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Hot Ink — Blackest Night #4, X Necrosha One-Shot, Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency #1

ComicsAlliance’s Chris Murphy reviews the biggest — and best — comic books hitting the shelves this week.

Of all God’s monsters, noblest by far is the zombie. Not the vampire, whose snooty upper-class bearing, angsty brooding and shameless trend-chasing renders it insufferable. Not the werewolf, whose affinity for excessive facial hair and the outdoors surely makes it the unwelcome hipster of our darkest nightmares. Not Frankenstein’s Monster, who consistently underachieves in everything set before him despite being a product of academia and the best assorted limbs a mentally unstable assistant can scrounge on short notice. And certainly not the mummy, condemned for all eternity to be the disagreeable old man yelling at the world to get off its ancient hidden tomb’s lawn.

No, it is the zombie that most deserves our respect. Shambling side by side with its fellow zombies, who accept all into their fold without judgment. Never refusing to push onward no matter how many appendages required for mobility are lost. And only ever asking for a simple meal. Truly the zombie is the everyman of monsters.

Comics have been ahead of the curve in recognizing this fact, jamming zombies in wherever possible for years now. Film, television, prose and video games have only caught up recently. So normally a zombie book’s release isn’t an event of note. But with Halloween coming this weekend, now seemed an appropriate time to recognize some of those swarms of the living dead all too quickly ignored because they disappear into the massive crowd of all the other lurching corpses sloughing off layers of skin.

So here’s a full week of comics dealing with the living dead. Gather round and enjoy with the family members and loved ones whose conversion into horrible monsters combined with your inability to let go will ultimately lead to your gruesome end.


KILLING TIME — Blackest Night 4

DC’s crossover event hits the middle stretch of its run this week, releasing the fourth of eight issues in the main series. Now admittedly this one doesn’t so much follow the true zombie spirit of Halloween. These are sentient zombie-like creatures who possess all the memories of the original, but so far that’s been well employed to make the horror in the series work on a psychological level.

And to further weaken their connection to all that’s good and right about trick or treating they eat hearts, the part of the body generally associated with the foulest candy ever created by man. But they all look the zombie part, and a full-blown undead apocalypse is under way with all the protagonists desperately struggling to just survive. The fact that it’s a universe-wide outbreak would be notable for its unprecedented scope, had Marvel not already done a multiverse-wide zombie outbreak. But hey, what they lack in hyperspatial geographical distribution they make up for in costume coordination.

While “Blackest Night” so far has been one of the better crossover events done by either DC or Marvel in recent years, this installment’s not as good as the ones that have come before it. Which sets off my alarm bells slightly, because where most of those previous series either went wrong or got even worse were during the later segments. I’m willing to give this one the benefit of the doubt for now, but issue 4 has less of the emotional impact driving the series than the previous issues.

Partially it’s that more villains are being raised from the grave as Black Lanterns, and so I’m not feeling quite as disturbed at seeing them attack the book’s heroes. And there’s also the fact that while the issue finally introduces, with great fanfare, the major villain behind the Black Lanterns, he evokes nowhere near the same level of horror present in having someone fight for their life against an undead old friend. After all, these are all superheroes we’re talking about. They take out some scary looking all-powerful being scheming to control all of existence every month or so. Now I don’t doubt the new guy’s going to get involved in the emotional violence going on, but he hasn’t yet. What does give me some reason for confidence is that there are a few great moments here, including one twist that takes the heroes’ high point and immediately brings it crashing down around them.

But I also can’t help but get the feeling that this issue is just stalling for time to set up major confrontations for Hal Jordan later on. Admittedly this may have something to do with the fact that the Flash comes right out and says something to the effect of “Hal Jordan’s off doing something important, we need to stall for time here until he gets back”. And so it all feels like it’s something of a filler issue, with the best moments being rehashes of some of what’s already happened in the previous three, and with pieces put in place but not yet moving for the next few issues. I’m looking forward to issue five, but left wondering why exactly some of what will be happening then couldn’t have started sooner.

YOU’RE BACK? I DIDN’T KNOW YOU WERE GONE — X Necrosha One-Shot

Marvel’s one-shot kicking off its “Necrosha” mini-event also involves the dead rising from their graves to once more join the living. But if “Blackest Night” was something off a stretch to compare to ordinary zombie tales, this one’s barely connected at all. The freshly undead, restored via a “techno-organic virus”, don’t look any different, and they don’t seem to act all that different, aside from following the orders of evil psychic vampire Selene. So what you’ve got here is a superhero book in which some of the characters fighting used to be dead but now aren’t any more. In other words, a description that could be applied to pretty much any comic book published by DC or Marvel at any point in the last several decades.

