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True Love With Teeth: iZombie offers readers a carefully crafted, popart-tinged, super-camp cohort of monsters. Would that the stories themselves proved more than just a steady distraction.
cover art

iZombie

(DC/Vertigo; US: May 2011)

Where’s a girl to work when she’s a recovering Zombie? The graveyard, of course.  And her friends? A ‘60s ghost and a were-terrier in puppy love.  Go figure. Pop, campy and a little hipster chic, Vertigo’s series iZombie has all the elements of a light-horror series. It’s fun to read and stunning to look at, but for all that the title has there seems to be something missing.


Writer Chris Roberson has definitely created a distinct world that is helped into creation by the unique aesthetic of series artist Michael Allred.  The first few issues made it seem that the series would take a mystery of the month approach, but by the second story arc, Roberson showed a clearer perspective on making this series a stylish, multi-layered comic serial.  It has been slow moving, and some of the plot points have not been fully realized, but overall the abstract humor and pop sensibility has sustained iZombie’s in its early issues.


What’s obvious of Vertigo’s pop-horror series is that the book’s tone carries the book itself.  It’s not the plot, though it’s compelling; it’s not the art, though it’s outstanding; and it’s not the dialogue, which has a tremendous amount of promise.  No, it’s the pop-art and campiness of the book that makes it a fun read each month.


The passive narrative evident from early issues has faded as more of the substance of the series has come to light.  We understand more of the direction and mythos, and that adds the elements that have been missing.


We’ve discovered the basis for most of the monsters and ghosts.  It’s clever, soaked in a deeply existential, while also transcendental, explanation of the spiritual world.  It’s a complicated mythos, perhaps overly complicated, so much so that it works to cement that the tone of the book is its main selling feature.  The plot just isn’t strong enough to carry itself.


Roberson has worked hard to establish some distinct characters. Gwen Dylan is a dead gravedigger and trying making the most of it. Once a month, she has to eat a human brain – both to keep from going full blown mindless zombie and to hold onto what memories of her former life she has left. Because of this, Gwen’s mind is crowded with the thoughts of the brains she eats. The thoughts are so strong that’s she’s compelled to fulfill the dead’s final request. She’s joined on her mystery adventures by a ‘60s ghost based on an old doll and Spot, a wimpy guy who turns into a terrier once a month. In the background we have a dashing vampire hunter and his grizzled partner; a pack of paintball company owning female vampires; and a handsome mummy guru with a dark survival instinct.


These are not your typical monsters. They’re pop-culture tinged representations of all that we’ve seen in horror movies, books and comics. They’re ironic, hipster icons existing on the fringes of urban bohemia…which so happens to be the Pacific Northwest.


The set-up, as stated, is strong. However, all the shiny parts in the world won’t drive an engine if the engine is never assembled. iZombie has more wasted potential than most comics. That’s a compliment to the ability of the creative team to create a fairly cohesive series and yet leave so much possibility on the table.


The consistent and unifying piece has been the artwork.  The panels of iZombie are gorgeous from issue to issue. Allred’s pop-sensibility – which he perfected with “Madman” – has driven the book while the narrative warmed up its engine to its maximum potential.  The concept of iZombie is perfectly matched to Allred’s ability and style.  It has the odd combination of an old horror movie with a modern understanding of the world.  To create that from panel to panel is no easy task and Allred handles it with his legendary touch. It’s the main component to the overall tone, doing most of the heavy lifting for the title.


iZombie is in no way an exciting title.  It’s a steady distraction, existing in a place that’s fun and mildly scary.  The set-up is inventive; so much so that’s it’s difficult to explain outside of the comic.  A lot of thought has gone into it and the tone…you just wish more thought had gone into the plot’s execution from issue to issue. All of the elements are there. They just need to be let loose…but it’s complicated.

Rating:

PopMatters Associate Comics Editor Michael D. Stewart has been a freelance writer, pr consultant, loan officer and private detective. He holds degrees in communications and media studies. Michael currently spends his days as a marketing executive and his nights prowling the mean keys of his laptop. Follow him on Twitter: @MichaelDStewart


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