Let’s face it: zombies are cool. In the past decade, nearly 200 zombie films have been released. Dozens of books and video games have also shone a spotlight on the undead. So, too, have comics. In fact, although zombie comics have never been a huge seller, they have experienced quite the revival (of sorts) in recent years. It’s no surprise that Running Press, with previous publications including The Mammoth Book of Horror Comics and The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga would tackle the walking dead.
Ringing in at just over 450 pages and some 18 stories, the collection is indeed “mammoth” and the variety of zombie superb, from Egyptian mummy to Frankenstein-ian monster to voodoo zombie and even a zombie in space. Readers will relish the numerous means of death, destruction, and mayhem that zombies can cause while also finding a softer, gentler zombie in other stories. The entire book is in grayscale as opposed the mix of black-and-white and colored original prints, but this doesn’t affect the reading experience for the most part. One or two panels in some stories might be a bit harder to discern given the wider range of shades afforded color comics.
Some selections are excellent choices for this collection. A wordless rendering of Robert E. Howard’s “Pigeons from Hell” is wonderfully adapted and haunting with its dark and silent panels. “Black Sabbath,” an excerpt from the series Dead World, is also an excellent addition both for its particular story and for invoking the larger and better-known series. Additionally, editor David Kendall includes a piece by well-known horror comic writer Steven Niles (Making Amends).
However, Kendall’s editorial choices also seem either impaired by opportunity or just poor decisions. While he includes Steve Niles, Kendall doesn’t use any material from Robert Kirkman, the writer who has almost single-handedly revived zombie comics both with alternative and mainstream publishers. An excerpt from Kirkman’s The Walking Dead or Marvel Zombies would go far toward further legitimizing this anthology and making it appear more cumulative. Any predisposed fan will quickly realize that without some of these more popular narratives, this collection hardly lives up to its claim that it has some of the best zombie comics of the last 20 years.
The stories lack organization, appearing to be tossed together without much rhyme or reason (or at least none is given). This is useful in that readers can choose whatever they want in whatever order they want, but it’s also disorienting - or at least Kendall misses an opportunity to direct and educate the reader about the sub-genre, its conventions, trends, and other interesting elements. Even the general introduction and specific ones for each piece do little to quench this thirst for deeper knowledge and appreciation. Finally, the collection doesn’t go far enough back to look at older zombie narratives from the 1950s through the ‘70s but situates itself in the ‘80s to the present.
The most interesting yet problematic choice in this collection demonstrates some of the issues involved in this anthology. “Dead Eyes Open” is an intriguing look at a slow zombie takeover through the eyes of a zombie with a compelling narrative and interesting twists. It was originally
a web-comic, and Kendall should be given kudos for including online comics in his collection as well. The story clocks in at 144 pages, which means it could qualify as a graphic novel all its own. While it is a great story, it just seems the reader could have gotten a larger sampling of the narratives and talent out there.
Ultimately, this is an enjoyable anthology of zombie comics. Readers will appreciate its diversity of narrative, but those looking to get more depth and understanding of the genre in terms of where it has been and where it is going might do better elsewhere.