While fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead gnash their teeth in anticipation for the second season, Vertigo offers a surprising new take on the zombie genre this month with iZombie. Written by Chris Roberson and with artwork by cult favorite Mike Allred, Volume 1: Dead to the World is a significant tonal shift from most zombie comics on the market. It’s told from the perspective of a female zombie named Gwen Dylan, whose undead existence comes with a great twist: in order to maintain the pretense that she’s alive, Gwen must consume human gray matter once a month or else her zombie instincts take over. Along with the brainy aftertaste comes selective memories from the deceased, and Gwen is cursed with flashbacks that are not her own. It’s a tough gig, coupled with a job digging graves (bright side: her day job provides those necessary late-night snacks that she reluctantly craves), and the irony is not lost on her:
This is, by the way, totally some kind of symbol for my entire existence. Digging holes in the morning, filling them up in the afternoon, and sneaking in at night to dig ‘em back up again. Over and over. Like that guy in the Greek hell who rolled a big rock up and down a hill all day. What was his name? Syphilis? Something like that, anyway. Whatever. Seriously, though, I’d switch places with the dead Greek guy in a second.
Gwen’s best friend, Ellie, is a lonely ghost stuck in 1960s fashion, but she wears it well. Her melancholic state is just as interesting as Gwen’s predicament, and Roberson develops both female characters with an easy-going, natural manner, giving iZombie a refreshingly frank attitude. When Gwen’s oblivious coworkers ask her to join them after work, she off-handedly dismisses them: “I’ve got to wash my hair, or something suitably girly like that.” Even undead, Gwen is too cool--a graveyard hipster, hiding her secret under a thick coffin liner of aloofness.
Once Gwen cracks the latest cranium and devours its innards, however, she uncovers a murder mystery that threatens to spoil her detached routine. She, Ellie, and their were-terrier pal, Scott, form an askew Scooby-Doo alliance to solve the case, and along the way they cross paths with a sorority comprised of vamping vamps, a pair of strange men in white coats, and a Hugh Hefner-esque mummy who might hold more answers than Gwen imagined.
Mike Allred’s pop art leanings imbue iZombie with a sly, ever-smirking temperament. His characters inhabit a canvas that’s instantly recognizable as his own: bold, unblended lines case characters who seem partially aware of the comic panels that frame their stories. They knowingly pose, at once a part of and removed from their backgrounds. The artwork is muddier than Allred’s Madman series, yet not as sharp-edged as his X-Force/X-Statix run. The paperback collection includes over ten pages of sketchbook material from Allred, and it’s fun to see his pencil-work before it gets handed off to his wife, Laura, for coloring.
Seattle fans of Chris Roberson can catch up with the writer at this weekend’s Emerald City Comicon 2011, to be held in the Seattle Convention Center. The official website has the full list of attendees and events, including panel discussions with creators and publishers, a list of comics vendors, a map of Artists Alley, and Q&As and autograph sessions with media guests. It’s an impressive batch of comics celebs, and I have my backissue checklist already queued up on my phone.