Welcome to the Comic Archive! There have been so many amazing stories, characters, and series produced from comic book publishers for almost 100 years now; this column will serve to celebrate some of the tales you may or may not know about. Each week, we’ll take a story arc or trade paperback/collected story from a non-new comic (three years old or further back), and discuss the details with you.
In the early 2010s, the horror market was being flooded with zombie-related content, as the undead were the new “it creature” of the new millennium, it seemed. Those of you who follow my columns and writings know that I hold a particular fondness for zombies in my heart – always have and always will!
During the pop-culture zombie onslaught, one type of story about the walking dead that became particularly popular was that of the “mash-up” that combines the undead with a variety of other characters and situations from already-existing cultural forums. Some folks are in the “no press is bad press” camp that believes that any new entry into the zombie market is good because it helps to further spread the word about our favorite reanimated monsters. Other folks are staunchly opposed and even borderline-indignant to the fact that so many new zombie stories were being created so quickly, and they lament the fact that the market is now “watered down” as they pine for the glory days when zombies were a niche characterization and not a tool to be inserted wherever convenient.
Personally, I fall into a third, group, situated in the middle of the two extreme factions mentioned above. While I do get REALLY pissed off when zombies are clearly used by someone as simply an “add-on” or a way to augment their product just enough to get zombie fans to buy it, I do applaud the increase in actual, well-constructed, zombie-centric stories, no matter how many folks want to try their hand at it these days. The ability for creators to use construct their ideas for taking zombies and having them interact with new characters or putting the undead in unique situations is a distinct positive when done correctly, and on the whole there seem to be more “hits” than “misses” – or, at minimum, more items with at least some redeeming qualities than utterly-terrible schlock.
Imagine my delight, then, when years ago I stumbled across the comic-book mini-series “Victorian Undead,” which gives readers a new tale of Sherlock Holmes as he tries to solve a mystery involving an epidemic of the walking dead in Victorian-era London. This is a combination that, to my knowledge, had not at the time been thoroughly explored by any other writers or film-makers, and I was excited to see that the series was produced by DC Comics’ “Wildstorm” imprint. I’m happy to report that DC not only lived up to their long-standing reputation of creating quality comic stories, they surpassed my expectations with this series.
“Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Zombies,” which was so popular upon its initial release that it quickly spawned a sequel, “Victorian Undead: Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula,” is set in the late 1800s and revolves around the tale of how Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, uses a strange virus brought to Earth by a passing meteor to resurrect the dead in an attempt to take over the world. Obviously, that is the one-sentence, quick-and-dirty version of the plot, but trust me when I tell you the story is incredibly more nuanced than the above description. Spread out over a six-issue mini-series that has been re-released as a collected graphic novel, writer Ian Edington has crafted an intricate story that is sure to please Holmes fans and zombie lovers alike.
The story seeks to strike a fine balance between the inclusion of zombie madness while still maintaining the feel of a “classic” Sherlock Holmes mystery, and as a result, the reader gets a lot of exposition, almost the entire first issue’s worth. Once the story does settle in and find its action-oriented groove, however, the ride is quite a treat and definitely worth the bit of wait. I especially appreciated the fact that Edington made excellent use of the “Olde English” vernacular and style of speaking without making it seem like the characters were just saying goofy things to make them sound like they fit the time; this is most likely due to the fact that this isn’t Edington’s first go with a Sherlock Holmes story for DC, having penned the comic adaptation of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” as well. All in all, this story is pretty solid and very entertaining.
To my knowledge, this is the first tale to amalgamate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective and the shambling undead into the same story; bonus points to DC and Edington for mining a previously separate but very intriguing mash-up, even if the story itself doesn’t bring anything terribly new or unique to the zombie genre in terms of plot or utilization of the monsters. As I touched on briefly above, the story, on the whole, does a very good job of utilizing both the presence of the undead and the “problem-solving” nature of the standard Sherlock Holmes tale without minimizing or overdoing either.
My biggest compliment to the story is that this tale really feels like it fits right into Sherlock Holmes’ legacy, instead of being an extraneous story just written for exposure to zombie fans. The addition of characters from the Doyle’s original Holmes series, like Sherlock’s brother Mycroft and Moriarty’s chief crony, Colonel Moran, serve to further the connection of this story to the true Holmes canon. Also, well-utilized here are Holmes’ right-hand-man, Dr. John Watson, and his housekeeper, .Mrs Hudson. I have a few minor quibbles with some of the action and settings pushing the boundaries of what would be considered realistic in the setting we are given, but they are not nearly prominent enough to seriously detract from the enjoyment of the story.
“Victorian Undead” is well-serviced on the artistic front by great drawings from Davide Fabbri, who seems to eschew the computer-generated color schemes and continue to color the scenes by hand, an increasing rarity in many comics these days. Owners of the collected graphic novel are also treated to a special cover to the book, drawn by “The Walking Dead’s” very own Tony Moore. The only complain I might have in this department is that Fabbri’s artwork almost comes across as too clean, leaving gorehounds such as myself lacking some of the more intricate details of much of the viscera and wounds we get to see. A minor complaint, to be sure, and one that an active imagination with the ability to fill in details will surely auto-correct for you!
“Victorian Undead” should be considered an excellent entry into the zombie comic genre, and it should easily offer many great moments and high re-reading value to fans who enjoy a solid story filled with vibrant characters packaged along with their undead menace.
Got a comic, character, or story arc that you’d like to see covered by the Comic Archive? Feel free to list it in the Comments below or send your recommendation directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org – see you in the funny papers!