Zombie Tales: The Dead is another title in the line of Zombie Tales books that independent publisher BOOM! Studios has put out. This time it’s an anthology, and the book faces a difficult challenge. How do you make six stories about the undead seem fresh and original when compared not only to the numerous other zombie books on the market but also to other stories in the issue. The creators succeed on this mark, but, as is the case with any anthology, the quality of the stories is hit or miss.
“The Miracle of Bethany” is the first story in the volume, and all you Bible scholars should have an idea what it’s about just by the title alone. It is a well constructed if a bit blasphemous tale that takes place at the Vatican. Yes, one of the characters from the Bible is ret-conned into a zombie. BOOM! Studios should be lucky that comics in general and independent comics in particular fly under the mainstream media’s radar because Lord knows what kind of chaos Pat Robertson could create about this story.
And perhaps writer Michael Alan Nelson knew this, because the story isn’t as blasphemous as it could be. After all, didn’t Jesus return from the dead as well? Nelson writes a good story and Lee Moder’s art tells the story well, but other than the controversy, the tale doesn’t say much of insight on the subject of religion or Christianity.
The second story is titled “Deadest Meat” by Keith Giffen and Ron Lim. The story is a hard-boiled zombie story. It features a first person narration from the point of view of the Zombie himself. This, as far as I can tell, is the first time this has been done in any media. But outside of this novelty, the story doesn’t really go anywhere or have anything remarkable to recommend it.
The next story, “Zoombies” by Johanna Stokes and Cynthia Martin, is the best one in the anthology. It takes place in a zoo and revolves around the plans the animals who are trapped there have for the zombies. Changing the lead characters from humans to animals was genius. Truth be told, if this story was told using men or women, it would seem a bit clichéd. But by using monkeys, lions and elephants, it stands as a witty commentary on the typical conventions of the zombie story.
While the meta-commentary is noteworthy, the writing holds up on its own. Stokes uses the eight pages better than many people use three times as many. She creates fully formed characters, has them change and grow during the story, and causes us to have an emotional investment in them before it ends. Sure, Stokes is helped by the storytelling skills of veteran artist Martin, but they both construct a tale worthy of the price of admission, even though it is only one-sixth of the book.
“A Game Called Zombie”, however… eh, not so much. Writer Jim Pascoe tries to create an “Or is it?” type of story. You know, “what you are seeing is real… or is it?” At least this is what he was attempting to do, but what he ended up doing was creating a muddled mess. There is not a logical flow to any of the possible realities that he presents so the ending doesn’t make any sense no matter which way you look at it. It doesn’t help that it appears that Pascoe sets the story in a flashback, a fantasy sequence and in the present day. At least, I think that’s what he was trying to represent, because the way the plot is presented is totally confusing. In these types of stories, you want to keep the audience guessing, not lose them completely.
Of course, the fault is not his alone. Pascoe’s efforts are hampered by the storytelling of Chris Moreno, who was working from layouts by Don Simpson, and the colors of Marshall Dillon, Terri Delgado, and Sunder Raj. Part of the reason why this segment is so poorly executed lies in their hands as well, as their art did little to help the reader get a grasp on the tale.
“Four Out of Five” is another strong entry. Written by John Rogers and with art by Ed Tadem, this episode tells the story of a doctor who has joined the military over guilt of how his science has contributed to the zombie problem. Sounds pretty straight forward, right? Well, there is a twist, one which could be guessed from the title, which, in my opinion, is laugh-out loud funny. Rogers plays up this “bait and switch” well, and it makes perfect sense. Tadem should also be commended for his artwork and the way he varies his style during the flashback sequence of the story. Where was he for the story before?
The final entry is “I, Zombie: Remains of the Day”, which should win for wittiest reuse of a Merchant Ivory film title. The story, written by Andrew Cosby and drawn by Fabio Moon, is billed as Part Three. Why they would want to publish the third part of a three part story in an anthology filled with stand alone stories is beyond me.
The story plays out like your typical zombie tale until the end, when it takes a strange and unexplained twist. I imagine the ending would have made more sense if I read parts one and two, but as a stand alone story, it just doesn’t work.
So there you go. Six stories that are almost completely different from each other. Some good, some bad, but each illustrates the potential for diversity within the genre. And that is a good thing because based on its popularity, it’s not like the zombie story is going to go away.