But the pretty-looking dead people aren’t the only thing setting this series apart from “Blackest Night.” While DC’s event made a big deal about resurrecting familiar heroes and then sending them against old teammates, Necrosha’s list of returnees isn’t quite so high profile or driven by a desire to make it personal. First of all, when they bring them back they’re identified by name in panel, in case you either didn’t recognize them or had no idea who they were in the first place. Oh, and there’s also a reminder under each name reading “deceased”, there for your convenience in distinguishing the characters risen from the grave and the ones that haven’t. Because there’s actually no way to tell otherwise.

And with one major exception (sorry, Emma Frost), the attacks they’re making aren’t personal. The reactions of the heroes encountering the undead are pretty much the same I had: “Who the hell are you? Wait, you were dead?” There’s even a moment in one of the side stories where this is the actual reaction of one of the revived members of Selene’s army to another guy they’ve just pulled out of the ground.

To sum up, my favorite moment in the comic was when it started with a line from “Conan the Barbarian.” After that, it was all downhill.

GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY, I BET MY GRANDFATHER WOULD HAVE TOLD GREAT STORIES ABOUT THE ZOMBIES HE KILLED — Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency 1

“Every major community formed its own local militia. They called themselves the Vampire National Guard, or Vanguard. Following the Civil War, President Ulysses S. Grant formalized the militias by setting up the Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency.”

That is a direct quotation from the first issue of Radical Comics’ three part series “Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency,” which is the book you’ll want to pick up this week if you’re looking for a good horror book to put you in the mood for Halloween. That’s not even my favorite line in the issue, an honor which goes to the sentence “In 1950 we developed the vampire vaccine, and by 1963 President Kennedy was able to declare that the war against vampires had been won.” But the other one’s a better summation of the backstory to the series.

“FVZA,” as the title is abbreviated, actually derives its inspiration from a spoof website for the organization created years ago. And while much of the backstory of the world presented here is taken directly from that site, the illustrations by Roy Allan Martinez, painted by Kinsun Loh and Jerry Choo, do a terrific job of providing accompanying visuals. The story built around it is promising but not perfect. Sister and brother Landra and Vidal are raised by their grandfather, Dr. Hugo Pecos, after the killing of their parents. Hugo, formerly with the FVZA, trains his grandchildren to be prepared for when the vampires and zombies return.

Vaccinations had eliminated the spread of the conditions, leading to the agency being shut down in the mid-70s when it was considered no longer necessary. But as issue one opens both vampirism and the zombie virus slowly begin to spread again. The vampire storyline plays into the popular “vampires as concentrated sex poure
d into black clothes” that’s everywhere nowadays, at least at first, but then puts a dark twist on that portrayal at the end of the issue. The zombie storyline, meanwhile, is disturbing in exactly the way a good zombie story should be, complete with slow physical and mental deterioration and a fair helping of gore.

I’ve only got one complaint about “FVZA” 1, and it’s that the construction of a narrative formed with the ideas presented on the original website doesn’t happen quite as seamlessly as I’d like it to. I was fascinated by the idea of a world in which vampires and zombies had been actual problems dealt with by society until they were mostly solved by scientific advances. But although David Hine’s story is good, the world that’s shown after that backstory is presented doesn’t feel as though it meshes perfectly with the history, and could just as easily be happening in a world where the general public wasn’t aware these creatures existed. My one point of real contention is that I have difficulty believing a secret vampire conspiracy could actually exist in a world in which vampires are a historically documented fact, but I understand that’s nitpicking. “FVZA”‘s first of three issues was exactly what I was looking to read to put me in the right Halloween frame of mind this week.

AND THE TREATS

Two books I’ve frequently recommended here were released this week, and so rather than rehash the same praise I’ve already given them I’ll merely remind you to pick them up. Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III started a new Batwoman arc in “Detective Comics” 858. This one begins to explore the backstory of Kate Kane and her family, and I continue to be blown away by Williams’ splash pages and his changing of styles mid-comic to suit the tone of whatever events are being portrayed. Also out this week is Jonathan Hickman and Dale Eaglesham’s Fantastic Four 572, the conclusion to the team’s initial three story arc on the title. It is as amazing as each of the other two issues they’ve done so far, if not more so. I still don’t believe how quickly this one has become one of my favorite superhero series.

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