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It Should Have Been a Joke: "Zombies vs. Robots #1"

The robots are fierce and out of control. The zombies are hungry, rapacious, rattleboned and desperate.

Zombies vs. Robots #1

Publisher: IDW
Length: 25 pages
Writer: Chris Ryall and Steve Niles, Ashley Wood, Anthony Diecidue, Val Mayerik
Publication Date: 2015-03

The concept behind writer Chris Ryall's and artist Ashley Wood's comicbook about zombies versus robots seems, on the surface, to be pretty funny: a zombie horde versus killer robots, battling it out on a barren post-apocalyptic, post-human Earth. It is all about blood and gore and guns and bombs and rotting flesh and hardened steel. Without humans afoot, there is no need for character development, no need to worry about empathy and pathos. Just zombies fighting robots, robots fighting zombies, a videogame in the form of a comicbook, horror without all of that EC Comics/Twilight Zone moralizing. It is, on the surface, a perfectly crass idea, an appeal to the baser desires of comicbook readers.

It should have been a joke.

Instead, Zombies vs. Robots turned out to be compelling, in both conception and execution. Oh, they gave us plenty to laugh at. And they gave us all the rotting flesh versus hardened steel action that we could ever want. But they also gave us something more.

I say that because, more than any other comicbook that I can recall reading, Zombies vs. Robots and its sequels and prequels give me a sense of the uncanny. Not the uncanny as in the The Uncanny X-Men (I've never understood what that word even means in that context) but the uncanny in the sense of the unsettling, the bizarre, the eldritch.

There is something about Ashley Wood's art, his interior drawings and, especially, his cover paintings, that convey the sense of otherness that, I should think, would hang over this Earth after we humans are gone, a world post-consciousness when there will be no one left to admire the beauty or shiver at the terror that this planet holds. I can imagine a mindless zombie scratching out the panels of these comicbooks, or a robot, built not for art but for war, painting these covers. (This is NOT an insult. This is a compliment. This is high praise!)

And Chris Ryall is Wood's perfect counterpart. He is not afraid to let everything go to hell; not afraid to start at the end of the story and then dare to move forward past the ending -- looking back only to show that humanity deserves its horrible end; not afraid to throw out the baby with the bathwater and blow the whole thing up -- ending the ending and starting over from there.

And the Amazons, my God, the Amazons.

And now Hollywood has come a-calling and there is a movie in the works. And, who knows, it might turn out to be nothing but a joke. I don’t know.

And now, the take no prisoners Zombies vs. Robots is becoming a regular on-going series. Not an anthology, mind you, but a continuing story. And there are humans afoot, behind the scenes. And there are hints that the robots and the zombies may have a bit more consciousness than I had imagined. And it seems that the world may not be a world post-consciousness after all. And, I suppose all that is necessary, if you want to tell a continuing story. It always helps if your characters are human, even if they are in the form of talking mice or the walking dead or mechanical contrivances.

Zombies vs. Robots #1 is pretty good. Anthony Diecidue has taken over the artwork for the main storyline, and while his work is not yet as uncanny as Ashely Wood's, it more than does the job, especially when Ryall's script finally moves from exposition (necessary, I suppose, to catch up all the new readers, to bring them all around to the end which is the beginning) to action. His humans look broken and battered, even before everything came crashing down. His robots look fierce and out of control. His zombies look hungry, rapacious, rattleboned and desperate.

Wood does return, briefly, to illustrate Ryall's second tale in this book (and to provide the bone-crackingly good cover art). Writer Steve Niles and artist Val Mayerik take over the duties for the final tale. Both the later stories throw a child into the mix, not the squawling, inconsolable, unlovable infant from the first series, but older kids, more likeable kids. I worry that these children might be too compelling and sympathetic, something that I have never really looked for in this series and something that, I suppose, is a backhanded compliment of sorts. Further, Niles' and Mayerik's story is more traditional, in look and in plot, than what I am used to seeing in Ryall's and Wood's post-story world. But Ryall says that they have something different in mind for this tale. So, we shall see. We shall see.

I'm intrigued by where this may be going. Will the Amazons be back? I sure hope so. And Ryall promises Mermen. Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons vs. Mermen? This could turn into one big joke. But, somehow, I don't think so. My only worry is about the humans. Humans do have a way of spoiling things.


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