It bears repeating that horror comics don't frighten me. Films and novels can and have given me years of nightmares, but not comics. Fortunately, in this case, that isn't a problem here as the three stories presented read more like parables than works of terror.
The first, "Backbiter", written by Michael Alan Nelson and illustrated by Matt Cossin, explores teenage sexual politics against the backdrop of a zombie holocaust. It is a brief, thoughtful study of jealousy and manipulation in a world where moral lassitude can easily descend into absence, with the undead acting as scapegoat.
Cossin's art is clean and effective, employing a straightforward narrative structure. It's a mug's game trying to cite the influences of someone whose work I haven't previously encountered, but suffice to say that they lay somewhere between Love & Rockets, cel animation, and old Marvel romance comics. Mikey Cossin's colors tend toward flat and monochromatic, but are consistent with Matt's style.
There are a couple of narrative hiccups sufficiently noticeable to have distracted me. For Julie to have drawn blood on Kim, she would have born some evidence of her deception rather than appearing pristine upon flinging open the door. It would have been easier to digest had she the time and means to clean herself up. The door itself, the initial object of frustrated attention, is the other slip, but I'm prepared to grant the wiggle room allowing Julie to have somehow opened it. Brad not offering Kim exactly the same benefit of the doubt that he'd recently been given pricked up my ears, slightly, too, but I'll let it pass at that. These slips aside, Nelson and Cossin have constructed a very nice story.
"Lights Out", the middle story, was written by Eric Calderon and illustrated by Ming Doyle. It's a somber take on the zombie superhero sub-genre that's enjoyed recent popularity. In a few sentences Calderon succeeds in answering a lingering question concerning the always rapid spread of infection and subsequent fall of civilization, possibly more succinctly than any I've seen or read, including Romero's usual explanations. Adding metahumans to the equation helps to speed the process but isn't necessary.
Portrayed as the final moments of the last survivor on Earth, a Superman type character unfortunately (as he sees it) named "Rock," gives us an introspective examination of loss and resignation. Doyle's art, somewhat reminiscent of early Rick Veitch or John Tottleben, is on the rough side but shows considerable promise. Andrew Dalhouse's colors range from superhero primaries to a grey wash that fills the cityscapes. He teeters on overdoing things but shows admirable restraint from which some "name brand" colorists could learn. On the whole this isn't a bad story but feels a little too familiar. Now that Calderon has it out of his system perhaps he can focus on something a little more grand.
The final chapter, "Ink Stains", was written by Todd Lepre, drawn by Drew Rausch, and colored by Drew Berry. Told from the perspective of a tattoo artist who opted to ride out the holocaust rather than run or be evacuated, this is another quiet story that focuses on human emotion and the aftermath of the plague. Though not a connoisseur of body art, I appreciate Lepre's approach. His denouement, using tattoos as a living memory of lost loved ones, is touching.
Drew Raush's art struck me as something of a lost style. I could easily picture his work in the pages of old Warren publications or even Epic or Heavy Metal. His caricatures might not be to everyone's taste but his storytelling ability is strong and strongly abetted by Drew Berry's palette. As someone who usually has nothing good to say about tattooing, the fact that I found the story to a degree both effective and affecting should be viewed as a large compliment by the creative team.
While slightly uneven and possessing it's share of flaws, this issue of Zombie Tales should appeal to both genre enthusiasts and comic book readers.
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