain-munching chaos: (1) the odds against the living must be overwhelming and (2) the deaths (of both the living and the ghouls) must be spectacular.

Mike Raicht understands these rules well. In the first issue of his 4-issue Zombie limited series, he provides the exposition to what’s being called a reinvention of the Marvel U’s Zombie character (Simon Garth). Garth is a bank teller who gets mixed up in a bank robbery gone bad, and by the end of the issue, we’ve been introduced to the future victims and established that something “majorly f***ed up” is happening (this is a MAX series, so anything goes so far as language and violence). The characters are familiar to any who’ve seen Dawn of the Dead: in Garth, we have the heroic “everyman” who wants to do the right thing; there’s the young, confused naïf; there’s the violent criminal who we’re sure will get his comeuppance in the end; and finally the bad-ass black guy. But this is the medium Raicht is working with, and he knows what’s expected of him: bring on the dead!

Kyle Hotz’s art is perfect for this series. There’s a grittiness that reflects the violence this series will emphasize in its run and an emphasis on realism in everything except the deaths, which is what we’re plunking down our $3 for. There, the blood splatters, eyes pop out, and bodies are torn to pieces in exaggerated death scenes that hopefully hint at what’s to come in the remaining issues.

And that “hopefully” is what keeps me from ranking this first issue higher: while Raicht and Hotz offer up the beginnings of a solid zombie tale, that’s all it is: solid. There is nothing in the first issue that zombie enthusiasts haven’t seen before (somebody’s neck being bit in half? Been there, done that), and the conspiratorial-tone about the origin of the undead is a bit too familiar. Heck, even the kidnapping plot is similar to From Dusk Til Dawn, just trade the vampires for zombies. What distinguishes one zombie tale from the next are the twists and turns the writer includes, not allowing the readers to know what to expect in the next frame (which include the methods of dispatching the living and the dead). The first issue establishes the overwhelming odds the living face; to truly be memorable, the rest of the series needs to crank it up a notch and get creative with the death we expect. I believe Raicht and Hotz are up for it.

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