Thursday, August 5, 2010

"I'm a Zombie, Plain and Simple." - iZombie #4

Up to this point iZombie has seemed like an innocent take on the far more deviant horror comics of a bygone age; the New Trend comics of the classic EC line that traded in as much gore and menace as could be fit into the average page. Here we had a zombie-hipster girl named Gwen, her best friend Ellie, a charming little ghost in the grooviest outfits, and their mutual friend Scott, a boy who upon a full moon turns into a terrier. Gwen eats brains of the recently deceased (she is not even a killer, herself), and in doing so sees the memories of those people, and thusly feels compelled to fix things they left behind, or solve something for them they may have left unresolved. Part Medium, part Ghost Whisperer, part Scooby-Doo, and part Friends, all tied together by the wonderfully dynamic art of Michael Allred, and iZombie had charisma to spare. Underneath it all, though, one suspected that there be darker times to come. After all, one cannot tread in the world of the undead without getting a little blood on them.

This issue is by no means a darkly twisted turn into the macabre, and there is barely much blood in this entire series, so far, to really warrant any disclaimers for gore; but what this issue does do is reveal to both the reader and to it's main character, Gwen, that this seemingly simple world she has been living in, and therefore this seemingly simple construct of a comic book we have been reading, have been but mere surface. We have only been treading water on the very tips of the waves. Below lay the vast sea, and it gets murkier, certainly, but also more splendid.

This is a natural progression in the life of any ongoing serialized story; the first few chapters or episodes tend to display the major players, set up a few relationships, and then proceed to play a simple formula in order to ease readers and viewers into this new world. But this can only go so far, and soon, the story must blossom into something greater, bigger, with more depth, or suffer the waning interest of an audience that feels it has seen the trick already. This is how a series must mature, if there is hope for long-term survival.

iZombie #4 formally introduces the character of Amon, an ancient Egyptian mummy, who survives much like Gwen does, by consuming life. He has "lived" for millennia, and thusly has a greater understanding of the world of the undead than our heroine. His purpose here is to school Gwen, and us, about it all. Suffice it to say, Amon is a verbose professor, but then again, what would one expect when his curriculum is the very explanation for the existence of every ghost, ghoul, vampire, and monster there is? His task is wordy, sure, but entertaining, imaginative, and necessary.

What writer Chris Roberson provides us in this issue is an understanding that the randomness of life does not end with death; the afterlife, the world of the undead is one just as random and ruled by chance. Upon death, one has as much chance of coming back a ghost or a vampire or a zombie as of resting peacefully in whatever hereafter they ascend, or descend to. One is not made a vampire through a bite, nor made a zombie through some virus. It comes about by mere luck, or un-luck, of the draw. Pick a card, any card, and one's fate be on the other side. For Gwen, this means that her curse as a brain-eating zombie may actually turn out to make her one of the lucky ones. She has been given a chance at immortality, to live a new life and to live it better and more fully than she may have the first time around. If the meal of a dead brain must be feasted on periodically to keep that engine purring, so be it. At least she is no killer, as Amon and the vampires are.

The belief in a second-chance at life stands at the core of this book. The trick is to not waste this second opportunity, to not sit idly in coffee-shops and live this new life as one did their old life. Amon serves as both bearer of hope and warning against sloth. Are we to recognize ourselves in these monsters? Are we to see the struggles of our lives in the struggles of these creatures to cope with the oddities of their existence? Of course we are. It is explicit. We all have brains to eat, some form of that anyway, some form of coping mechanism that we have created our life around. The question is whether we become consumed by those coping mechanisms to the point where they become our whole lives. Gwen's life revolves around her need to eat a brain frequently, so much so, she has taken a job as a grave-digger. That which sustains her has become her whole existence. She's a wage-slave in perpetuity.

Amon lives his life dressed in smoking jacket and ascot, ensconced in a luxurious home complete with exotic pet, in this case a white leopard. He sips his dry martini and speaks with the passion of a world-explorer; he's an immortal zombie in Hugh Hefner disguise. He sees nothing unnatural about his existence, nor the existence of any of the undead. They are all simply part of the coil and cogs of the machine of the world, no different than any other creature. Amon speaks as a liberator, a civil-rights activist for the undead, railing against millennia of intolerance from those who see them as abominations against God, against the natural order of things; those with wooden stakes and silver bullets who see themselves as protectors of what is "normal".

What started off as though it had aspirations to be only a simple homage to the horror comics of yesteryear, has shown itself to be a much more complex animal. iZombie does this all, however, without sacrificing any of the whimsy and gee-shucks fun of the genre. For all the allegory and analogy we as readers can infer from this comic, there on the page still lay the bright pop-art colors and bold dynamism of a world of zombies, vampires, a videogame-playing "WereTerrier", a groovy ghost, monster-hunters in white lab coats, and one parka-wearing hipster girl trying to understand it all. What will happen next for this mad-cap gang? Will the secret sect of vampire-supermodels be revealed at long-last? Will Gwen find romance with the very man seeking to hunt her kind out of existence? And what of the mysterious life and death of Frederick Harris, Amon's last victim, and Gwen's last brainy meal? Looks like you'll have to come back next month, kids.

iZombie #4 written by Chris Roberson, with art by Michael Allred and Laura Allred, was released 4 August, 2010 by Vertigo Comics.

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