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Rocking the Apocalypse

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I’ll admit it… I’m no stranger to IDW EIC Chris Ryall’s writing. The first time I encountered his work was in the extremely successful Shaun of the Dead movie adaptation. If you’ve read this wonderful mini-series from IDW, I’m sure you’ll agree that Ryall did a fantastic job.

Being a Clive Barker fan and a converted Ryallite, it was only natural that I purchased the The Great and Secret Show maxi-series as well. Much to my delight, Chris sent me the first issue to peruse prior to the books’ release. I was blown away! What truly impressed me with the issue was that Ryall had managed to capture the spirit and mood of the original novel—and even added his own flair to the work—which only enhanced the issue in my estimation.

And artist Ashley Wood? Well, I’ve been a fan of his work since Hellspawn issue #1. Through the ensuing years, I have faithfully collected Wood’s work. Brilliant titles such as Automatic Kafka, Popbot, Lore, Metal Gear Solid and Doomed have garnered a special place in my big black heart—and a special place in my collection as well.

This brings us to the new two-issue mini-series Zombies vs. Robots, written by Chris Ryall and illustrated by the illustrious Ashley Wood.

Zombies vs. Robots begins by bringing us up to speed on the situation. We find ourselves in a post-apocalyptic world where all of mankind has been reduced to flesh-eating, shuffling zombies. The robots, however, hope to preserve and reboot (if you will) the human race through an unaffected child. But it is not to be. An errant Workbot drags two zombies into the robot camp where the human child is being safeguarded from the zombie masses.

When the zombies become aware of the child’s existence, a drop of blood is ingested by the baby—and also absorbed by robot—which threatens not only to end the robots’ hopes to preserve the human race, but also to destroy the robots in the form of a deadly virus. The zombies—who share a collective consciousness—become aware of the child and fall on the robots’ base. This leaves the fate of zombie and robot alike in the “hands” of an obsolete and hilariously irreverent robot.

According to writer Chris Ryall, “Zombies Vs. Robots is a parable for our times, even while it speaks to the human condition on terms that are universally... oh, sorry, I can't even fake it.  ‘Zombies vs. Robots’ is about zombies fighting robots, and that's about it. One side, the robots, is out to safeguard the last living human baby on the planet. The other side, the zombies, are driven near insane with hunger (not that zombies are so "sane" even in the best of times) when they get wind of this human's existence.

That was the initial premise, but I did try to make it a little bit more than that, trying to show that these robots, who are largely personality-less, are just fulfilling their programming and not able to do much beyond that. How would programmed, staid robots fare when fighting unpredictable, out of control zombies? It's basically the comic book equivalent of those ‘PC vs. Mac’ commercials.”

While reading, I wondered what had inspired Ryall to write this story. I understand that zombies are the new furor and it made sense that Ryall would choose Ashley Wood to illustrate a book involving robots after the brilliant job he did on Popbot. However, I decided to ask Chris what his inspiration was.

“My main inspiration was the chance to work with Ashley Wood again. Ash said ‘hey, write me a zombies vs. robots comic.’ And so I did. Ash could say ‘hey, write me’ and then fill in the next word with any word in existence and I'd jump at the chance. But tonally, I was trying to do something that really played up a sense of ridiculousness.

“A couple reviews compared the comics to 2000 AD comics, and that's a huge compliment. I first read those as a kid, and was inspired by the storytelling and different sensibilities than I'd experienced in American superhero comics. But really, I didn't have anything really in mind when I worked on this other than finding a story that made the premise a bit more than just a ‘versus’ book, and telling it in a way that played up Ashley's strengths.”

I will be the first to admit that Wood has as many fans as he does detractors. I happen to be one of the former. Wood’s art on Zombies vs. Robots truly captures the hopelessness of the whole situation. Landscapes are bleak; zombies are portrayed rather indiscriminately to denote the assimilated consciousness and motivation of the undead horde.

My favorite touch that Wood added was the zombie dialogue, which is simply a picture of a brain—or steak—or meat. I found myself chuckling more than once at the demented images. And the robots—the robots are wonderfully rendered each with its own distinct look and personality, giving the impression that the roles are reversed. Humans have become the machines while the robots have achieved humanity; definitely a brilliant artistic decision.

When asked if Ryall was pleased with the artistic rendering of the books, he replied “Oh, God, yes. If I somehow work in this business for decades, I don't know that it'd ever get much better than having Ash illustrate something I wrote. These two issues are just gorgeous.”

I agree wholeheartedly, though I do have one glaring problem with this book: I want more.

Click to enlarge

“There'll definitely be more ZvR. We did set up an even more ridiculous and mostly unexpected and unplanned sequel at the end of the second issue, but before we get to that, we'll be doing regular installments, mostly prequel stories, in Ash's new D'Airain Adventure book, the first one of which will be out on February 28 (check the image on the left for an exclusive first look! - ed.) . And the collection of the first two issues, due this summer, will also include some new stories and be offered in an oversize HC, kind of like a European graphic album sort of thing.”

I cannot overemphasize how much I enjoyed this post-apocalyptic treat. Wickedly comedic, Ryall’s vision of the future is nothing short of genius. Skillfully paced, masterfully scripted dialogue and wonderfully rendered art makes Zombies vs. Robots a must-have for fans of horror, sci-fi and just plain entertaining comic book smorgasbords.

It doesn’t get much better than this, folks. Buy it, manducate and assimilate it.

# # #

Readers interested in purchasing Zombies vs. Robots issues 1 and 2 can visit  IDW’s online store to do so.

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