Dead World: War of the Dead #1
Written by Gary Reed
Art by Sami Makkonen
Review by Joey Braccino
Before I launch into the review of Dead World: War of the Dead #1, I want to point out that the Dead World universe has been around since 1987. It was originally published by Arrow Comics before being sold to Gary Reed’s Caliber Comics. Reed continued to work on the series through the ‘90s and early ‘00s. By 2005, Dead World was being printed by Desperado Publishing under the Image Comics banner. Today, issue #1 of a 5-issue, weekly mini-series in the Dead World universe, again penned by Gary Reed, is being published by IDW (and Desperado). Now that that brief history is out of the way, let’s get into this… relaunch? Re-exploration? Revision? I haven’t read any of the previous iterations of Dead World, but word around the interwebs is that this issue is a great addition to the mythos. As a new reader, I will say that zombies are so hot right now.
The set-up is familiar: zombie plague, human survivors arm themselves, there’s a safe haven for survivors, swords, head-shots, etc. A lot of the more resonant beats and big questions throughout the issue are similar to those found in issues of “mainstream” series like The Walking Dead and… well, pretty much just The Walking Dead. Rob Kirkman’s (ongoing) zombie epic has become the standard bearer for zombie yarns in the comics (and now TV) industry, so Dead World—though an older series—has some stiff competition on the stands right now. Writer Gary Reed brings some new ideas to the table—most of which will be familiar to Dead World readers—that are successful in holding new readers’ attention. The most prominent complication is the addition of human experimentation. At some point after the zombie plague but before the current action of the series, a cadre of human survivors in Safe Haven (a community college turned into sanctuary for survivors) began experimenting on other humans in order to discover some kind of weakness or cure to the plague. We’re introduced to two characters that are the products of such experiments: the first is the new leader of Safe Haven, Mike, whose skin has been eroded through leprosy experiments; the second is Donna, who seems to have been infused with the thought patterns or consciousness of a zombie. She also wields swords and protects a young girl that she calls her “daughter.” The Donna storyline is still a bit vague, but Reed seems to be holding those cards close to the vest because of Donna’s connection to another shadowy protagonist named Dan MacDonald, who has a sort of zombie spidey-sense. He also carries a big gun, wears a leather duster, and a wide-brimmed hat. I’m assuming he’ll be killing some undead in the coming issues.
The second variation is the inclusion of the King Zombie and the suggestion that he still retains advanced brain patterns and consciousness and can control his hordes of zombies through thought. He’s introduced at the very end of the issue, so I’m interested to see how this plays out. It could just end up becoming a hero versus villain shoot-‘em-up, but Reed seems just as invested in the moral and ethical questions of the Dead World as he is with the impending battle with King Zombie.
Admittedly, I’m not a big horror fan. I love me some Walking Dead, but I actively try to avoid stories and films that are meant to scare my pants off. My primary reason for picking up Dead World in the first place was the artwork. Sami Makkonen’s is perfectly suited to this book. It is frightening, haunting, gloomy, grave, and delectably mystifying. Makkonen’s bathes the entire book in scratchy, jagged shadows—sometimes impenetrably black, other times unsettlingly red—that produce some truly horrifying images and imagery. Fans of 30 Days of Night will enjoy the visual aesthetic of this new series. Long-time fans of Dead World should pick it up just to enjoy some more stories by long-time DW writer, Gary Reed.
Fans of zombies and horror comics should give this book a shot. For a first issue, Reed manages to balance the necessary exposition with some great zombie-slaying action. Even though it’s part of a larger mythos, Reed’s script succeeds in acclimating new readers quickly. This issue also promises some larger metaphorical questions in the rest of the series. The best part is that the next issue will be released next week, so we’ll be through all 5 issues by the end of the month! Futhermore, the artwork is so damn fascinating. Whether this series pays off or not will be something we explore as we read on, but I’m willing to give it a shot and pick up issue #2!