The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics, edited by David Kendall
David Kendall’s latest Mammoth project, (his previous was the The Mammoth Book of Best War Comics) sees him compiling an enjoyable selection of zombie comics from the last twenty five years, plus one bona-fide classic, the source material of which was first published in 1938.
Kendall, (or the marketing crew at Constable and Robinson), posits that this is ‘the greatest gathering of the undead…’ and that within are ’18 of the greatest zombie comics ever’; while this is certainly a bold claim it’s a debatable one, given the feverish zed-centric activity in the comic and graphic novel industries – most of which is of a higher quality than the stories here. In reality, Kendall has put together stories that are likely author-owned; unlike most of those currently being written for IDW, Image, Marvel, Boom Studios et al.
That said, there are some absolute gems to be found within this 455 page tome. Worth the price alone is a reprint of Robert E. Howard’s Pigeon’s From Hell. Worth it not only because the story is an amazing mix of horror, ghost, occult and zombie, which was first published in the May 1938 issue of Weird Tales, but also because of Scott Hampton’s stunning, stunning paintings. I’ve just managed to get hold of both of Hampton’s IDW published Spookhouse anthologies; the second of which features Pigeons From Hell in oversized atmospheric full colour, something worth going out of your way for. Simply, an amazing and scary tale rendered by an artist who loves ghost stories. The story’s being reworked again this year, by Dark Horse Comics, adapted by Joe R. Lansdale.
A tale completely new to me is Dead Eyes Open, written by Matthew Shepherd and drawn by Roy Boney Jnr. Taking up about a third of the whole anthology this is an ambitious attempt to show how society might treat the zombies if they retained their personalities after they’d reanimated. Their bodies might be crumbling steadily, but they still want rights, and their old jobs back. And a small minority are prepared to go to extreme lengths to ensure they can live as equals with their living and breathing brothers and sisters. Sound familiar? A fun scene of a reanimated Hollywood actor as a guest on Oprah, justifying his existence and plugging his work, strikes a note of surreality and is an idea that isn’t so out of place these days – just look at this!
A particular selling point of The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics is, (for those who’ve become fatigued by the usual zed tropes), that many of the stories feature well-rounded characters, very much dead and returned, and not at all like Romero’s grey-blue shamblers. In fact, the majority of the infected, resurrected, returned, er… zeds are far more likable than those who are, er… human.
Other inclusions see Steve Niles giving us a minor, (and cliched), tale of zombie revenge. Askold Askin has three strips here: two fairly literal, (I imagine), adaptations of Russian and African folk tales, plus one based on a haunted ship story by Wilhem Hauff; all end abruptly and unsatisfyingly, but The Zombie, with its African voodoo-based curse does feel unique.
Several of the tales first saw the light of day in Accent’s Zombies anthology of 2007. That was a commendable publication, (but independent and therefore difficult to obtain unless you’re into these sort of things, or have easy access to one of the Forbidden Planet stores), and it’s a good thing that they’re now available to be seen by a wider audience. Kendall has opted to include the best from Zombies, namely Indio’s Might of the Living Dead, a fun and EC Comic’s style look at the zed genre and its quirks – less of a story and more of a comicly gory documentary. Jon Ayre and Stephen Hill’s In Sickness gives us a cleverly twisting tale of a couple facing up to the implications of infection on their relationship, whilst Job Satisfaction by Gary Crutchley shows that, despite the circumstances, they’ll always be someone who prefers this new life of survival to their previous mundane existence.
The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics is worth the price of admission for Pigeons From Hell and Dead Eyes Open alone, and is an ideal companion to their Mammoth Book of Best Horror Comics from earlier this year.