"I, Zombie" #1 hit shelves this week from DC/Vertigo, a new comic that follows the exploits of Gwen, a female zombie gravedigger who, once a month, is driven to eat the brains of one of her corpse clients, and in the process absorbs the memories and last wishes of said deceased, prompting her to solve mysteries and embark on adventures. The concept, from writer Chris Roberson, could really go either way, but one thing's for sure, though: Roberson totally won the collaborator lottery by landing Michael Allred, and artist who (along with his wife Laura, one of the best colorists working in comics) is always worth showing up for.

Some might see Allred as an odd fit for a book about the shambling dead. Most well known for his long-running creator-owned series of series Madman, Allred's art often conjures up such descriptives as "retro," "ginchy," "poppy," or "whiz-bang." He's generally seen as a purveyor of the kind of cartoony, fun adventure art that today's comics rarely trade in.

Even DC readers unfamiliar with Madman might know Allred more from something like "Batman A-Go-Go" than anything else. Does this look like the work of a man you would entrust with a zombie?

There is a dark side to Allred's art, though; a twisted imagination that doesn't always show itself front and center, but which sprinkles insidious and grotesque bits throughout an otherwise high-pop fun body of work. To show you just what kind of brain-feasting antics Allred is capable of rendering, allow us to take you through a small selection of Mike's more twisted artistic impulses:

Infamously, within four pages of his first in-costume appearance, Allred's alt-super-hero fun-guy totally just gouges out a dude's eye and pops it in his mouth. This isn't Allred's first comics work, but it's the beginning of his major output and the introduction to his flagship character. Madman's name really had a ring of truth to it in the early days.

Madman before he was Madman -- Frank Einstein, Madman's alter ego, made appearances as a stitched together, reanimated psychic in anthology titles prior to Allred launching him in his own book. As you can see from the bolt in the neck and the blue skin, Frank is clearly a product of a love of monsters. Also, check out that totally Creepy-esque title font on "Creatures of the Id."

Allred has never been above a little grisly violence, often delivered out of nowhere for maximum impact. Just look at the way the blood drips off that bookend (it's a bookend) and tell me this isn't a guy with a special relationship to the dark and grotesque. Below is the fella from above receiving some classic horror-film ironic-twist justice, as his murder victims, though dead and inanimate, seem to purposefully drag him below the surface of the water to his watery just desserts.

As "Madman" picked up steam as a full-color mainstream adventure comic, Allred pulled back on the gruesomeness. In the following, there's been a murder, but there's nothing in the scene (or in the entirety of "Madman Comics" #4, the source of the image) as grisly as the splatter or the rotting faces above.

Even in his casual touches, Allred's weird has waned a bit -- just compare the two hearts that serve as background to Joe and Frank's love in these two similar scenes from the first and second "Madman" series.

That said, comparing these two pretty intense murder scenes, drawn first in a 1991 issue of Grafik Music and re-done for a 2000 issue of Madman Comics, shows Allred clearly still has a taste for the old ultraviolence.

(click each to enlarge)

In 1999, Allred put out a one-shot called "Feeders," a tie-in/prequel to a low-budget horror film called "Eyes to Heaven" that he made with writer Shane Hawks. A rare venture into straight horror, and rarely seen or talked about, Feeders delivers the purest dose of Allred's sense of the macabre.

Though he clearly has the chops for it, Allred has yet to return to this kind of black-and-white pure horror comic.

Some of Allred's highest profile work came when he and Peter Milligan gave "X-Force" a sorely needed creative makeover in the heady, experimental days of Nu-Marvel. Aside from some select scenes of violence, though, Allred didn't really show off the darker side of his art in the book, as much of the impact of the book was the contrast between Milligan's relentlessly mean writing and Allred's bright, poppy visuals.

The book did, however, introduce Dead Girl, an obvious visual stepping stone to Allred's character design for I, Zombie's Gwen.

While the design of Gwen is clean and pretty, there's still promise of opportunities for Allred to show off his dark side. Here's hoping that as "I, Zombie" develops, we get to see more of those monstrous elements of his work that pop up only intermittently, but always leave an indelible mark on the brain.

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