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.
I stumbled across “Living with the Dead” as a small little graphic novel at the bookstore, as I tend to do with more “independent” comics; the price was right, so I thought I would check it out. The graphic novel collected the entire three-issue mini-series produced by Dark Horse, and after now having read it twice, I can confidently share my thoughts with you, my dear readers.
“Living with the Dead” sucks. It is a plain, boring, unimaginative, unoriginal series that is, quite frankly, an insult to anyone of us out here that have ever had a unique idea about zombies and thought “this would make a cool book/movie/game/etc.”
Here is the tired plot, in a nutshell: two dudes, Straw and Whip, find themselves somehow immune to the airborne plague that has turned everyone else in New York City (and, ostensibly, the planet, as indicated by the comic’s tagline “Two boys… one girl… seven billion living dead!”) into flesh-eating zombies. Instead of coming up with a plan or worrying about their long-term survival, the two guys wander the town pretty aimlessly, until they meet up with a living female, Betty, who threatens to tear their friendship apart. Anything in that synopsis that you haven’t seen done 100 times over? Didn’t think so. And you won’t see anything new or original in the comics, either… up to and including the brain-dead (pun intended) “climactic” final pages.
This is a pretty boring comic series. The art is fairly unremarkable, the visual gore is nothing to get excited about, and the writing is mundane. The only reason I’d give it even one point on a ten-point scale instead of an outright zero is as follows: I wanted to make sure I was giving this mini-series a fighting chance with my opinion, so I re-read the three issues about two weeks after I first read them, to see if my opinions on the subject matter had changed at all. They didn’t. But knowing the characters after the first read-through, I “voice-cast” them based on which celebrities I thought matched the look and feel of the characters. Using Bruce Campbell as Straw, Patrick Warburton as Whip, and Zooey Deschanel as Betty, I was able to entertain myself more the second read through. But not by much.
There is absolutely nothing in this series that hasn’t been done many times over by other zombie books, movies, games, and so forth. A few lonely survivors. Guys fighting over a girl. Zombie mayhem in a shopping mall. Main characters escaping out of seemingly inescapable jams. Killing zombies with a chainsaw. Sigh. Seemingly no one put any thought into this series (certainly not any original thoughts, anyhow), and if they did, they should consider themselves lucky to still have a job in the industry.
Examples of poor writing and under-thinking the plot holes are fruitful. Here are my two favorites: on the opening page, the zombies turn in menace towards the characters at the slightest sound or motion they make, but later the two guys have daily rock concerts on their roof, and the undead don’t seem to really notice or care. And then there’s the all-time best of the worst, the most glaringly stupid mistake of the entire series: the living characters can interact directly with the undead, and as long as they wear masks with a picture of a skull on them and say “Brains,” then the zombies miraculously leave them alone! Even if an entire horde of the undead is chasing a living character, if the character turns a corner quickly, puts his mask on, and says “Brains,” a “7 million undead” are somehow fooled – EVEN THE ONES WITHOUT EYES OR EARS!
Granted, we saw a little of this type of tactic work, to quite a humorous effect, in the movie “Shaun of the Dead,” but that was a one-time throwaway gag, not a primary tenet of the characters’ lives. If you’re going to make the focal point of your story such a ridiculous supposition as to say that zombies can be fooled by minimal effort in tricking one or two senses, at least make sure that the undead you show being tricked actually have the faculties to be fooled.
In terms of editing and the visual presentation of the series I’ll give two minor points here: one point for the artist, Ben Stenbeck, who can’t control the disaster of a plot, giving us some okay-looking drawings of zombies and gore, and one point for the Dark Horse Comics editor who thankfully kept this to a three-issue series; anything more would have bordered on cruel and unusual punishment of the reader.
“Living with the Dead” is so bland and boring that I can’t even, in good conscience, devote any more time to giving you narrative to tell you how truly awful it is, because that would probably lead to more time spent on this feature piece telling you how bad it is that the amount of time any of the creative team spent creating this snooze-fest. Save yourself the pain of being disappointed by a zombie story and steer clear of this mess, as well as any subsequent sequels the world may be unfortunate enough to have to suffer through.
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!