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Between the Panels: A Zombie Affair
By Lance Victor Eaton (February 2007)

The Walking DeadI recently realized I have an affinity for zombies. Maybe it started when I saw 28 Days Later, read Steve Niles' Remains or picked up the first volume of The Walking Dead. This turned into a bit of an obsession one semester in grad school when I labored to understand the zombie in contemporary context. Over fifty movies and comic books later, I had crafted a rather crude but insightful paper on the zombie. Since then, I have gone on to review zombie books and audiobooks, and even interviewed Max Brook, author of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. So maybe it will make sense to readers that I have stumbled upon these four graphic novels.

James Callahan's Rotting in Dirtville is on the borderline as an all out zombie story. Giant robot zombies are attacking the more densely populated areas of the world. In the rural town of Dirtville, life trots along at a meandering pace, except for Milton, a teenager who recently lost his parents. In a reclusive, morose mood, he spends his days cutting and selling wood. When his neighbor, Betsy, takes an interest in him, he starts to come out of his shell. But alas, even Dirtville can't remain free from the invasion. Small spider-like robots have infiltrated the town and are turning citizens into brainless cyborg drones for the machines to control. Now Milton, Betsy and others must escape these creatures that permeate the once quiet town.

The brief story comes at readers quickly but Callahan still manages to offer his audience a well-rounded tale. His ending provides a decent enough conclusion, plus room for future adventures in this giant robot zombie infested world.

ZombeeOn the other hand, Zombee by Miles Gunter and Victor Santos falls directly into the zombie sub-genre with a story set in feudal Japan. When faithful samurai Fume is sent to another town, he doesn't imagine he might never return to his simple life of family and loyalty. En route, he picks up a sarcastic ninja and a silent monk. They fight their way together through zombie hordes, hoping to discover what made the zombies so they can figure out a cure or at least put an end to any new ones. Action abounds in these adventures since these are not the inactive mindless zombies of yesteryear, but the aggressive type found in many contemporary portrayals. These zombies fight back; sometimes even with weapons.

Yet Zombies!: Feast by Shane McCarthy and Chris Bolton falls within the archetype of the zombie narrative. When a bus transporting hardened criminals breaks down, the correctional officers get worried. With all lines of communication shut down, they fasten together a chain-gang and head for the closest town. Arriving at a desolate farm, their hopes rise until they meet the local inhabitants. Dinner is served in the form of living human remains. After suffering several losses, police and prisoners rally together to escape. As they become further entrenched, they find more and more zombies but also some non-infected humans. However, who can they trust, in the midst of criminals, including murderers and rapists? The survivors must ask themselves who is the greatest threat to their safety.

Unlike the previous graphic novels, this one comes in color. However, given the mood and themes, darkness is a common attribute to most of the panels. While the cover art is haunting, the range within the story runs from good to bad. The realistic depiction of the human body deserves respect, but often, facial features lack such depth and style.

The Best DefenseWhen talking zombie comics, the crème de la crème is The Walking Dead. After Rick's dreadful declaration at the end of volume four, now in The Best Defense the small collection of humans have settled into life in the prison as a means of protecting themselves against the zombie menace. They have organized their duties and responsibilities and begun to splinter into groups with different interests. As these factions develop, Rick and two others search a recently crashed helicopter. Instead of survivors, they find another colony of humans who have set up a defensive camp. Though originally welcomed with open arms, Rick soon discovers the rather dark and perverse nature of these survivors.

The Walking Dead digs its teeth deep into readers, making them slaves to the series. Great storytelling with interesting subplots and realistic characters push readers to continue with each new volume.

So there it is; the same plot device enacted in four different ways. Sure, overlap occurs but that is true of any genre. What's so interesting about this collection - and zombies in general - is what they represent in the cultural psyche. Zombies are mindless, infectious, ceaselessly hungry entities that humans have no way of interacting with, despite the zombie's once human form. Deconstructing the zombie could provide useful insights into our own cultural obsession with them.
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