The Emperor Has No Skin

I recently read the debut issue of George Romero’s comic series Empire of the Dead.  Overall, I enjoyed the debut issue, I think that it did a good job setting up the world in which it is set, a quarantined NYC that’s infested by zombies as well as ruled by a clan of vampires.  It also establishes the theme of whether or not zombies maintain any of their humanity/soul or are merely primitives that feast on the flesh of the living.  Any fan of Romero will realize that this a bit of an obsession for Romero, first showing up in his movies with Bub in the Day of the Dead.  For me Bub is the hallmark of this idea, Romero merely proposed the idea of Bub either retaining memories and randomly repeating them or even being trained to do simple acts like saluting much like you can train a dog a trick.  Or did Bub actually still retain some humanity, some resemblance of thought in his mushy brain?  Later on in his other attempts at movie making, Romero got a bit heavy handed with the whole notion and tended to forced feed his socio-political agenda with zombies being a metaphor.  Personally, Romero’s last two films left a sour taste in my mouth.

Luckily, Empire of the Dead seems a bit more on par with Day.  Not nearly as heavy handed, so far…

The debate as to whether or not zombies are capable of logic and reason even in a primitive sense is personified by the characters Penny Jones, an academic that is seeking out a zombie that can reason and use critical thinking.  Her goal is to find the proverbial zombie capable of playing chess, and not merely acting on retained memory such a zombie that still sweeps the sidewalk because it still retains that mental fragment of its past life. On the opposite side of the spectrum is Paul Barnum, a man who’s job is to collect zombies for a gladiatorial  style game that is put on for masses.  He sees zombies as nothing more then mindless husks that are prone to violence. The two are paired together since Jones needs someone to guide her through the infested city.

Added to the mix is the character Frances Xavier, a former SWAT team member that was killed prior to the start of the series and appears to have a spark of humanity left in her. In some ways she reminds me of Bub from Day of the Dead.

George Romero also manages to tie in the Night of the Living Dead with Empire in a manner that fans of the movie will recognize.  Personally, I liked the way he tied it all into Empire. The more traditionalist/conservative/closed minded types will most likely hate it.  I hope he continues to evolve the idea of what a zombie is and perhaps the comic is the perfect media for it since he’s not limited by budget or other things in Hollywood. In a lot of ways the theme of Empire of the Dead would make for a thinking persons horror comic, which would be refreshing.

Surprisingly, Marvel is the publisher of Empire of the Dead.  Perhaps they’re just trying to cash in on the zombie craze but it is nice to see they’re willing to take a chance on a series that isn’t the superhero schlock they normally produce.  The artwork in the comic is top notch and the lettering is well done.  The overall use of blue and cooler tones throughout the book gave it a grittier and somber feel which complimented the script.

When I reached the end of issue #1 I wanted to know more about both the characters and the world that Romero has created and that’s a good sign since I’m picky when it comes to what I spend my time reading.  I’d recommend checking out the debut issue to anyone that’s a fan of Romero or the zombie genre.

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