Review: Rebel BloodA comic review article by: Logan Beaver
"Will the zombie bubble burst before I've had my chance to capitalize on it?" is a question implicit in most zombie fiction these days. Like humans frantically destroying their furniture to barricade the windows, zombie fiction has rapidly experimented with every deviation on its concept, contorted itself into every shape that their writers can imagine. You have zombies who are also superheroes, zombies as comedy, zombies as pets, zombies inserted into classical literature, zombies who are smart and want to rape things and aren't even really zombies -- each new story brings with it some new bit of faux-postmodern table dressing, and it's never enough. At this point, reading/watching/playing a straightforward zombie survival horror anything would be novel, if not ironic. Even talking about this feels old now, even though the subject is obviously still relevant with the release of the Rebel Blood trade paperback.
Rebel Blood has two twists: that the "zombies" in question seem to adopt the traits of different species that they bite or that have bitten them) and a second, more insidious twist that reveals itself as you get further into the story. Sadly, while it was that first twist that drew me in, it was an idea that isn't explored nearly enough. I wanted to review this book because of its unnerving images: the three-eyed owl, the rat with thumbs for forepaws. The possibilities for creepiness in seeing human parts sticking haphazardly out of forest creatures seems limitless, and that potential went almost completely untapped. Creepy half-eaten deer person is technically a character, and even he is underutilized.
Granted, if you want some unsettling imagery, Rebel Blood has you covered. Riley Rossmo's signature scribbly artwork, strongly influenced by Ben Templesmith, amps up every gory splatter, and those black trees and snowy smears give the wilderness in the background this dreadful feeling of the horrible unknown lurking out there in the darkness. I imagine that a lot of people picked up this book for Riley Rossmo's art, and much of it is gory and horrific (and at times darkly humorous), but Rebel Blood starts out with a concept loaded with gory, horrible, original imagery that we didn't see often enough.
That second deviation from the genre comes from Rebel Blood's protagonist, Chuck Neville. The more you learn about Chuck, the less you like him. Sure, he's good to his kids, and his pathetic musical aspirations position him as a lovable loser. But then there's that business of repeatedly fantasizing about his wife's grisly death, oftentimes by his own hand. This kills the effect of the ending, and upon first reading the story fell flat for me. I got the most fun out of rereading Rebel Blood, and puzzling out the smaller mysteries within the story. Better still, deciphering the hidden complexity behind Chuck Neville's turn from depressed lovable loser to grizzled, unstoppable zombie fighting hero leads into the comic's thematic concerns! Woo analysis! I wish the creators would have done more with that. Given how the story seems to actively invite a second reading, I would have appreciated an attempt at some Alan Moore-levels of narrative complexity. As it stands, rereading Rebel Blood, while enjoyable, is still less thoroughly conceived than I would have liked.
"I wish the creators would have done more with that," would actually be a good summary of how I felt about the book. After pop culture stops caring about the undead and all the cool kids are writing Quetzalcoatl slash fiction and rolling in cash, only the best zombie stories will survive. Alex Link and Riley Rossmo had some really good ideas here, and if they had taken those ideas and just went balls-out with them, Rebel Blood could have been great.
Since moving to South Korea, Logan Beaver has written plays, comics, and flash fiction (he did a lot of that before, mind you), gone on adventures and drank more on a Tuesday than is socially acceptable outside of college. He lives there with his girlfriend Collette, and his laptop Pornbot 5000. He is trying to learn how to speak Korean and draw, both of which are very hard. He thinks that, by learning and doing new things, people become something better than they once were, like Pokemon. If he were a Pokemon, he would be Snorlax, though he is generally unfamiliar with Pokemon beyond the original 151.