Ah, hidden gems: those rare breed of items that you had no clue existed, yet when you find them you wonder how you’ve gone so long without knowing about their existence.

In my line of work, the hidden gems are many times mentally cancelled out by some of the, shall we say, less-fortunate pieces of media that I have to schlep through, so it almost counts as a double surprise when I do find a highly original or overly entertaining piece of work to enjoy.  I’m always on the lookout for cool-looking or unique-sounding pieces of pop culture in my two favorite realms: sci-fi and zombies.  When the two come together, I’m thrilled!

I haven’t had much luck picking up zombie-related graphic novels at random from my local big-chain bookstore. Yet, darn it if the cover for ‘Zombo’ with its simple image of a half-smiling zombie asking “Can I eat you, please?” didn’t make me smile and snatch it right off the shelf. A quick flip through told me enough to make me take it home: the artwork looked great, and the comic was taken from the pages of one of Britain’s greatest fantasy and horror magazines, 2000AD, the original home of Judge Dredd. Sold!

Once I got it home and cracked it open, the book was definitely a pleasant surprise. The combination of witty writing, good-looking art, and a very unique zombie story had me hooked from the get-go. The ‘Zombo’ graphic novel collects the two main story arcs published in 2000AD between 2009 and 2010, as well as a one-shot story from the 2009 Christmas special issue and even a brand-new one-pager not available anywhere else.  Does something that’s 8 years old count as a “throwback?”  For today and this column, anyhow, it does indeed.

The two primary storylines featured in this graphic novel are loosely connected to one another. In the first tale, an interstellar governmental passenger ship crash-lands on what is revealed to be a “Death Planet,” a grade of world that is almost sentient and wants nothing more than to do harm to outsiders, and the planet immediately begins killing off surviving passengers in very horrendously-creative ways. Traveling in a sealed stasis pod on the ship is Zombo, a being created from the combination of human and astro-zombie DNA. Incredibly tall and muscular but also surprisingly polite and well-behaved, Zombo has instructions to protect the passengers from the deadly world, which he does…to varying degrees.

In the second story, a group called the Suicide Boys travels to the Death Planet to find Zombo, in order to use him to achieve high ratings for themselves on DeathTube, a snuff-film-sharing social-network site. Zombo decides to leave the planet using their transport ship, but they soon run into an orbital shopping center in the middle of a heist gone wrong that results in – surprise! – a full-on zombie outbreak!  Both stories feature a healthy dose of off-kilter, dark humor that has become synonymous with 2000AD productions. In addition to this, there is also a very interesting story and a lot of good zombie carnage as well. All in all, it’s a highly entertaining experience.

‘Zombo’ takes the extra-terrestrial zombie story to a whole different level. The title character himself is also a singular element: he seems blissfully unaware of the amount of death and destruction his actions bring, or perhaps he just doesn’t care. He’s polite to a point, often veering dangerously close to being condescending to folks, and he has an almost child-like virtuousness that makes him incredibly sensitive. Take, for instance, his rambling response to being caught on camera “accidentally” attacking one of the Suicide Boys:

“I’m sorry, Mr. Hairdye, were you just taking pictures of me eating your friend’s face off? I’m not sure I’m too happy with that. I feel a bit violated. I mean, that was a bit of a personal moment for me and Mr. Tastyface and I don’t think it’s being treated with respect. Just because I eat people’s faces doesn’t mean I don’t have feelings.”

Taking into account all the fantastical elements of these tales – the interstellar travel and the post-techno society and the nigh-sentient evil planets – it all kinda works together. I mean, if an environment like this really did exist, these characters and their actions and reactions seem like they would be right in line with the way you would think people would behave. And really, isn’t that what good speculative fiction is all about?  As mentioned previously, the artwork in this series is really top-notch, and the credit for that goes directly to ‘Zombo’s’ artist and graphic designer, Henry Flint. Al Ewing provides the writing for the series, which I’ve previously noted as being very enjoyable as well. While things in the graphic novel do get a little choppy in terms of following the story from one section to the next, you can chalk this up more as the piecing together of the serialized story instead of any glaring deficiency in the individual episodes.

‘Zombo’ is a welcome breath of fresh air in an increasingly-crowded zombie market, and is a fun sci-fi story on its own merits. I could see this storyline being adapted for a television cartoon series on one of those snarky late-night comedy blocks, like the ‘Adult Swim’ lineup, or something to be featured on YouTube Red. Even if ‘Zombo’ only stays as a 2000AD serial, it’s well worth the effort to track down.