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Those are fingers.

’68: Scars #2

Written by Mark Kidwell

Art by Nat Jones

Colors by Jay Fotos

Review by Joey Braccino

I’ve said it before: zombies are so hot right now. For a medium commonly associated with tights and superheroics, it would appear that an increasing number of aspiring Raimi/Romero’s and daring Deadites are latching on to comics to tell their tales of terror. Now, I don’t have a problem with that, per se, as long as the story is good, the art is visceral, and focus is less on zombie head-shots and more on character close-ups. Fortunately, ’68 Scars achieves all three.

When I picked up ’68 Scars, I thought I was going to get some down-in-the-mud, gritty Vietnam drama a la Marvel’s The NAM, Michael Herr’s Dispatches, or Platoon. And I did. Plus zombies. Which, the more I think about it, is the perfect visual, pop cultural metaphor for the horrific FUBAR stuff that the troops go through in the jungles of Vietnam. After all, as Chris Taylor says in platoon, “Somebody once wrote, ‘Hell is the impossibility or reason!’ That’s what this place feels like. Hell.” What better Hell than one in which the dead walk. And eat.

Mark Kidwell wrote a brief Night of the Living Dead series (spinning off of George A. Romero’s ground-breaking 1968 film of the same name) for Image Comics back in 2008. While writing that series, Kidwell got to thinking: if the living dead were milling about rural Pennsylvania in 1968, were they overseas plaguing our troops as well? Frankly, if that’s your set-up, color me fascinated from the get-go! Kidwell teamed with horror artist Nat Jones to produce the first ’68 one-shot back in 2010, followed by a 4-issue mini-series in 2011, and a few more one-shots. In April of 2012, Image released ’68: Scars #1, initiating a new 4-issue mini-series featuring all the grit, mud, zombie entrails, disillusionment, FUBARs, and references to Charlie that any reader could ask for.

And here we are with issue #2 (finally). Several storylines operate at once: a soldier wakes up in a Vietnam-airport-turned-medical-center after his base was overrun by zombies; a naïve Seaman First Class tells a pair of grizzled Navy Seals the story of how his boat was overtaken by zombies (perhaps unleashed by VC!?); a zombie invasion in New York City forces the human population to evacuate the island. There’s a lot of action packed into this issue’s 22 pages, including some gory, terrifying zombie action, but Kidwell does not lose sight his human characters. The sequence between the Navy Seal and the Seaman First Class is particularly fascinating, as the terror of the story doesn’t necessarily come from the zombies, but rather the young soldier’s overwhelming fear of the Jungle, of the Unknown, of Death in War. Great stuff.

Nat Jones’ artwork is perfectly suited to Kidwell’s story. The strong inks and rugged naturalism is reminiscent of the equally gory artwork of Jacen Burrows (Crossed) and Steve Dillon (Punisher, Preacher). The zombies are damn terrifying. Jay Fotos makes a welcome choice with his colors, relying less on dark shadows and more on solid, flat realism. The art tells Kidwell’s story incredibly well, and doesn’t rely on traditional horror visual tropes to do so.

Verdict

Loved it. Recommended. The Vietnam War (and the ‘60s in general) is a complex period in our collective cultural history, and it has significant metaphorical and literary worth as such. Kidwell and Company’s story in ’68 does not undercut that complexity in favor of zombie killing, instead using the zombies as metaphor in a grander examination of the horrors of war. Sign me up. My only concern is that there were 4 months between issue #1 and issue #2; who knows when issue #3 hits the stands?

One gripe: Kidwell tries to recreate Chinese accents for his characters in New York City’s Chinatown. One woman says “Lemember” instead of “Remember.” As someone with relatives who are Chinese immigrants and still have thick Chinese accents, I have never once heard any of them say “Lemember” instead of “Remember.” That’s just offensive and unnecessary.

 

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