Zombee original graphic novel
Writer: Miles Gunter
Artist: Victor Santos
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $12.99 US
Man, there are a lot of zombie comics hitting the stands these days. Is it due to the success of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I wonder, or is it indicative of a resurgence of the genre in pop culture in general? In any case, one could argue we’ve got a glut of zombie fare piling up these days (tough to argue, though, given the predominance of super-hero stories in comics), and it would be easy to dismiss the newer stuff as offering the same old tales of gore and survival. This new graphic novel manages to offer a new spin on the undead standby by taking the action, horror and humor back a few centuries to feudal Japan. Still, it’s not the unusual setting that makes this story an entertaining read but the banter among the three heroes who fight against the forces of decay and destruction. The book is plagued (pardon the pun) by one main problem: for a full graphic novel, it’s a rather light read.
Three warriors of unequalled skills — Fumenaga, the honorable samurai; Ishida, the ninja gangster; and Uzu, the silent, mysterious zen monk — make an unlikely team as they join forces against an impossible and horrific threat: the undead. Something is changing the people of the Japanese countryside into flesh-eating zombies. And if those monsters weren’t enough of a menace, the trio of martial-arts experts also comes across Ishida’s former colleagues, a gang of ninja criminals whose skills have not been diminished by their unnatural affliction.
Victor Santos employs a minimalist style that allows the story to unfold clearly. I was particularly impressed with how he just hints at the gore and decay of the zombie characters using shadows and few lines. The visuals put me in mind of a cross of the styles of late Jack Kirby, with his larger-than-life action sequences; of Michael Avon (Powers) Oeming and his darker leanings; of Batton (Supernatural Law) Lash, with his simpler figures and faces. The art in the final, climactic sequence is a little frustrating, though, as it’s difficult to discern at times exactly what’s happening. The source of the zombie contagion is never clearly defined, and it’s clear that it’s by design. But nevertheless, the scenes are so sketchy in tone that it’s inconsistent with the rest of the book. And honestly, I wanted a good look at the monster.
The book opens with Fumenaga alone. It’s understandable, since he represents the conscience of the heroes as well as the establishment, but he’s also the most boring of the three protagonists. Those opening scenes focusing on “Fume” alone plod along at a sluggish, boring pace. Even his solo encounter with zombies isn’t all that exciting. It isn’t until Ishida’s entrance that the script and plot really get interesting.
Ishida is the book’s comic relief, the rogue whose decision to do the right thing makes him thoroughly likeable. He’s still a bad boy, of sorts, and he forever plays the role of trickster, even when faced with unnatural ugliness or imminent mortal danger. Of course, his silent psychic interplay with Uzu is where the character really shines. The pair makes a wonderful action-oriented odd couple. The pairing is so perfect that one character really isn’t complete without the other.
A common complaint about individual comic books (or “floppies,” as some have come to call them) is that they read too quickly, that the entertainment is too fleeting. I understand the complaint, and for some comics, the criticism is a valid one. When it comes to a graphic novel or trade-paperback collection, though, it’s not something one expects to encounter. Zombee‘s main flaw is that it does read far too quickly. The simpler tone of the art and the repeated action sequences make for a brisk read. It’s a shame Gunter didn’t take these characters down a couple of side paths, rather than from one battle with the undead to another. 6/10