Writer: Mark Kidwell
Artist/Cover artist: Nat Jones
Colors: Jay Fotos
Letters: Jason Hanley
Publisher: Image Comics
Price: $3.99 US/$4.60 CAN
They say timing is everything, and that holds true when it comes to the business and craft of comics as well. Take, for example, the timing of ’68, a zombie-horror story set in the middle of the Vietnam War. A few years ago, this would have struck me as an innovative, clever and entertaining combination of the horror and war genres, worthy of the imagination of such writers as Garth Ennis or Warren Ellis. But this isn’t a few years ago. Kidwell and Jones have released this story in the midst of a major zombie fad in pop culture; no doubt, this one-shot owes its existence to that fad. In that context, ’68 lacks a certain impact. I realize that when discussing a medium so dominated by the super-hero genre it might seem silly to complain about a small glut of zombie comics, but nevertheless, this felt like a minor float in a long parade boasting an undead theme. All the same, the writing and art are solidly executed. Though predictable, the story is somewhat diverting and definitely accomplishes what it sets out to do.
A small squad of U.S. soldiers is tasked with locating a listening post deep in Viet Cong territory and determining why the radio chatter in the vicinity had gone quiet. Everyone is nervous, especially Dixie-Dawg, the new guy who just started his tour of duty. But with the solid leadership of Lt. Tommy Blake and the sheer toughness of Bronto, they feel there’s not much they can’t handle. Little do they know that the reason the area has gone so quiet is that everyone is dead… but things are not as still as they should be.
The comic draws its title both from the year in which the story is set and the number of days the main protagonist has left in Vietnam before he’s to be sent home to his wife in the United States. Either way, it tells the reader nothing about the story itself. I’m not looking for an obvious title or anything, but something less vague would have been welcome. The price point is a bit off-putting as well. There are no extra pages than one would find in a standard $2.99 US Image comic book, and it reads quickly. It doesn’t seem as though there something here for the audience to justify the extra buck.
Nat Jones’s style initially puts me in mind of the gritty artwork that professionals such as Steve Dillon and Carlos Ezquerra often bring to mature, harsh comics stories. There’s also a manga influence at play, which is appropriate, given the strong horror storytelling one can find in the world of Japanese comics. Jones wisely brings a sharp level of detail to the visuals in order to enhance the horror, but at the same time, he doesn’t aim for such a realistic look in the characters. They look more like caricatures, and that’s in keeping with the over-the-top nature of the premise. The line art is nicely textured, conveying the dirty, harsh qualities of the plot and circumstances. Jay Fotos’s colors really bring a vital degree of darkness to the artwork, as well as added detail and texture.
Zombies to the left of me. Zombies to the right of me. Zombies above, below, in front, behind… zombies up the wazoo. Won’t my proctologist be surprised. To be honest, I was never a fan of the zombie genre in the past, especially when it comes to movies. But some strong writing in the medium of comics turned me around on tales of the undead and those struggling to survive in the face of monstrous infestations, notably Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. The writing in ’68 isn’t nearly as sophisticated and thought-provoking as Kirkman’s efforts, but it is entertaining. Furthermore, Kidwell seems to strike a genuine tone when it comes to the dialogue for the U.S. soldiers. He doesn’t water things down to make them more palatable for a 21st-century, politically correct audience.
The greatest flaw of the plot is its predictability. As soon as one sees the cover, the reader knows pretty much where the story is headed from one moment to the next. The premise really didn’t merit a full comic’s worth of space; this would have read much better as a short segment in an anthology, a la Boom! Studios’ Zombie Tales or old-school EC horror comics. 5/10