Grim Crew is back with another installment of their zombie anthology, Dead Future Issue 2. The first issue is a surprisingly fresh set of stories given that zombies are becoming an extremely limiting literary resource these days. While issue 2 doesn’t attain the same standards of originality, it’s a fun read and, more importantly, its existence is justified merely by virtue of those aforementioned zombies.
The first story, With a Whimper is written by Sebastian Piccione and illustrated by Martinho Abreu who also contributed artwork to Dead Future Issue 1. Piccione’s protagonist is the last living man on earth, at least as far as he can tell, and he’s no longer concerned with trying to fight the zombie horde nor is he concerned with survival. His only concern is that he doesn’t die by their hands and become one of them.
The only negative aspect of With a Whimper is its lack of originality which is apparent immediately. Whimper’s problem starts with the genesis of the modern zombie archetype. George Romero has stated that Night of the Living Dead’s basic concept is a rip off of Richard Matheson’s book I Am Legend. Foregoing vampires, Romero’s ghouls became zombies almost by accident as a minimal-effort attempt at differentiating his story. Piccione’s story brings this relationship full circle, being much more similar to I am Legend than Night of the Living Dead and again foregoing vampires for zombies.
Abreu’s understated artwork clears the way for narrative momentum and clearly articulates the action when words cannot. Well-paced and adhering to a Twilight Zone inspired structure which sets up an emphatic twist, With a Whimper works well, it just feels a bit stale.
Kindergarten Zombies, written by Candy Hart and Illustrated by Julio Falkenhagen, is a tonal anomaly compared to the rest of the stories in the Dead Future series. It’s composed in the style of a comic strip in which a class of 5-year-olds battle zombies comprised of teachers and other various school officials. Culminating in a gory and implausible slaughter in the middle of suburbia, Kindergarten Zombies finally justifies itself with a last ditch twist.
Hart’s story is essentially a long set up for the last panel – a panel that does barely enough to quell our mounting frustration toward the inexplicable events that precede it. There is very little dialogue leaving much of what’s happening in the hands of Falkenhagen whose style is the only one appropriate for a story about 5-year-old zombie hunters. Think Calvin and Hobbes, add blood and viscera and there you have it – Kindergarten Zombies.
Dead Future Issue 2 closes with The Rest of the Story written by Daniel Palmer and illustrated by Juha Veltti. Palmer’s story begins with a zombie making his way through small-town Georgia and eventually arriving at a house already besieged by the living dead. As ghouls overtake the house the remaining survivors fall prey until only a mother and her young daughter remain. As they’re attacked by the new arrival, Palmer’s twist reveals the ghoul’s former identity.
Veltti’s artwork is clear and dramatic using contrast and shadows to create a dynamic and oppressive environment. The Rest of the Story contains very little dialogue and narration, once again relying on simple and well-composed imagery to tell the story. Veltti’s artwork is the perfect utility.
Palmer’s story is very minimalist and it uses extremely well-worn zombie conceits in ways they’ve always been used. Given the tight small-scale nature of the story, the twist (yes, The Rest of the Story is yet another large plot convention the purpose of which is to set up a twist) needs a serious wow-factor for its payoff to be gratifying. Unfortunately, there’s only an anticlimactic lack of wow……and more zombies of course.
Grim Crew’s maiden voyage with Dead Future set the bar extremely high. Its value lies in its impressive ingenuity in a genre that has been bled of fresh ideas a long time ago. Dead Future Issue 2 is more along the lines of what one should expect from such a project. It has the unfortunate distinction of arriving on the heels of a set of stories that blow expectations sky high. However, despite its relative lack of freshness Dead Future Issue 2 is an undeniably well made and entertaining read and I look forward to more zombie mayhem from Grim Crew.