Monday, April 11, 2011

Signal Watch Reads: iZombie Volume 1 - Dead to the World

I'm not so much worn out on actual zombie movies and comics as I am on the "let us beat this meme into the ground until its an embarrassment" that has come along with the past five or six years in the geek-o-sphere. At the end of the day, I really liked Dawn of the Dead when I finally watched it last fall (it was also about 8x better than Snyder's remake, which people raved about, much to my confusion), I really liked TV's Walking Dead, and I only recently learned that CSPAN is not actually a network dedicated to showing the droning, rambling undead, but until that point, I'd been quite a fan.

So I was a bit skeptical of hopping onboard DC/ Vertigo's new series iZombie, despite the art being handled by Mike Allred, one of my favorite comic artists. Marvel kick started the whole zombie phenomenon with the one-note joke that was Marvel Zombies (and which was a funny good idea for, maybe, a one-shot, not 5 years worth of comics), and virtually every other publisher picked up on the fad, culminating in DC's Blackest Night series, which wasn't really zombies, but that's splitting hairs.

Still, the comics internets really seemed to LIKE iZombie, which means almost nothing on a typical day. I didn't know if this was more "oh, Zombies! He he he!" geekdom just leftover from the zombie craze, if this was one of those cases of the tastemakers seemingly randomly picking a comic or character to champion as seems to be SOP in the comics internets (ex: lets all suddenly love Thor!), or if there was something genuinely to the raves.

As I mentioned above, I really like Mike Allred's work, but I've not always been a fan of the comics he actually works on. I burnt out on X-Force pretty quickly, and I never could stick with Madman (which was weird, because it seemed like it should have been exactly in my wheelhouse). But the comic was written by Austin-local, Superman-scribe and much-buzzed-about Chris Roberson, and I figured that was at least worth a shot.

I'm happy to report that the money spent was well worth it. Yes, Allred seems to just get better, and he seems like he's having the same fun here I felt he was having on those early issues of X-Force. He and his wife, colorist Laura Allred, are hitting on all cylinders here. The body horror of the comic is toned down through the Allreds' style to keep the focus on the story, and to push the story along (one can imagine what this book would have looked like under, say, Juan Jose Ryp - who does what he does well, but it would have been a much different comic).

Of course an Allred-drawn female protagonist looks like a very pretty girl with a migraine, or perhaps working on two days without sleep.  In this case its "Gwen", our protagonist/ not-shambling-mess zombie of the title.

yes, brains will be consumed
Gwen is dead, yes.  But she can avoid becoming a Night of the Living Dead-style zombie by consuming a human brain every 4 weeks or so.  Inbetween...  she's just kind of pale and can eat whatever she pleases.  No, we don't see monstered-out Gwen in this book (spoiler!).

Roberson isn't out to create a horror anthology with iZombie, and he isn't exactly playing to the same tone as, say, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but he is out to create a fun and and surpising book that manages to defy expectations in enough places that it does feel like Roberson is doing something new and different using very familiar tropes.  The first volume's true climax includes the imparting of essential knowledge to push the character (and, one imagines, the supporting cast) forward and out of what's become routine for the undead of the cast.

In many ways, I'm much more interested in the world Roberson puts on the page, and exploring how that world operates than I would be in building toward some big-boss fight.  If he can manage to make the concept of a zombie novel in the middle of 2011, then I've got high hopes.

Here be spoilers

I'd be lying if I didn't say I'm concerned about cliches appearing.  An ancient religious order dedicated to wiping out the paranormal has become so common, its now a standard down at SyFy Network original programming.  Let alone "the hunter and the hunted feel a mutual attraction" is a standard trope in any genre.

I'm not here to offer Roberson advice.  The man knows what he's doing, and for all I know, he's got some off-the-wall plans for what looks like a "been there, done that" storyline.

Endeth the spoilers

The Monster Squad
In a few issues, Roberson has created a memorable cast, and its going to be the "community" feel of the book that will see this title sink or swim.  From Gwen to her ghostly BFF to the hangdog "Scott" (an unfortunate were-Terrier), a clique of vampires and a mysterious, bandaged stranger...  its a good little group that Roberson and Allred have put together here.

There are plenty of seeds planted for at least two years' worth of stories, and I hope Roberson gets a chance to explore them all.

The book manages to pull off an interesting balancing act of bringing to life horror monsters in an almost "day in the life" approach, and makes them likeable without resorting to getting twee or overtly cutesy, defanging the concept utterly, or transporting the concept to another genre in order to make it "relatable" (see:  Monster High).  In short, it never gets turned into kiddy material just because its also not a horror book.

I'll definitely be picking up the next volume, and I'll put this on the "recommended list" if the next volume can maintain the spirit and style.


Simon MacDonald said...

I liked this book but didn't love it. I'm going to check out trade 2 before I make any commitment going forward.

The League said...

As much as I like Roberson's Superman, I'm also new to him. And I'm not too inclined to sell a whole concept before I can see how Volume 2 wound up. Sometimes the concept is keen, but it becomes clear they really didn't have an idea for a STORY after the characters were introduced (ie: most superheroes introduced after 1991).

I did think Roberson planted enough little seeds, and it would be very cool to see this take the path of better series where youc an say "well, you have to read the first collection, but it gets really good in Volume 2".

Simon MacDonald said...

I've gotta track down his Cinderella mini sometime as I've heard good things about it.