Zombiebusters: The Mocking Dead #1 Review

mocking_dead_1_cover_2013-205542117Mahatma Gandhi once said about fighting The Man: ” First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” And that’s a fine addage to remember when you’re being hosed down with pepper spray by some armored riot cop due to your belief that everyone should eat tofurkey or something, but it doesn’t really apply to big genre trends. In fact, the opposite is true: first some nifty geek thing takes the world by storm (hi, Twilight!). Then people start actively complaining that they’re sick of hearing about that trend. Then come the parodies, and finally the thing goes back underground, never to be mentioned again except on obscure fan and slashfic sites.

And I can hear what you’re saying: “Rob,” you’re saying, “How dare you sully the good name of Mahatma Gandhi by mentioning it on this Web site? You’re not fit to carry this great man’s diaper!” Well, I’ll concede that you have a point, or at least I will if it gets me out of carrying a giant diaper, but I do have a point. And that point is that zombies have been front and center of the geek consciousness arguably since Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later was released in 2002, penetrating into movies, comic books and television like few recent monsters that don’t sparkle. And for the past couple of years, more and more people have been grumbling that they’re sick of zombie stories – not me; I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of seeing people being eaten while society crumbles around them, but a lot of people.

And now come the parodies, specifically, this week’s The Mocking Dead, by writer of a bunch of the Marvel Zombies miniseries Fred Van Lente and artist Max Dunbar, which not only pokes fun at the public’s zombie apocalypse fascination, but at the people who are fascinated by zombies. And if this is, in fact, a sign that zombies are that far along on the Reverse-Gandhi Geek Continuum (Trademark me! I own that phrase, and al the subsidiary rights!), well, Robert Kirkman better open a savings account and hose off his diaper bucket.

We open with your standard lone survivor, post-apocalypse, dude or woman in a bunker, firing up off-brand cigarettes with a fancy Zippo (despite the fact that that would be the first piece of technology to die after the end of the world. Hell, even with access to electric light, power tools and DIY YouTube videos it takes me three hours a week to keep my Zippo working) and muttering into a tape recorded about how everything went wrong. Flash back to the beginning of the zombie apocalypse: ground zero, Monroeville, PA (of course). Cut to: Aaron Bunch, pop culture nerd, happily maintaining his torrent server when the federales kick in the door, led by Vanessa Malik, Bunch’s former partner on a secret 80s government project to, well, watch movies and figure out how to defeat whatever happens in them. In case those things ever happen in real life. You heard me. they drag Bunch to Washington to argue about what to do about the impending zombie apocalypse – excuse me, the “mass posthuman population conversion” – when Bunch reminds everyone about one simple rule of monster hunting…

Okay, the first trick of any zombie parody that’s worked is to treat the zombies seriously; that’s why Shaun of The Dead worked so well, the zombies were a serious fucking problem. And Van Lente seems to do that here; sure, they call them “the mocking dead,” but it’s because they seem to be laughing. Laughing while they target infants due to their high caloric load. Sure, these zombies explode once a car comes near them, but at least at this point, I can believe that these things are a legitimate threat. They ain’t the Crossed, that’s for sure, but they’re threatening enough.

Second, the overriding thing here that worked for me was the idea that Ronald Reagan would spend federal money to create a commission to study whether movies could turn into the real thing. Van Lente uses the idea of John Hinkley was inspired by Taxi Driver and that Reagan was inspired by Star Wars for the space defense system for Reagan to think that studying every movie would be a good idea… and in the retrospect that 25 years brings, I can totally believe it. Hell, the weird fucker and his wife Nancy had astrologers wandering in and out of the White House all the time, and he himself went from western movie hero to high noon showdowns with Russia, so I can totally picture him sitting alone in the White House screening room, watching E. T. The Extra Terrestrial and ordering a black budgeted strategic reserve of Reese’s Pieces. The concept is clever satire. I liked it.

What I’d like to see more of in upcoming issues is the beefing up of Bunch’s character. Van Lente has set up a situation where we have, at face value, an 80s buddy cop partnership: Malik is the straight-arrow narc, and Bunch is the funny, Peter Venkman type. But we don’t get to spend a ton of time with Bunch here, with his introduction featuring his screeching in terror at the cops, and between various flashbacks, he only gets one or two really good funny lines. It’s a good start, but if we are, as all indications show, going to go full 80s-style horror comedy, I’m gonna want a full-on, sarcastic, ironic, barely affected by the horror happening around him Venkman type.

Dunbar’s art is pretty solid for what is, admittedly, a low-profile indie humor book with a probably limited audience. The art is black and white (as befitting something inspired, ultimately, by Night of The Living Dead), with a medium line and some very detailed backgrounds. His figures are realistic, and his faced are inked and drawn in a style reminiscent to me of Howard Chaykin, with similar angles, eyebrows and detail lines. His facial expressions, however, are a little static; Bunch gets most of the care and feeding here, but there are several panels where Mailk’s face looks exactly the same, as if she was shot full of Botox. His zombies have, in my opinion, exactly the right look: a simple, Romero-style zombie, with a rictus grin carved naturally into the faces. It’s prettuy good-looking stuff.

The Mocking Dead #1 is a decent start to a promising zombie story parody, with a ton of red meat for the real Romero fan – check the names of the members of Operation Tinseltown, and Van Lente even made the subtle nod to the history of the film Night of The Living Dead by making damn sure that his pastiche version had a copyright notice on the title card. There are some pretty funny lines, and the entire architecture around the human response to the zombie apocalypse is really some clever satire. And all of it showing that, even though this is a horror comedy, the zombies are a serious threat. And as a lifelong fan of not only zombie stories, but of Ghostbusters, Van Lente has laid down enough cards to indicate that, in the long term, we might be in for a treat.