How Popular Culture Helps keep us Human in “Key of Z”

The zombie apocalypse is upon us… again. It seems there’s one around every corner these days. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some zombies. I do. But just like vampires, the latest trend in all things flesh-eating and corpse-like is on the verge of becoming a bit stale, pardon the pun. And not just in Hollywood. From Robert Kirkman’s excellent series The Walking Dead to Marvel Zombies to BOOM Studios’ own 28 Days Later (which was adapted from the film of the same name), these guys and ghouls are creeping up everywhere. They’ve even made their way to the Centers for Disease Control web site, which provides a course in zombie safety. You know, before it blew up. So, when it comes to zombies, how do you keep things… heh, heh… fresh?

Claudio Sanchez, creator of Key of Z, the newest zombie-infested comic book series from BOOM! Studios and Evil Ink Comics, says this story stands out because it asks the question: Can zombies be manipulated to one man’s advantage?

Issue #1, which came out Oct. 19, starts off the series with what was: flashbacks of a man, his wife and their son enjoying Christmas morning. The young son gives his father a harmonica with an inscription, “I Love You Daddy”, which will eventually play an important part in the story. Ah, Key of Z. Gotcha.

That man is Nick Ewing, a Texas transplant living in New York City, the backdrop for this particular zombie outbreak. Formerly a security guard for an up-and-coming politician, he is now a loner seeking revenge on those who murdered his son and wife. Here’s a hint. They weren’t zombies.

Amid all of the zombies roaming around, the city’s survivors have been divided into three rival gangs residing in the city’s most famous sporting venues – Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden and Citi Field. The leaders of the gangs, Charles Atwater, Yankee Lavoe and Jackson Met, all have different opinions about the future of the city. See if you can match the leader with his corresponding gang.

Though it borders on corny, Sanchez and co-writer Chondra Echert make a good point with the sports allusions. In the midst of a zombie apocalypse, or any emergency for that matter, or heck, even life in general, we take comfort in various forms of escapism, our pop culture. In the case of the surviving humans in Key of Z, sports and music provide that need.

Tony Moore of The Walking Dead fame provides a delightfully creepy incentive cover, reminiscent of the famous EC Comics story “Foul Play”, where baseball players are playing baseball with body parts. It’s worth the $3.99 alone. Inside, Aaron Kuder uses bright colors, brighter than expected for a zombie comicbook, but it works in reminding the reader that humans still very much exist in this story and the zombies are more of an aside. Kuder is not afraid to expose bones, rotting flesh and innards with his zombies but manages to keep from going the gratuitous route. Sometimes gratuity works but in this case, it helps to keep the attention focused on the human side of the story.

Sanchez, probably best known as the lead singer of the rock group Coheed and Cambria, makes the point that zombie stories are never really about the zombies themselves, but about the people who are trying to survive. Clearly, The Walking Dead is the best example of this. It’s hard not to make comparisons between these two stories, as Dead elevated the zombie tale, digging deep into what drives humans to become the metaphorical monsters they are capable of becoming when the circumstances are right, and the excesses they take to try so desperately to avoid it. It basically asks the questions: What makes us human? And how far will we go to save our humanity before becoming zombies ourselves? The series does a great job with character development. It will be interesting to see if Key of Z can take it to the same level.

RATING 6 / 10
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