Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Review: Zombie Tales #1

Zombie Tales #1 is released today by BOOM! Studios and Atomeka, an anthology volume collecting five short zombie-themed stories and the first chapter of a longer tale.

It features an impressive line-up of talent, including Mark Waid, Keith Giffen and Ron Lim (one of my favorites since his days on Silver Surfer), and a cover by the brilliant Dave (100 Bullets) Johnson.

But me, I’m pretty well zombie-d out these days, y’know? Seems like everywhere I turn somebody’s got their own damn zombie story.

What redeems this collection for me, then, is the humor. These stories are often grotesque and nihilistic, as living dead stories should always be, but there’s also an irreverent through line of comedy that freshens the book up and makes it worth reading.

“I, Zombie” by Andrew Cosby and Keith Giffen (he draws, too?) is about a zombie named Ted trying to find some food. The stilted “undead” narration plays a familiar card (“aren’t stupid people funny?”) but with a macabre twist and a couple pretty decent gags; there’s something surreal about watching a zombie smash his alarm clock in a surprised rage that I can’t quite put my finger on, but it made me smile. After a brief tour of the post-apocalypse, Ted ends up with the key to the apocalypse in his arms – it’s the only “To Be Continued” in the collection, but it’s a fun story and I’d be happy to see more of it. I was also surprised by how much I liked Giffen's artwork. I have a feeling his artistic chops are well known and I was just in the dark until now, but you can't blame a guy for learning, can ya?

“Severance” by Mike Nelson and Joe Abraham is a fun piece that really shows off what you can do with story density. We’re brought into the story halfway through an action scene, as things have gone wrong in the lab where a desperate scientist is researching a cure to the zombie disease so he can bring back his son. The tale jumps from plot point to plot point at a sprint, but because these are all familiar characters and scenarios it’s easy to follow – really, this kind of thing would blow me away if it took a longer format but maintained the density. It’s the sort of thing I hear Grant Morrison getting credit for all the time but this is much clearer, more direct storytelling. Again, there’s an undercurrent of smirking, cruel humor to the tale that doesn’t quite bubble to the surface but keeps things brisk and fun.

“Daddy Smells Different” by John Rogers and Andy Kuhn is basically a punchline tale, and a bit obvious at that, but I won’t spoil it for you. Not the best thing here, but it does what it intends to and Kuhn’s artwork is lovely.

“For Pete’s Sake” by Johanna Stokes and J.K. Woodward is about a lonely woman whose husband has become a zombie. She’s started a new sort of life for herself in the post-apocalypse and keeps her husband on a chain in their home. Again, it’s the underlying humor that makes this work – the dramatics of her loneliness didn’t really grab me, but the scene in which she prepares his dinner, for example, had some nice grossout laughs.

“If You’re So Smart” by Mark Waid and Carlos Magno is really clever – this and “Severance” are my favorite tales from the book. The idea of taking a test to see how well you’d survive in a world of zombies is funny and starts the reader trying to think of what sorts of questions should be on the test. The ones that Waid comes up with are all pretty funny, and the twist at the end is sick and clever. Magno also deserves credit for keeping things visually interesting, especially since the bulk of this short is just a girl sitting at a desk taking a test – I have to imagine that was a bit of a challenge, but this reads very smoothly without feeling flat. Great work.

“Dead Meat” by Keith Giffen and Ron Lim is the most conventional zombie tale of the bunch – my least favorite in terms of plot and script, especially since we come in after all the action has taken place – but this was made up for (at least for me) by the always-gorgeous Ron Lim artwork. I’ve always loved the way this guy draws monsters, so a zombie tale is a good fit for him. It’s not the flashiest script, doesn’t really let him show off the way Jim Starlin used to, but it’s still really nice to see his work again.

At 48 pages for $6.99, the book may seem a bit prohibitively expensive; the price-per-page isn’t any worse than if you’d bought two single issues of a 22-page comic, and you get a nice square-binding into the deal, but my feeling is that anthologies should offer a better price point than other books, being the gamble that they usually are. The stories here maintain a relatively high standard of quality, which helps, and some “big name” talent, which helps more - but I'm a bit of a price-watcher, so it still makes this more difficult to recommend than if it was $5. It's worth at least picking this up and flipping through - I enjoyed it quite a bit more than I expected to.

I’ve seen several reviews pop up over the last few days; if you’re interested, take a look at what Andrew Wickliffe had to say at The Stop Button, or check out the reviews from Adam Lawrence, Dan MacLeod and "The Consumer" Joe Rivera, all at the Isotope Virtual Lounge. Oh, and Randy Lander taken a look too, over on The Fourth Rail. Jesus, this book's getting a lot of press!

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