Yup – Zombies.
At this stage in the game, with six and a half years of The Walking Dead’s variable success and all of the apocalypses (is there a different plural for that?) that it’s spawned, it’s almost surprising to me that people still feel they have something new to say in the genre. Some think they do and actually don’t, which is why so many tend to roll their eyes when another z-story (or vampire story, or whatever) comes along. (I admit, I see “vampire” in a book description and my eyes glaze over.)
But now and then someone does have something new to say, or a new way to say similar things to what’s been said elsewhere. And even though I’ve kind of sworn off trying z-poc tales (there are only so many times I can get lucky), I clicked “request” on this one at Netgalley.
I’m very glad I did. There are new and different elements to the story – which I won’t talk about because I don’t want to spoil them. Yes, all the basics are there: somehow something got loose in the world, somehow it spread, and a few weeks later, as the graphic novel begins, the vast majority of the population is shambling and looking for human flesh to eat. Except for the ones who are sprinting after humans to eat their flesh. And of the minority of un-undead who remain, chaos has set in, and anarachy, and all those fun after-effects of an apocalypse, until no one can trust anyone. Not even Sam, the hero of the story, whose only reason for staying alive is that maybe, somehow, somewhere his daughter is still alive. Maybe.
I loved this book. I enjoyed the artwork consistently – and that’s rare; so often either one book/chapter in a series will be well done, and the next will be by a different artist who doesn’t seem to have ever picked up a pencil before – but here there is one writer, one artist. Sophian Cholet (colors by Simon Champelovier). The characters were vivid and believable, and I never found myself thinking “hm, that’s the Daryl of the group”. A lot of the characters were children, and it occurs to me that this was very smart – I mean, yes, they’re going to be at risk from parents and other caretakers who turn, but they’re also going to be the first priority of any adult in the area, related or not, stashed in the safest possible place and protected tooth and nail, and sometimes in groups. I loved the fake-out mind-bleepery prologue; I loved the way information was revealed and surprises were sprung, and new characters introduced and tied in. I loved the paint job for the Pentagon. I loved the character arcs. I loved that unintended consequences were given attention: the thing that saved one group of survivors, the brilliant idea by what was almost their Eugene, was the death of untold other survivors. It was a beautifully told story.
I liked that the creators’ pop culture tastes seemed to be reflected in the t-shirts characters wore.
In fact, I loved this book enough to give it five stars right off the bat … but then I thought about it a little more. And while it was very good, and very enjoyable, there were a handful of things that bothered me a little while I was reading and survived my satisfaction upon finishing. For one thing, as the creators’ names might indicate, the book was originally written in French, and while for the most part the translation gave me no problems every now and then there was something that just didn’t click. The children were the biggest problem, and there were a lot of children in the story; there were quite a few frames in which their dialogue seemed far too old for them. Things like “zombies are too numerous”, talking about psychopaths, and even smaller things like using the word “adult”, just didn’t feel right. (This actually was true in other cases as well, with (ahem) grownups using language that was more formal than called for.)
I was a little annoyed that only rarely did anyone seem to use a weapon other than a gun; on one page someone even warns that gunfire will attract the zombies’ attention, and then in the very next frame someone else is blam-blamming away. There were a few times that people used hammers and whatnot, but I would have loved to have seen some creativity in the weapons. Come the end of the world I for one will be looting museums with medieval collections as early as possible: polearms for the win. And bows of all kinds, cross and not: distance weapons that make much less noise than firearms, and which are much easier to create new ammunition for.
I was also a little annoyed, in retrospect, that there were really no women among the fighters. That doesn’t come from a feminist standpoint – that just comes from a sensible standpoint. (Well, that’s the same thing, quite often.) Every survivor with reasonable physical condition should be trained to use as many weapons as possible in the event of the end of the world. If nothing else, give a girl a gun – a decent pair of eyes and a trigger finger doesn’t depend on gender. Again, this didn’t strike me while I was reading – but afterwards I said “Hey waitaminnit!”
Oh, speaking of women and how they were handled in the book – a group of the good guys comes upon a group of bad guys who keep two women tied to their beds … and I don’t think … Nope, I just went back and checked. The fate of those two women is never mentioned. It would have been nice to have had them being wrapped in blankets and helped away in the background of a scene.
The last thing that bothered me was a Big Reveal at the very end of the story. It was almost well done; there was a teaser earlier on, and then at the end when someone finally puts into words what is being kept from everyone (including the reader) for their own sanity, I … missed it. I had to go back and read it again. It was something that made the first survivor who heard it exclaim in horror – but all it got out of me was a “huh?” “No need to screw with the morale of the group. If this fucking virus did mutate, we’ll never survive a second merry-go-round ride.”… And that’s it for that. But … HOW did it mutate? How does this mean the survivors are going to be endangered again? Are the zombies going to be able to reproduce? Fly? Become resistant to the sonic repellant Clay discovered? It can’t be that one, since the ones bringing the news didn’t know anything about such a thing till they landed in DC. So what on earth is it that is going to happen that the survivors need to give half a damn about? Don’t know. Maybe that was the point – but if I knew, I’d have finished the book with a pang in my heart for these people, instead of just …confused.
Still and all, while it wasn’t after all quite a five-star read, Zombies: A Brief History of Decay (to give it the full title on my copy) was very, very good, and very, very enjoyable.
Just don’t think about it too much after you finish it.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.