Monday, February 10, 2014

Deadworld Monday: The Original Walking Dead Comic

Today I start my series of commentary and criticism on the DeadWorld comic. I am going to be focusing mostly on the original run of the series, published originally through Arrow Comics and eventually finding its home with Caliber Comics. If you want to read along, you can pick up this issue of DeadWorld through DriveThruComics for only 99 cents in electronic form. Yes, that is an affiliate link, I hope that you will support both the original creators and the blog.

Warning, there are spoilers.

As a disclosure, I really wasn't a fan of DeadWorld at the time that it came out. I was a late comer to the comic. A few years ago, when I was part of another RPG publisher, I approached Caliber publisher Gary Reed about the rights to Baker Street for role-playing, unfortunately they weren't available but as we talked about his other properties we came to DeadWorld. We talked and made a deal to bring DeadWorld to role-playing, but (as with many things in this business) it did not work out. Caliber Comics published some incredibly rich world, and hopefully one day they will end up in a role-playing game from someone.

The short version of this story is that, while researching the book for the writing of the RPG, I came to be a big fan of DeadWorld. While I am going to be talking about the classic run, the book is still out today through IDW and you can probably still find the Image Comics edition trades in comic stores.

What made DeadWorld so cool, right out of the gate? Two words:Vince Locke. The cover from the first issue of the comic almost lets you know what what you are getting in for with this comic. Zombies, of course.

The story starts in Louisiana. We don't know why, and this is mostly because the main characters don't know either, but the dead have risen and the world is in chaos. Fans of the original Night of the Living Dead will recognize this set up. In fact, this first issue has George Romero's finger prints all over it. The characters are fighting for survival. The geography is very limited. Characters get hurt. However, it manages to keep above being a pastiche and rapidly becomes its own thing.

Right off the bat you start to get an idea of who the characters are, and some of their social relationships. While some of these people were friends before the zombies came, some of them were also thrown together out of a need for survival.
In this page we have the introductions of Dan, Donna, Mickey, Joey (Spud), and Dan. In just a few panels Stuart Kerr, the writer, gives each character a personality and starts to set up the interpersonal dynamics of their relationships. We know that the dead rising didn't just happen, but it is still recent enough that no one really knows yet what to do about things.

One of the things that fascinated me about this, coming to DeadWorld after the fact, was the fact that this is a world where the internet did not yet exist and where the media was not as ubiquitous as it is nowadays. This actually adds a layer of authenticity to the comic for me, and helps support why people don't really know what happened. There were no embedded reporters going down to the zombie onslaught on live television, or streaming internet video. This makes DeadWorld almost an alternate past of what the world could have turned into, if zombies had destroyed civilization 30-some years ago.

And then, of course, zombies attack:

For many, this is going to be the meat of the comic. The thing is that it isn't. To be honest, particularly in hindsight, a horde of attacking zombies isn't any big deal. The really important part of the story, the thing that was scary and intriguing for me, came a few pages before the zombie attack.

That's right. These zombies are organized, and their leaders cannot only talk...but they cane think as well. These panels gives us our first look at King Zombie, an important character who will come up in future issues (and posts). And not only can they talk and think...they can ride motorcycles.

How metal is that?

Of course, the motorcycle-riding zombies scare the hell out of the characters, who have never seen or heard of such things. This is also, for me, what sets DeadWorld apart from other zombie comics out there. They weren't afraid to do things that you wouldn't expect. Over the course of these posts we will see more of these intelligent zombies, their plans and their actions.

Kerr and Locke hit the ground running with this first issue of DeadWorld. We already have an idea of what the world is like (the characters are forced to scavenge and forage for food and materials, zombies are pretty prevalent in the world, society's infrastructure has collapsed) and then they pull the rug out from under the readers and the characters by showing that there might be an intelligent force behind all of this, guiding things.

So, this is our first DeadWorld Monday post. I may periodically supplement these with gaming related posts as well, but mostly I am going to talk about the comic, what makes it cool and why I think you should find it for yourself. Go back up to the top of the post and click on the link and buy your own copy of the comic.