Comic Archive Zombies! Eclipse of the Undead

I think I may have been spoiled by “The Walking Dead.”

I feel like a lot of the zombie-centric graphic novels I read these days just don’t feel like good story-telling to me, and I wonder if that is due at least partly toe the fact that I have now read literally hundreds of issues of Robert Kirkman’s amazing comic series that just seems to put all others (or at least, the others about the undead) to shame.

Upon further review, I find this to be the case only in my head: I have read and reviewed dozens of graphic novels; some of them have been very enjoyable, some have been “just okay,” and some have been disappointments.  So maybe it’s just my recent memory that I’m drawing from here.

But I digress: I truly try to give every item I review a “blank slate” to start with, so they are not up against any unfair biases or comparisons. That’s why I was so excited to read the 2006 mini-series “Zombies!: Eclipse of the Undead.” Aside from the grammatical error in the title (following an exclamation point with a colon, really?), IDW has a pretty good track record of producing above-average original content, and I was admittedly curious to find out how an eclipse might play into a story about zombies.

I hate to be the bearer of bad news to you, faithful reader, but the answer to that question is absolutely nothing. I don’t think it’s giving anything away about the book to tell you that the eclipse in question is totally unrelated to the undead menace, and really to the overall storyline in general. The story presented in this graphic novel is set three days after the dead have risen, with some of the living taking refuge in a “camp” inside the LA Coliseum. It’s a very self-referential universe, with some of the characters talking about how they were used to seeing zombies “in the movies and in the funnies” (do people under 80 even use the word “funnies” anymore?) and how the zombies they are dealing with “aren’t like the ones in the movies,” even though they actually do look and act exactly like cinematic zombies.

The eclipse just kind of…happens. No magical menace is unleashed, no great religious implications are made. All the characters are surprised by it, which is somewhat of a shock, as it happens only three days after the dead rise, you would think that a total eclipse happening directly over L.A. in the middle of the day might have been on the news once or twice in the days and weeks leading up to the actual eclipse.

Really, the “eclipse” thing is just an example of how a writing team’s inability to pay attention to detail can really doom the enjoy-ability of a project, as is the case with this graphic novel. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with “Z!: EotU,” but there’s not a whole lot to help set it apart from your average run-of-the-mill zombie tale either.

The story is entertaining enough, but mostly seems aimed at the reader who doesn’t want to (or like to) think too much about the story they are reading. The characters are all stereotypes (token nice guy, evil sheriff, convict with a heart of gold, mixed-up gangsta, headstrong woman, you know the ones) except the one that’s clearly out place – Shigeru, the sensei martial arts master that “just happened” to be visiting in L.A. from Japan during the outbreak. The details and plot elements of the story are also very “vanilla” in terms of zombie stories that we’ve seen over and over before this one.

The setting of the story, inside the expansive L.A. Coliseum, was fairly original, but that’s about all this story had going for it, really. The zombies were typical and were fairly easily dispatched by most characters – until a character had to die for dramatic effect, then the undead could sneak up as easily as a ninja. The inclusion of the Japanese master Shigeru feels unique, until you stop and think about how it’s really just pandering to martial arts lovers and a convenient way for the group of survivors to dispatch of the undead quickly and easily, and then it kind of just feels like an insult to the reader’s intelligence.

With the story taking place in central Los Angeles, I was glad to see so many characters speaking Spanglish (Spanish mixed with English in the same sentence), but no translation was provided for the Spanish words, so some of the dialogue was lost to me, and probably was lost to the average reader who doesn’t speak more than one language. I hate to bring up the Zen master character again, but he just felt so out of place in this story (especially when the group just happens to stumble on a Zen garden for him to chill out in), I really feel that his character detracted heftily from the realistic nature of this tale.

For a large-scale publisher like IDW, there were a lot of grammatical errors in this book, and ones that couldn’t be attributed to the Spanglish-speaking characters possibly making speaking mistakes on purpose. The artwork was serviceable, with some really cool drawings from artist Yair Herrera of zombies in various states of decay, but it seems like Herrera really phoned it in on the details: many “large group” shots just utilized generic pictures of people standing around, and most times when zombies got shot or were biting people, the blood was drawn as simply a few straight red lines instead of the exploding carnage the average reader has come to expect from a zombie attack.

“Zombies!: Eclipse of the Undead” is not a terrible entry into the genre, but the lack of attention to detail and having anything unique in the storyline that might set this book apart from others really dooms the book to be just another easily-forgettable zombie comic.