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Inside Look: Rotten #6

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Mark Rahner joins BF again to take you behind the scenes of the final issue of the first story arc of Moonstone's living dead series, Rotten.

Read the Inside Look on issue  #1 here.



We meant for the sixth issue of ROTTEN to be a satisfying explosion after a long buildup. Ahem.  There’s plenty of action, gore and conflict, and the long-suffering Agent Wade finally emerges as a Class A Badass – with everything against him and a bum arm, no less. 

Also, it finally becomes very clear that there aren’t just outbreaks of the living dead, but that there are different species of them everywhere it happens – a new wrinkle to the zombie genre that my co-writer, Robert Horton, and I loved from the start, despite the fact that there are some purists about that. Discovering the reason for that will entail much more suffering.

I mean, for godsakes: In issue 1, Wade was completely off-balance, overwhelmed and shot in the end. In issues 2 and 3 he was bedridden as a family prepared to feed him to their undead daughter. (What kind of idiots would introduce a hero and immediately sideline him like that?) And in the “Frostbite” arc of 4, 5 and 6, Wade’s still not fully recovered when he’s sent with his parter, Flynn, to an isolated, snowbound Army fort under attack by the wretched things. 

Here’s the deal: in addition to numerous species, setting the story in the old West and making blunt commentaries on our own times integral to the plot, we thought that the whole zombie-onslaught thing had to be re-earned.

Think of the “Casino Royale” remake: by the end of it, when Daniel Craig finally introduces himself as “Bond, James Bond,” it’s no longer a laugh line like it was with Pierce Brosnan.  Feels pretty righteous. Likewise, when the frozen dead finally converge on the fort in this issue, you’ve been through a lot with William Wade, and it shouldn’t feel rote.


Pages 14 and 15

       

This page begins with one of the most horrifying images imaginable to me as an adult: people pouring out perfectly good alcohol onto the floor. Truly the stuff of nightmares.

Wade has ordered these poor bastards to do it, and that’s damn near enough to turn anyone against a guy. As you’ll see later, he didn’t just do it to be prick.  The lowdown on Wade: he’s a realistic guy and no super-hero, but he’s also extraordinarily clever, and thinks several moves ahead like a chess player.  Which is how he survives when the situation couldn’t be more hopeless here. 

Some of the soldiers have already tried to commit rape. The rest are near mutiny. A whole new Donner Party of dead things is on the way to the fort. They have almost no ammunition. And Benge, the repugnant profiteer who’s just tried turning the men against Wade, sics his gorilla of a henchman on our one-armed hero. We set up what happens in panel 7 two issues ago: Wade wipes hot sauce in the big dope’s eyes. Try it! It’s excrutiating!


Pages 16 and 17

       

There’s nothing like a big gore money shot, and this one is disgusting, courtesy of our artist, Dan Dougherty. Sgt. Gadsen goes to get his wife, who’s been tending to a bitten soldier. We’ve learned that he’s one of the men who had been raping her for god knows how long. Now the soldier’s died, turned into one of the things and violated her one final time – but in the repellant panel 2, you see that she went out fighting.

The bottom four panels show more of Wade’s character. The men are freaking the hell out.  Nobody’s seen anything like this before and there are no shopping malls. It’s 1877 and nobody knows about germs or evolution. And like what oddly happened to modern Americans after 9/11, they turn to religion and superstition (not that there’s much difference) when they’re terrified.  Wade won’t have any of it.

He tells the now-awestruck men as the things get uncomfortably close, “Whatever those are, they can be stopped … and we’re going to use our brains to do it.” A little shout-out to a classic there.  The eyes of these zombies are frozen shut. But they still managed to follow the men back to the fort from their cave. Another mystery to add to the whole mess.

Then BOOOOMMM! He’s found a way to rig the insufferable Benge’s fancy coach to blow, and take plenty of the shambling things with him. (Look at the previous issue and it’s clear that Flynn blackmailed the one good soldier, Blake, into helping.) (Take note, by the way: you don’t see any reference to them within the book as “zombies.” Stay tuned for the reason.)


Pages 20 and 21

       

There are plenty more on the way. Wade has ordered everyone into the mess hall and tells them to get into the kitchen – a dead end. And he wants to let the things in! If you hadn’t already noticed it, Benge was supposed to look a little like Tom DeLay, the slimy former House Majority Leader from Texas – and recent “Dancing with the Stars” contestant. You’ll see familiar-looking characters throughout ROTTEN, and some wish-fulfillment with them.

Anyway, now we see why Wade ordered the men to pour out all of the precious booze that Benge brought to the fort – and sold at a Halliburton-like mark-up. Accellerant.

There’s a fancy psych term, “functional fixedness,” which involves the inability to see familiar things in ways other than that for which they were intended.  Children don’t suffer from it so much, for obvious reasons. And neither does Wade.  Which is also why, when Benge accuses him of boxing them all in, Wade simply kicks a hole in the wall.


Pages 28 and 29

       

Wade and Benge’s beautiful wife, Emma, have just barely escaped with their lives from an ordeal in the bunkhouse. Panel 2 is the only place in the series so far where we’ve come close to breaking the fourth wall or having anything even resembling a wink.

ROTTEN plays it straight and doesn’t go for tongue-in-cheek, but it seemed irresistible to a) have a soldier club a zombie with another zombie’s leg, and b) for Wade to react to how over-the-top it is.  Hey, the dude overcame his own functional fixedness and used a leg as a weapon!

In Panel 5, you see one of them slowly coming up on Wade from behind. It gets closer in the first panel of the next page. And then Wade surprises everyone with his own viciousness. By the end of this issue, he’s become who he’s going to be.

It’s by far the most action-oriented of the issues to date, but if you read it as a whole with issues 4 and 5, his progression to this point is visible and believable.  And this sets the stage for taking things to a different level with issue 7 – which comes out after our little break: in July, at the same time as the TPB collecting issues 1-6.


Our idea from the start was that nothing happens without consequences. The characters learn as they go, trauma accumulates, and it all it all builds to an ultimate end of the series down the line that should feel something like a no-holds-barred HBO series. We’re going to put these guys through hell in 2010.

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