Most zombie stories don’t vary much from one generic plot, us versus them. Most tales in this genre feature humans fighting for their survival against the slowly moving hordes of the undead.
Variety in the stories comes from the characters, setting or style. A one-note concept is fleshed out by mixing a diverse group of people together, setting the zombie attack in a variety of locations, or playing the topic for laughs.
Zombie Tales: Death Valley uses all three methods to good effect. The story in issue two follows five high school students as they try to get out of a zombie-infested Los Angeles alive. The kids are your typical teen-age archetypes. You have your nerd, your military brat, your jock, your cheerleader, and your artistic type.
These are five people you’d imagine wouldn’t have much cause to associate in everyday life being brought together under extreme circumstances. Their differences are played up in a subtle way, but they are still there and this adds to the drama.
The issue throws us right into the action, without even a title or credits to work with. It seems as though this story was originally intended to be published in one volume but was later cut into two. Still, within the span of two pages we are brought up to speed with the story and introduced to all the characters. This is something you don’t often see in DC or Marvel books.
The writing is very good. You develop an emotional attachment to each of the characters, which is important in any horror story. You want all of them to survive to the end even though it’s not likely they will. When they come across family members and find them either dead or zombified, you feel for them.
Crosby and Stokes use humor quite liberally in the book. While the comedy is hit (I laughed out loud when the nerd dances over the disabled body of his zombified jock tormentor) or miss (the girl calling her zombified dog a bitch was a bit obvious and out of place with the other scenes around it), it does make the horror stand out more. Using laughs to soften up the audience for scares works well and I wish that it was employed more often.
The writers also use the Los Angeles setting to good effect. The action takes us from a thinly disguised Playboy mansion to the Hollywood sign as the characters try to find safety. Sure, these are landmarks that could be found in any tourist brochure, but it ads to the story. Using real world settings makes the story more identifiable to readers.
The artwork by Marcellud is cartoon-like yet effective. There is a slight Manga influence to his work, but his art is clear and concise. The current trend in horror is to make the artwork dark and murky. But here, each character is clearly defined and easily recognizable. The artist is helped immensely by the colorist. The colors are vibrant and stand out on the page. Priyanto takes special care to make the coloring on zombies a darker shade than the main characters, making it easy to tell them apart.
In the house ads to this issue, BOOM! Studios announces that it will be publishing several anthology titles set in the Zombie Tales universe. If they hold the same quality as this issue, then the company might have a successful franchise on their hands.