The Mammoth Book of Zombie Comics, by David Kendall (ed.)

zombie cvr

This is a very mixed bag.  It’s a ‘mammoth’ book so it has to come in at a certain length to justify the tag – but what if you haven’t got enough material to hand to fulfil the title’s requirements?  You can’t reduce the length because then it wouldn’t be mammoth.  The only alternative is to stretch the definition of a zombie, even if it means including tales that don’t actually feature shuffling undead flesh-munchers at all, or where the degree of zombiedom involved is unclear.

There are eighteen stories, from a few pages to novella-length, some dating from the 1980s (perhaps a mini-surge, or ‘surgicle’, inspired by the 1983 release of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video), but most from the 2000s, which suggests that the editor simply took what happened to be fresh (if that’s the right word to use in connection with zombies) in his mind – the compilation was published in 2008 – and didn’t bother to dig back too far into zombie history; unless he is saying that the only stories worth printing, at least where the rights were available, were produced in those two decades.  The introduction merely says that the book includes many of the best done in the last twenty years, not why only those years (and why the ‘90s were so barren).

The strongest are one of the shortest and the longest in the book.  The former, ‘In Sickness’, is about someone who turns into a zombie and doesn’t realise it, with a tremendous twist ending.  ‘Dead Eyes Open’, occupying almost a third of the entire volume, is an examination of what would happen if zombies, or rather ‘returners’ as they are called, were sentient and retained the personalities, emotional range and ethical standards they had when alive, and were merely differently abled compared to their breathing counterparts.  How should society respond?  By attempting extermination or offering co-existence?  And if the latter, how would it work?  There is a lovely character arc with a clueless ‘zombie’ psychologist being handed the job of mouthpiece for the returner community and gradually transforming into a dignified principled politician.  It is a welcome diversion from the standard mindless automatons with which we are so familiar.  But enough about politicians.

Another strong entry, ‘Dead End’ demonstrates that zombies aren’t the nastiest things in life, the living can be much worse.  The final story in the book, the functionally-named ‘Zombies’, is striking in both its graphic qualities and the punch it delivers in a short space, asking what lengths the living would have to go to in order to survive in a zombie-dominated world, and would it be worth the effort (hint: it involves having a strong stomach).  Another one that engages is ‘Pigeons from Hell’.  Adapted from a story by Robert E Howard, it suffers from extremely murky artwork, and crucially doesn’t seem to be zombie-related as it is more reasonable to assume that the villain of the piece is alive, admittedly not looking her best.  It scores for the evocation of a Southern Gothic atmosphere, let down by a weak payoff.

At the other end of the crapness scale, ‘Necrotic: Dead Flesh on a Living Body’ is over sixty pages long, a confused tale about a mummy, not even an ancient Egyptian but an American archaeologist who died from cancer while on a dig in the Valley of the Kings in the 1920s, was mummified by his colleagues, brought back to his New York mansion (they didn’t need an export licence?) and hidden in a wall, and now suddenly comes back to life at the end of the century.  How he achieves this is not explained, nor how it was that his big house hadn’t been sold or trashed while he was away.  There’s some tosh about reincarnation which is a red herring.  It’s not just a non-zombie story, it’s a very poorly conceived non-zombie story.  The title gives the game away: that’s flesh on a living body, not on a dead zombie body.

The rest are variable, with some that are enjoyable yet little that really stands out, and a few that should have been shot in the head before reaching print.  Overall it’s a fun enough read, but zombie purists may feel short-changed at the inclusion of non-zombies to bulk out the book to the required length, and some of the others are pretty ropey.  I’m sure this could have been a better book – perhaps the editor was constrained by his budget.  In that case Robinson, the publisher, should have found a more appropriate label for it.

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