Written by: Cedric G! Bacon
As a consumer of pop culture on a constant basis, I’ve noticed that the zombie genre has reached a point where one could conceivably say that any and all ideas are welcome and could be embraced as a breath of fresh air to a genre that shows little signs of abating. And it is also as a fan that I welcome any and all of those same changes because they spin different yarns that, while still adhering closely to the time-tested tropes of the genre (re-animated dead, survivors running from the dead, much bloody violence along the way) the smallest changes can still create compelling compositions.
Such is the case with IDW Publishing’s release of ‘The Other Dead’. Unlike The Walking Dead or the timelessness of Romero’s first two Dead films, ‘The Other Dead’ doesn’t concern itself with sub textural meanings or finds the need to address societal concerns. It is on the surface and inside a crazy, whacked-out story involving the undead—just in a way that the reader is probably not quite accustomed to.
The story begins much like any in the zombie genre, and that is with a small, nearly inconsequential moment that provides the spark to the events that will unfold. The spark here–after a prologue involving former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney on a hunting trip that goes horribly awry for the old man—occurs in a small Louisiana bayou town called Kenner, where a trio of misfit rockers (Az, Jude, and Mike) attempt to bring about fame and fortune to their band through a magical ritual that does, true to form in these kinds of stories, goes wrong for them and their town as they do get the fame and fortune they desire; rather, the ritual somehow has the effect of infecting and turning the local wildlife into bloodthirsty monsters.
The survivors—Az, little brother Tommy, Az’s girlfriend Justina—are quickly joined by 44th President of the United States Barack Obama and an aide named Chip in their attempt to survive the attacks by the infected and reanimated animals, which range from smaller creatures such as ducks and squirrels all the way up to dogs, gators, and bears. All the while the story—written by Joshua Ortega from a film treatment by Digger T Mesch—abates very little in providing a story filled with gore and packed with humor and pop culture references very reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Dead-Alive (a case in point made when one of the survivors bites the head off an infected squirrel and invokes a reference to musician Ozzy Osborne, recalling a similar real-life incident that the rocker was involved in). The artwork from Qing Ping Mui have some shades of Brian Bolland in the sense that the characters are not cartoons and are drawn with real enough features and musculature, that as the severity of the threat escalates the reader feels the tenseness on the characters faces. Mui packs so much into each panel that the detail alone is oftentimes mind boggling. The one criticism? President Obama does not look anything remotely like the real life man. Maybe that was a mandate by the publishers to avoid any problems with the government, who knows, but it does feel like Mui did not put in nearly the same effort given to make the president more like his real life counterpart as he did remembering that animals travel in packs.
By removing biological and scientific reasoning from the zombies, ‘The Other Dead’ finds itself concentrating on two of its strongest fronts: the first being the characters, which while we don’t see much of their actual personalities in the six issues the collection spans, they do not come across as cardboard, assembly line cutouts of the typical genre survivor. The second is that while the reader is not bombarded by anything remotely scary or intense, this allows the story to play to its strength of cutting through any type of existentialism or concerns with the modern world to tell a largely self-contained zombie survival story.
While not a story that will set the world alight and change the genre, ‘The Other Dead’ is a nice addition to the growing mythology of what can be told in a zombie tale. And while a sequel from the creative team hasn’t been optioned yet, the epilogue does leave open the possibility that events in that world are not quite over and done with, which could allow for further exploration by the same team or another to take up the reins in the future.