Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Don't Call Them Zombies, Fool!

As has been mentioned before, next week will see the release of George A. Romero's Land of the Dead. Let me restate that...the eagerly awaited release of George A. Romero's Land of the Dead. In celebration of this occasion, I have previously posted a review of the Zombies! Boardgame with the promise of more to come.

Well...now is the time for the more. In preparation for this year's film production George Romero teamed up with Tommy Castillo and Rodney Ramos on the comic book release of Toe Tags, the cover of issue #6 (by the awe inspiring Bernie Wrightson) is featured below.

Sadly, this post isn't about Toe Tags. Typical of any comic fan, I am about 6 months behind on my reading. So I haven't gotten around to Toe Tags yet, but that doesn't mean that we are not going to talk about Zombie comic books, because we are. Sadly, (since it takes place in my alma mater city Reno) we won't be talking about Remains. To be honest, it is in the same stack as Toe Tags. You know the stack, the "to be read" stack. The stack that keeps growing.

Instead I would like to introduce you to a wonderful little book called The Walking Dead (read down the interview to get a description).

So why did this book make it off the "to be read" stack and into my hands? Because Robert Kirkman wrote it and Robert Kirkman is a comic book genius, as his recent agreement with Universal makes perfectly clear. You see, Kirkman is a dying breed in the comic book industry. He is a writer with a sense of humor. I wouldn't be surprised to hear he actually has fun crafting comic book stories, whether Superhero or narrative fiction. So when Kirkman is writing a book, I read it immediately and with no delay. Want a sample? As with all things addictive the first time is free. You can read the first issue of Kirkman's ongoing Supers title Invincible at the Image Website. Scroll down to Invincible click on the cover and read away.

But The Walking Dead is a very different book from Invincible. The humor and smart writing is still there, but Dead is a serious piece of zombie entertainment. Maybe the best piece of Zombie media I have seen to date. What makes Dead so remarkable is the manner in which it uses the virtues of its medium. Kirkman understands that he isn't limited by the filmic time constraint of 90 minutes. There is no need to shock us and pull us out. Instead we can explore what it would really mean to live in a world during a Zombie Holocaust. To quote the back cover:

How many hours are in a day when you don't spend half of them watching television?
When is the last time any of us REALLY worked to get something that we WANTED?
The world we knew is gone.
The world of commerce and frivolous necessity has been replaced by a world of survival and responsibility...
In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living.

Kirkman captures what is the most terrifying part of any good horror film. What scares us in the long run isn't the brief "gotcha" moments with corresponding "stings." What scares us most is when we see what people can become under certain circumstances. It is in the bleakest of situations that human character is really revealed, and it is often shown to be lacking. Kirkman understands this and is able in his exploration of human behavior in a "dead" world. Kirkman is telling a people story, not a slasher tale, and it is the comic medium which allows for this to happen. But don't take my word that was his intention, let Kirkman speak for himself:

What you now hold in your hands is the most serious piece of work I've done so far in my career...

To me the best zombie movies aren't the splatter fests of gore and violence with goofy characters and tongue in cheek antics. Good zombie movies show us how messed up we are, they make us question our station in society...and our society's station in the world...

With The Walking Dead I want to explore how people deal with extreme situations and how these events CHANGE them.

It looks to me that Kirkman is doing for the Zombie story, what he did for the Superhero comic book. Here is a guy who can write meaningfully without being a trite reactionary or counter-reactionary. He is writing for our enjoyment and for us to think.

Leave your house this very moment and purchase The Walking Dead, or if you are afraid zombies will kill you on the way to the comic shop, you can also buy the first two trades on amazon. In a just world, you would buy them straight from the source at this year's San Diego Comic Con.

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