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Zombie Jamboree

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Zombies have been around in one form or another for centuries, but they have never been as popular as they are now. It is a trend that will not die and this week’s Victorian Undead proves this.

The undead in its various and sundry forms is experiencing a great deal of popularity these days. The Twilight film and book franchises are making vampires hip and happening. Jennifer Love Hewitt and Patricia Arquette speak with ghosts every Friday night on CBS in The Ghost Whisperer and Medium respectively. But the belle of the afterlife ball has to be the zombie.

Zombies didn’t just spring up on the scene in 1968. They have been a part of Haitian voodoo mythology for centuries, with Haiti folklore containing stories of powerful sorcerers causing the dead to rise to serve them.

They have been a part of popular culture for decades as well. The undead have appeared in print in the works of H.P. Lovecraft in the 1920s, films such as 1932’s White Zombie, and in the horror comics of the 1950s.

But 1968 was a pivotal year in the portrayal of zombies, for that was the year George Romero released Night of the Living Dead.

Admittedly an updating of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend with zombies replacing vampires, it was originally released to mixed reviews. However, over the years, it has become a cultural institution, one which scholars have examined to find subtext dealing with everything from the Vietnam War to racism to the perils of capitalism.

Night of the Living Dead also revolutionized the way zombies were portrayed. No longer were the undead thralls of an evil magician. Nothing could control them. They were mindless, relentless, soulless beings with only one goal—to feed on human flesh. The film introduced the term “zombie apocalypse” into the pop culture lexicon, and acts even to this day as a touchstone for all zombie fiction.

There are five “official” sequels to the film, six “unofficial” sequels, it has been remade numerous times and served as inspiration for a whole slew of zombie films, books and comics in the decades after it was originally released. Zombies wouldn’t be as popular today if Night of the Living Dead wasn’t as legendary as it is.

Most zombie fiction follows in the “zombie apocalypse” idea—a small band of humans fight to survive in a world taken over entirely by zombies. This genre might appear to be limiting, but has plenty of room for interpretation. And, as the years have gone on, writers have taken more and more liberties with the style.

The film Shaun of the Dead mixes zombie horror with a romantic comedy. Marvel Zombies answers what would happen if superheroes were among the first infected. And the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies adds the undead to Jane Austen’s classic work. 

This straying from the original concept is one that is becoming more accepted with zombie fans, who would get in heated arguments over zombies running instead of lumbering at the shuffle-footed gait Romero’s zombies moved at. It might not be “anything goes” just yet, but creators have more freedom to get creative. That translates into this week’s Victorian Undead.

This six-issue miniseries marries zombie horror with the world of Sherlock Holmes as everyone’s favorite, deerstalker-wearing detective has to investigate a case of numerous corpses becoming reanimated in Victorian England. He must find out who is behind this nefarious deed before England is overcome with the living dead.

This series shows that zombies, as a creative concept, might have achieved immortality. Just when you think the trend will die off, it comes back again stronger than ever. Zombie fiction has become almost as hard to kill as the zombies themselves.

Also out this week:

Black Knight #1:

The fact that Tom DeFalco keeps getting work at Marvel mystifies me. Not that he’s a bad writer. On the contrary, I enjoy almost all of his work that I’ve read. It’s just that many of his contemporaries have disappeared from comic pages and yet he still is plugging along. Granted, he was editor-in-chief at Marvel, but still.

Anyway, DeFalco follows up his Kid Colt one-shot from a month or two back with another character that was popular in the company’s Atlas Era of the 1950s—the Black Knight. This one-shot, where he reunites with his Spider-Girl cohort Ron Frenz, tells of the adventures of Sir Percy of Scandia as he faces vampires, werewolves and, heh, zombies.

Tom DeFalco (W), Ron Frenz (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. One-Shot.

Justice Society of America: 80-Page Giant #1:

The Justice Society has become quite the revenue earner for DC. Not only can the team support one ongoing, it is soon going to have a spin-off series under its umbrella and has a regular pattern of miniseries it puts out from time to time. So, it’s only fitting that it would also get an 80-Page Giant to soak up some more money from JSA fan’s pockets.

This special features seven stories starring the JSA’s more recent additions as they discover the secrets of the team’s mansion headquarters. If another special featuring your favorite characters wasn’t enough, the stories are done by a plethora of DC’s best creators, including two men who have, at different times, been responsible for revitalizing the Justice Society for a new generation—Jerry Ordway and James Robinson.

Various (W),Various (A), DC Comics, $5.99. Special.

NOLA #1:

Setting a piece of fiction at the same time or in the same location as a tragedy is a tricky thing. Yes, you can tell a story, using the emotion and power of the event to enhance what you want to say. But in cases where there were a large number of casualties, you must take care to be respectful and not exploitive.

Hurricane Katrina was one of the most devastating natural disasters in all of American history. It hit New Orleans, LA, especially hard, leaving 80% of the city under water and at least 1,836 people dead. The tragic aftereffects of the disaster are still being felt to this day.

This series uses that time in New Orleans as a background, as its protagonist wakes up in an abandoned hospital dealing with severe injuries and seeking revenge. But a catastrophe where so many people lost their lives shouldn’t be used as just a backdrop. Hopefully, the story will have something to say about the tragedy instead of being a simple revenge tale.

Chris Gorak &  Pierluigi Cothran (W), Damian Couceiro (A), BOOM! Studios, $3.99. Ongoing Series.

Dr. Horrible:

Everything Joss Whedon touches seems to automatically turn into a cult-favorite, and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-A-Long Blog is no exception. Filmed during the Hollywood writers' strike, it aired online in three, 14-minute installments. It told the story of a mad scientist with a heart of gold, a superhero overly full of himself, and the sweet woman caught in the middle. It was laugh-out-loud funny, touchingly tragic, and a pretty good musical to boot.

It is also true that everything Whedon touches eventually becomes a comic book. So, it’s no surprise that Dr. Horrible is making his way to the four-color medium as part of Dark Horse’s One-Shot Wonders event.

I’d imagine that the number of songs will be reduced quite significantly, but the wit, humor and pathos should still be there. That makes it a must get in my opinion. I recommend it highly.

Zack Whedon (W), Joëlle Jones (A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50. One-Shot.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer and daughter Vanessa. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters, has written for Comic Foundry magazine and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Nov 18, 2009 at 4:02am

    Aaah those good old Voodoo Zombies ... those were the days! Oh and look forward to NOLA, looks to be a good crime comic.

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