It’s fitting that 28 Days Later has finally been made into a comic book. You can trace the current zombie boom straight back to Danny Boyle and Alex Garland’s 2002 film, and while zombies have been increasingly popular in several media since, they’ve been particularly ubiquitous on the comics shelves, and show no signs of going away any time soon. After all, one of the best-selling super-comics at the moment is a zombie story grafted onto DC’s Green Lantern franchise.
So there’s a nice bit of symmetry to the very existence of Boom Studios’s 28 Days Later. It might be an even nicer bit of symmetry if it proved to be the ultimate zombie story, closing out our decade’s fascination with the living, shambling (and sometimes sprinting) dead and bringing a temporary end to the zombie craze.
I don’t see that happening though.
Not only is there no evidence that zombies are on the wane, but this comic doesn’t seemed poised to be the one that says everything there’s left to say about zombies for the time being. It’s not a bad comic, but it certainly doesn’t offer a revolutionary new take. Of course, given that it’s premised as a bridge between the original film and the 2007 sequel, it’s entire reason for being is to simply to keep the Later story going.
The specifics of that fall to writer Michael Alan Nelson (Boom’s Hexed and Fall of Cthulhu), here teamed with artist Declan Shalvey. Nelson finds a fresh angle to open with, which in and of itself is kind of exciting: A group of war correspondents want to cover the infection on the ground, getting an unfiltered look at what exactly is happening before the U.S. and U.K. military completely contain and eradicate the zombie-making disease. (The characters haven’t seen 28 Weeks Later yet, obviously).
The comparisons between zombiepocalypse scenarios and real world horror stories borne of war are a little obvious—one character uses his experiences in Darfur as an example of his readiness to tackle a countryside ravaged by hordes of mindless cannibals—but it’s a new angle nevertheless.
That angle may or may not be moot however, depending on where the second issue starts off; the cliffhanger at the end of this one is that the journalists find themselves in a very different situation than they originally imagined, and are forced from the safety of their helicopter on to the ground, where there are a lot more Infected than they inspected.
The setting isn’t the only thing carried over from the film. The protagonist is Selena, the character played by Naomie Harris in the original film. She survived that ordeal, and is living more or less shell-shocked in a refugee camp when the lead journalist hires her on as a guide for his group, as she’s one of the few people who experienced the worst of the plague first hand and is still alive.
Shalvey’s art is quite effectively staged, and the book reads as smoothly as if it were a portion of storyboards for a third Later film. His style is representational, but not slavishly so; there’s no attempt to fool the eye into thinking one’s not looking at comic book art. There’s a weight and grit about it that recalls a 90’s era Vertigo book, with a few flashy touches, like the ink splotch auras of blood around the Infected and the glowing gleam of Selena’s machete.
It’s difficult to judge exactly where it’s going, but the book is at least off to a good start.
Archaia’s Awakening, meanwhile, lacks the name brand cache of Boom’s new ongoing, but it benefits both from lower expectations and from a more idiosyncratic look and feel.
While most zombie stories tend to jump past the fall of civilization as we know it (28 Days Later puts the fact that it’s jumping ahead right there in the title), or focus on the first few nights in which the condition spreads like wildfire, Awakening has a slower, steadier approach. The dead “awaken” extremely gradually, and over the course of months, civilization is still standing, although there are a lot more dead people trying to eat living people in the streets than normal—by the end of this first volume, zombies are more like a pack of wild feral dogs than a plague of locusts.
Park Falls private investigator Derrick Peters is looking into a very mysterious disappearance, a case that soon becomes a murder, and then the work of a seeming serial killer.
A paranoid local woman known for her conspiracy theories says it’s zombies doing the killing, and while Peters and other players—a surly police chief, a Defense Department doctor—are slow to believe her, the preponderance of evidence eventually convinces them all.
The exact cause of the “awakening” of certain dead is never answered by the close of this first volume, which collects five issues, although an intriguing idea is raised near the end. If the story ended right there, that intriguing idea might have made for a potent, if mysterious story, but perhaps I feel that way simply because I don’t think the world needs any more zombie ongoing series.
The artwork, by Alex Eckman-Lawn, is in a lot of ways Awakening’s greatest strength, although it’s also a weakness.
It’s atmospheric to the extreme, creepy and jittery, with blurry, shadowy characters moving across highly representational backgrounds, many images suggesting very subtle works of collage. The overall effect is that every scene looks off and unsettling, regardless if there’s a menacing silhouette lunging teeth first in the reader’s direction, or two characters talking on a street corner, or a man entering his own apartment.
Unfortunately, the highly-stylized art leaves little to distinguish the characters from one another, and the male leads tend to blend into the same splotchy figure in medium and longshots, with dialogue clues being all there is to distinguish them from one another.
I have no idea what it’s going to take to finally put the genre down—either a Watchmen of the zombie comic that will make future ones seem irrelevant, or a string of ones so bad no one wants to read about zombies anymore—but both of these comics fall between those extremes.
Neither is the last word in zombies, nor are either of them tired and rote. Even as a casual fan, I found things engaging about both, and found myself curious as to what would happen next; in the case of 28 Days, to see how Nelson follows through on his set-up, and for the Awakening to see the explanation for the awakening that writer Nick Tapalansky eventually comes up with, and how far the phenomena ultimately spreads.