Saturday, November 07, 2009

Comics: Change the record.

One of the oddest things about Max Brooks's popular zombie-centric franchise - the highest point of which is the critic and fan fave novel World War Z - is how haphazardly it all hangs together. The cornerstone of the whole thing is his '03 Zombie Survival Guide, a goofy spoof of the then wildly popular Worst Case Scenario books and their imitators. A gag impulse-buy book, the book and it's author then appeared in Brooks's second book, World War Z: The premise of that novel's oral history conceit is that Brooks was selected for the job of oral historian because his well-known writer of a zombie survival guide is considered essential reading by the humans that made it out of the zombicaust. Aside from the tonal shift - the guide is clearly a goof, but the novel (though often hilarious in the way any really obsessively detailed consideration of the impossible inevitably is) takes its premise as seriously as it can - there's a sort of continuity error insomuch as Z assumes a guide written after a single, global zombie outbreak, but the guide assumes that there have been many outbreaks of differing magnitudes. The latest addition to the franchise, a graphic novel expansion of a section from Brooks's original guide titled Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks, mixes the premises of the first book and the tone of the second. Recorded Attacks posits that zombie outbreaks of varying severity have been a regular part of human existence since the Stone Age and, within the Brooksian world of zombies, certain cultures have highly developed responses to fighting the undead. Though the tone of new graphic novel owes more to WWZ than the tongue-in-cheek meta-ness of the guide.

The comic begins with a hypothetical attack on a tribe of prehistoric humans. From there, readers go to ancient Egypt (where the removal mummies' brains takes on a new significance), the borders of the Roman Empire, and so on, in a rapid tour of zombie/pure strain human history.

Eagle-eyed readers may spot the conflict between this opener and the title of the book. After all, the point of the label "prehistoric" is to underscore the fact that the period in question produced no historic record. Brooks repeated breaks his conceit that the stories in his book are "recorded" attacks. Later, he tells the story of an outbreak that was later reported as a slave rebellion. He actually ends this story with the narration telling us that there was no record of what really happened in that incident, causing readers with a bias towards narrative logic to wonder how, then, could it be in a book pretending to be a collection of recorded attacks.

Those head scratching paradoxes aside, the stories are, on the whole, rather fun. The book's standout is a series of interconnected bits that infect humanity's grimmest crime - the 400 plus years of the Atlantic slave trade - with the zombies. There's an effective and creepy parallel between the predation of the slavers and the cannibalism of the zombies. Ibraim Roberson finely done black and white art is up to the task. He handles the rapid shifts in time confidently and his action and horror scenes are suitably lively and grisly.

In fact, the only thing the book really suffers from is the fact that the zombie markets been absolutely glutted for nearly a decade now. A competently handled, reasonably clever work like Recorded Attacks might have been great in '02, but now it is not only the victim of a crowded field, it trails behind Walking Dead, the definitive comic treatment of the whole zombie thing. There are those who can't get enough of the shambling dead. Such readers will find more than enough to enjoy here to make the book worth their time. For readers fatigued by this endless zombie moment we seem to find ourselves in, this will seem like more of the same.

1 comment:

wiec? said...

i took this off the shelf and flipped through and figured I'd add it my wish list or just skip it entirely. i enjoyed the hand book when it was new and it got a lot of ohs and ahs when people visited and saw it on the coffee table. WWZ was cool too but i sort of skipped around and i can't remember if i finished reading it or not.

my New Years Resolution this year might be no zombie stuff (of any sort) for 365 days (except for Walking Dead trades. can't quit that one). there is waaaaay too much zombie crap shambling about.