John C. Kirk (johnckirk) wrote,
John C. Kirk

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Grrr, aargh!

Today's post is brought to you by the word "zombies". (It also contains minor spoilers for a few comics and films.)

Generally, I've never really been a fan of zombie films. I've heard good things about the "Evil Dead" trilogy (specifically the chainsaw), and I've enjoyed seeing Bruce Campbell in other films. However, I tried watching The Evil Dead a while back, and I just got bored; from what I remember, it started out as a rushed blur of events and then went downhill after that.

However, I then saw Shaun of the Dead a few years ago and really enjoyed that. The basic idea there seemed to be that zombies weren't particularly dangerous. I'd say that they were equivalent to lawnmowers: you wouldn't leave a small child unattended to play near one, and you shouldn't stick your hands into the moving parts with sharp edges, but as long as you're careful around them then you'll be fine. About half-way through, I was starting to think that I'd misjudged the genre, and maybe I'd enjoy watching more films like that; however, the death toll suddenly took a sharp increase, so I then thought "maybe not".

More recently, there was a very good storyline in Ultimate Fantastic Four: Reed Richards travelled to an alternate reality where all the superheroes had turned into zombies. Giving a bit of background, the "Ultimate" comics are all set in a separate continuity from the mainstream Marvel universe (aka "Earth-616"). The basic idea was that people might be interested in the characters (e.g. Spider-Man) from the films, but wouldn't want to slog through 40 years of back issues to catch up with the story so far, so these comics would all start from scratch. As a side effect, this means that several characters are younger than the "normal" versions, and a few have changed ethnicity.

Anyway, this particular story featured some rather nice redirection, since the story was called "Crossover", the cover featured both the young ("Ultimate") Reed and the familiar older Reed from Earth-616, and the Marvel website said "Reed Richards has used his scientific genius to contact an Earth in a surprisingly familiar parallel dimension – and he’s ready to visit!" When young Reed arrived, it turned out that the older Reed was a zombie who'd faked his image in the video transmission to lure him in, and said "Ever get the feeling you've been had?" A few people complained about this on the internet, but Marvel basically said "Well, technically we never promised that it would be a crossover with the real FF, so if you happened to come to that conclusion on your own then it's hardly our fault..." Normally I'd say that was a bit mean, but in this case I think it was quite funny.

This story led to spin-offs, e.g. "Marvel Zombies" and "Marvel Zombies vs The Army of Darkness". I haven't read them yet, since I've been waiting for the paperbacks, but I know that they've been very popular: the individual issues were reprinted several times, and the hardback version of the first mini-series has been reprinted 5 times in 2 years!

There are a couple of interesting things to note about the title "Marvel Zombies". Firstly, it's a pun: in the past this has been a phrase used to describe people who only buy Marvel comics (e.g. Spider-Man rather than Superman or Batman). Secondly, there was a time when Marvel couldn't have used the word "zombies". Back in the 1950s, some people were concerned about comics being a bad influence on children, so the CCA (Comics Code Authority) was set up to enforce moral standards. It gradually lost its teeth, and nowadays most companies don't bother sticking to it at all. Still, one of the rules was that you couldn't have zombies in comics, so Marvel came up with an alternative: the zuvembie! What's a zuvembie, you ask? Well, it's a re-animated corpse, typically controlled by some form of voodoo magic. But it's not a zombie, and that's what counted. It's slightly jarring to come across these when I read old comics from the 1970s, because it's a sudden reminder that "Oh yes, this was written when they weren't allowed to use the other Z-word."

The writer of "Marvel Zombies" (Robert Kirkman) has also been writing a creator-owned comic for Image on a similar theme: "The Walking Dead". My local comic shop (Gosh!) recommended this in their email newsletter a few weeks ago, so I've read the first two paperbacks, and I've been very impressed. It's printed in black and white (presumably to save money), but the artwork is good enough to support that, i.e. the characters all look visually distinct. It's a lot more cerebral than I'd expected, and I'd say the zombies are basically there to set up a post-apocalyptic scenario. They are present as a background threat, but it also tends to be a surprise when they appear.

Really, it's an opportunity for the survivors to address other questions. For instance, is this just a temporary situation which will soon be resolved, or is the world changed forever? Are there other groups of survivors out there, or are they the only people left alive? Should they stay put and wait for some external group (e.g. the government) to turn up and rescue them, or should they keep moving around? I think the most interesting aspect is the suspicion about encountering any other survivors. At face value, they're all on the same side, allied against the zombies. However, they may also be competing against each other for increasingly scarce resources, e.g. a safe place to live and a supply of canned food. Actually, I think the best comparison would be "The Day of the Triffids" (the John Wyndham novel), but the comic has the advantage that it's open ended so it can continue to explore these issues in more detail.

Speaking of prose, the short story "Eat Me" (by Robert R. McCammon) is also quite good, set in a world of sentient undead.

I haven't watched any more zombie films recently, but I think that Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane looks quite fun, so I'll keep an eye out for that on DVD.
Tags: books, comics, films, zombies

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