Have you read The Walking Dead yet? If not, you are in for a big treat my friend. It’s a fantastic comic series written by Robert Kirkman about life after the zombie apocalypse. The main character is a police officer named Rick Grimes who gets shot in the line of duty, goes into a coma, and wakes up after the proverbial shit has hit the fan (a la 28 Days Later). It is the perfect way to introduce the series, because it’s about life after the zombie apocalypse, so using the coma technique is a clean way of allowing us to adjust to the post zombie world along with our hero.
The comic book/graphic novel medium is perfect for exploring this subject matter, because the story goes on and on, and thus it can take us so much deeper into the questions and metaphors inherent in the zombie genre.
There are tons of reasons why zombie stuff is great, but one of the more important reasons is that it is rife with metaphor at the heart of American culture. It wasn’t an accident that Romero set the sequel to Night of the Living Dead at a shopping mall.
At the moment, our culture is in the midst of this bizarre war where a huge portion of the population refuses to let go of American mythology from the 50’s. We have these ideas of what it means to be American, of what “real America” looks like, and while that ideal never existed, it is even more dangerous now because it should have died a long time ago, it’s alive and kicking even though it shouldn’t be, it is undead now. Actually, Bill Willingham used this as a tiny portion of his Fables storyline, and it was utterly brilliant, but Fables must be left for another post.
Zombies represent something terrifying because they are us. They are our fear of death, our fear of our appetites, our fear of the nagging thought in the back of our minds that we are our own worst enemy, that we will bring about our own destruction.
Yet, what are we left with on the other side of that? We play with the zombie genre, and lets say we make it to the other side of the cataclysm, doing our best to survive long term in a world overrun with a horde of the undead. Then what? Well, that’s what The Walking Dead offers a potential answer to. It’s a band of survivors trying to make life work, trying to keep their children safe, trying to fall in love and find a reason to wake up each day. If everything that we think makes up our world is taken from us, where do we go from there?
Kirkman’s writing is fantastic; tense, well paced, and constantly engaging. I almost always buy what characters are doing, how they are treating each other, etc. That’s rare.
Also, it just may be the best panel work I’ve seen. The art is all black and white, and the way Kirkman and Tony Moore, followed by Charlie Adlard, lay out the panels is perfect. It’s sparse, often with very little going on within each page, creating a great relationship between the story and the art. Also, they avoid the common pitfall of accidently giving away a big moment by placing a full panel event on the right page. What I mean is that so often I accidently learn something I don’t want to know when I turn the page, because as your turn a page you see page 35 on your right before you look back to 34 on your left. If there is this huge, full color death scene (or whatever) before my eyes as I turn the page, I can’t help but see it, so even though I haven’t read the stuff on the left, I know what happens on the next page. In The Walking Dead I am consistently impressed that they build up the big moment, and then make you turn the page to see what happened. It seems like it would be a simple, obvious thing to make work, but it is rare in my experience. They take the medium seriously, and realize what the reading experience will be like.
I really love this series. In the coming world, post Z-Day, the undead won’t be our only enemies. Other humans in the world, people in our own group of survivors, even our own sanity and grip on reality becomes tenuous and dangerous. Kirkman engages the potential for story in this realm with great attention to detail, honesty, impressive character psychologies, and gifted artistic help. You should read these! (And watch the show on AMC when it finally arrives in October).
If you know me at all, you are probably aware that I love the English language enough that I never, ever use instant message speak. No ‘ty,’ ‘rotf,’ or ‘ttyl.’ You’ll never get even the occasional ‘lol’ or ‘brb.’ That is why what is about to happen is a big deal. And it is all because of Scott Pilgrim.
The in-game nerdspeak, the ‘pwned’ sort, just comes bubbling up at the sheer awesomeness Bryan Lee O’Malley has unleashed on the world.
Let’s pretend you can ask me what I’ve thought of the Scott Pilgrim series so far.
“Hey, Scott. How’s Scott Pilgrim so far?”
[*Head glowing from awesomeness*] OMGWTFBBQLASERS!!!
Scott Pilgrim is amazing! No, seriously. Listen. Well, read. IT. IS. AMAZING.
The word ‘original’ has been around for a long time. As have the words ‘awesome, ‘hilarious,’ and ‘magicawonderfulnerdtastic.’ Okay, so I made the last word up, but if it was a word, it would apply to what I am saying. We have been using those words all this time without realizing that they were invented just so that someday there would be the proper adjectives to describe the Scott Pilgrim books.
They are so fucking good. My whole life has simply been biding time, waiting until the day when I finally read about the adventures of Mr. Pilgrim.
I know what you are thinking. “Hey Scott, c’mon. You use hyperbole all the time. They can’t really be that good.”
To that I can only respond with: Shut the hell up, dude. If you ever open your stupid, blasphemous face and talk about Scott Pilgrim that way again, I will come to your house and crack an egg of knowledge all over you.
Seriously. It’s like O’Malley took all the awesome, lame, wonderful parts of the average nerd’s brain, influenced by the fact that we are the first generation to grow up completely immersed in video games, and he created a world out of it. A world where things actually happen the way I pretend they happen in my mind.
If you ever wanted to Level Up for doing the right thing, or have a weapon that offers +2 against Vegans, or get EXP points for going to work, then this is the series of indie comics for you.
These books are absurd in the best way possible, surreal and delightful. There isn’t really a way to describe how different they are from any other graphic novel or comic book I’ve ever read. Sooo good.
I already couldn’t wait for the movie to come out this August. Now I think I might have to get a doctor to place me in a controlled coma to get me from now to Inception, and then from that until Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
I’m already mentally preparing for a trip to Toronto to make a (please forgive the pun) pilgrimage.
That glowing review, and so far I’ve only even read Vol. 1-4. I had no freaking idea that Volume 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour wasn’t out as a graphic novel yet. It doesn’t come out until JULY?!?!?!?!? Terrible. My heart aches for it. What was that I was saying about a coma? I need to check with my local hospital about that.
I love it when people take a well-known, fictional universe, and then imagine a dream or nightmare scenario that turns the whole thing on its head. When this sort of thing is done poorly, it rightfully draws the scorn of those who love said fictional universe. However, when it is done well it can be loads of fun.
This sort of thing happens most often in the wonderful world of comic books. The long-term, serial nature of comics makes them the best medium for asking, “Hey, what do you think would happen if [insert insane hypothetical situation]?” I have my own idea for a just such a situation, a whole story arc that imagines what Bruce Wayne would be like if his parents had lived. What would the ‘world’s greatest detective’ look like without all that misplaced rage, guilt and insane drive to repair what can’t be fixed. Yet, that is for another post.
One of the masters of the sort of imaginings mentioned above is Mr. Mark Millar. He brought us Superman: Red Son, wondering what the Man of Steel, and the world, would be like if Kal-El had landed in the U.S.S.R., instead of the United States. He brought us Civil War, in which the US government passes a law forcing all superheroes to present themselves for registration. Heroes take sides on the pro-reg and anti-reg sides, and all hell breaks loose.
Recently, thanks to the Seattle Public Library, I got my hands on a copy of the fairly recent, Wolverine: Old Man Logan. In this, we move two generations into the future. That is, two generations after the bad guys finally realized there are, like, 20 villains to every one superhero, joined together, and took over the world. We find Logan as a simple farmer and family man in California, or, what used to be California. He does nothing at all to set things right. Why? Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out.
I can’t go into much more detail than that without ruining some enjoyable twists and plot developments. Suffice it to say, it’s a really fun read, albeit, a noticeably darker and more violent one than is often the case, provided by one of the best writers working today, tackling one of the best heroes comics has ever had to offer.