A few months ago LaptopZombie received a preview copy of the first issue of WAR OF THE DEAD, a five-part continuation of the long-running DEADWORLD comic book saga, due to be released in weekly instalments by IDW Publishing. We were highly impressed, and looked forward to seeing where the story led. Although not unprecedented, the weekly schedule is rare for American comics, and, in the case of WAR OF THE DEAD, created a momentum that built on the breakneck pace of the first issue. With the final instalment out last week, we’ve had the chance to consider the story in its entirety, and we’re pleased to say it more than lives up to its early promise.
Regular readers will know all about our love affair with DEADWORLD (everything you need to know about the series, and why we think it’s so exceptional, can be found here). The original (and, some would argue, the best) zombie horror comic, DEADWORLD predated Robert Kirkman’s multi-media runaway success story THE WALKING DEAD by a full fifteen years, and helped pave the way for the undead pop culture invasion we’re currently experiencing. Not to take anything away from Kirkman and artist Charlie Adlard, whose work on the book is stellar, but a lot of THE WALKING DEAD’s success is down to timing – it was in the right place at the right time, and successfully captured both the zeitgeist and the public’s imagination. In that regard it has the advantage over DEADWORLD, whose punctuality has never been its strong suit. In the twenty five years the title has been in existence it’s barely produced half the number of issues THE WALKING DEAD has managed in ten years. But it seems that IDW is committed to changing that, with the five week event raising awareness of the DEADWORLD brand, and a range of forthcoming trade paperbacks re-presenting the best of the hard to find, classic early material.
None of that means anything, of course, if the current iteration isn’t up to scratch. Thankfully, it’s as gory and gripping as ever. Events take place in the rebooted timeline, which was instigated by writer Gary Reed in an effort to streamline the years of DEADWORLD continuity and make the story more accessible. All of our favourite leading cast members are present and accounted for (those who are still above ground, anyway), but there’s not even a hint of the status quo the comics medium is so renowned for maintaining. To say more would be to spoil the story, but Reed demonstrates an admirably cavalier attitude towards his creations’ wellbeing, introducing the very real possibility that any of them could die at any moment. The story is fairly simple – the humans’ Safe Haven (formerly the forbidding Slaughterhouse) is under siege from King Zombie, the iconic Harley-driving intelligent zombie who is committed to plunging the world into a full-scale supernatural holocaust. Simplistic as this may sound, the various characters’ motivations, and the ways in which they act and interact, are anything but straightforward. Agendas are pursued, coups enacted, base impulses given free reign. It’s all gloriously Machiavellian, and is made even more enjoyable by the ludicrously over-the-top horror trappings.
The artwork, by Finnish artist Sami Makkonen, is similarly rich and complex. The highly stylised, fully painted visuals are a far cry from the usual comic book aesthetic. They’re more fine art than four colour, and invite a far more lingering appraisal than your average zombie bloodbath. At times this is at odds with the story, which is an old-fashioned page turner, but that’s what second reads are for. The art can be something of an acquired taste (comic book purists may not approve), but it represents an attempt to distance the book from the typical black and white horror aesthetic, and adds a sophisticated counterpoint to all the cannibalism and undead marauding.
It’s unclear where DEADWORLD goes from here (both in terms of the franchise’s future and the stories of the individual characters), but there are more than enough tantalisingly dangling threads to warrant at least another miniseries, or even (dare we hope?) an ongoing. The weekly ‘event’ that was WAR OF THE DEAD proves IDW’s faith in the concept, and the book delivered a solid, exciting chapter in the ongoing saga that’s also accessible to new readers. If there’s any justice, a year from now THE WALKING DEAD won’t be the only high-quality zombie comic book hitting the shelves every month.