Thursday, November 3, 2011

TPB Thursday - Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak

Stephen Lindsay, in the foreword to FUBAR: European Theater of the Damnedacerbically described zombie fiction as a "dead genre that continues to sell more and more books." And movies, video games, television programs, what have you. Quite unlike too much of popular culture, the forgettable flashes in the pan made popular by marketing and manufactured appeal instead of by quality and genuine cultural resonance, the zombie genre appropriately doesn't die easily and keeps coming back- and for good reason. Zombies represent, as Mr. Lindsay also says, "everything we as a society fear." There also seems to be little limit to what creative talent can do with the zombies that shamble from the imagination onto the page. They serve as vehicles of gore and terror, true. They also stand not just as threats to our stories' heroes but as ruthless, unflinching, slavering reflections of our own less than heroic qualities,  bringing with them meaty social commentary and sometimes biting comedy. Finally, as Mr. Lindsay said, they bring out the best in writers and artists.

I think the same can be said about Guild Works Publishing's recent contribution to the perhaps saturated but definitely insatiable market for zombie comics. Worst Case Scenario: Outbreak contains thirteen tales so fast-paced and jam packed with excitement, I could devour all 120 pages in one sitting, but with all the satisfaction of a much longer, richer read. Even better, rereading hasn't gotten repetitive yet. The stories constantly offers morsels of sweet romance here, bitter despair there, zingy humor, tangy irony, tough questions, cold vindication, and fiery notes of bright inspiration.

And right now this probably reads too much like the review of a synesthesiac oenophile restaurant critic, so I'll make this simple.

Chris Buchner, Carlos Granda, Alex Rivera, and Johnny Lowe start the book off with "A Space Oddity," which is quite simply the origin story of this anthology's zombie apocalypse. Rather than pin it on supernatural villainy or something as scarily mundane as a virus, this brings to mind Slither or Night of the Living Dead, with their strange somethings from outer space. However, this also combines elements of inevitable natural phenomena with a little bit of human ineptitude to set its own stage for a perfect sci-fi/horror disaster. An accident aboard the space station sends some biological matter of extraterrestrial origin dispersing through the earth's atmosphere. The only thing that could have made it better was perhaps if we got some on-panel reaction or post-outbreak follow-up with the astronauts and ground control to better complement the characters that drive the rest of the stories.

I found the second story, by Dino Caruso and Paul Houston, rather sweet. "Rained Out" follows a young couple's attempt to escape a baseball game that gets uglier by the second. Interspersed throughout are newspaper-like blurbs and captions that link Ellie and Leonard's plight to events taking place around the world. The captions read, "While global panic escalates and economic costs from the rampant destruction rise, it is important to not lose sight of individual hardship and suffering." It's also important to not let desperation blind one to every last, precious opportunity to make another person's day- even if it is their last.

"Poisoning the Well" is the first of a few breaks from comic book storytelling. Written in prose by Melvin Eudy and interspersed with illustrations by Roger "Chainsaw" Harris and Keith Murphey, the story is a pure beach side bloodbath. Imagine Jaws 3D, except there isn't just one shark swimming rampant through the aquatic theme park and munching on the patrons. My suspension of disbelief lapsed a little with the birth of a baby zombie dolphin. A few issues with writing mechanics also caught my insufferable editor's eye, and I did not feel the story was as cohesive as most of the book's other offerings, but if you're just along for a terrifying ride, you may not even notice.

"Misfortune," by Steve Kanaras, Matt Ryan, and Steve Kuster, is the only story in which supernatural elements put in a major appearance. A fortune-teller who's made her living tantalizing desperate people with vague hints of good things to come makes her first real prediction, but the cards can't help her avoid what is to come. The dilemma she faces between telling the truth and causing panic or lying to make someone happy and the tension it causes the characters comes across beautifully, as does the ultimate futility of it all. The more I read it, the more I see Greek tragedy in it.

"Learning to Walk Again," by Jeff Prezenkowski, Carlos Weiser, Keith Murphey, and Mindy Lopkin also puts situational irony to good use. Most of the story is told from the perspective of a hard-partying extreme snowboarder who's lost the use of his legs to a spine injury. Thinking he'd give anything to walk again, he's lost interest in everything else. An attack by a zombi-fied girlfriend ends the pity party and restores him to his senses. As he makes a bold escape from the hospital, he considers signing a new lease on life. But just when we think he'll triumph, the last page blows it all apart- and transforms the story into a lesson on being careful what we wish for as well as appreciating the life we have while we have the time.

"How I Lost My Cherry," by Keith Murphey, Jet Amago, and Matt Mundorf chronicles the misadventures of a couple of army buddies who hope to escape their workaday troubles at a strip club only to find out things only get much worse. The story could have benefited from more thorough editing, and I personally didn't find the characters quite likeable enough for me to comfortably say I enjoyed the story. But then, comfort doesn't seem to be the point, as the last page raises a very thorny and unforgetable question that will haunt you long after you've finished reading.

"One Way Street," by Alex DeGruchy, Michael Kennedy, and George E. Warner is just a simple tale of how quickly things go from bad to worst for a couple of crooks making a desperate getaway. It also contains some of the funniest lines in the book, like "This is not how I thought today would go."

"Hearts and Minds" is the second prose story in this book, written by Liam Webb with illustrations by Lonnie DiNello. It details the adventures of a middle-aged cardiac patient who, as he hears increasing news of this "flu" spreading through the hospital and the surrounding community, determines that he will not receive his scheduled bypass surgery and resolves to get home and spend his last moments, however many or few they may be, with his wife. I found it very sweet, though not without its scares, its moral quandaries, and a generous dose of socio-political comic relief to balance out what could, in less capable hands, be a pretty depressing story.

"And He Always Seemed Like Such a Nice Man," by Alex DeGruchy, Mike Kennedy, and Mindy Lopkin starts off like any other tale of someone who isn't as ordinary as he seems. But just like the main character, Jeff, the story turns out to be much more than it first seems. I found it very well paced and tightly, skillfully plotted right up to an ending that ultimately made perfect sense.

"Bleeding Out," by Keith Goodeson, C. Granada, Hector Rodriguez, and Mindy Lopkin, puts solid black panels to interesting use to depict the blindness of one character and the death of another. The dialogue and sound effects are so skillfully written and lettered, it's easy to deduce what's going on in the darkness without any literary or visual exposition.

"No Place Like Home," by Andre Saunders, Albert Luciano, and Alex Rivera, with Mindy Lopkin taking one more turn lettering, and "A Girl and Her Dog" by Valerie Finnigan with illustrations by Matt Ryan may both feature child protagonists, but they could not be more opposite. The two stories illustrate by contrast with their back-to-back placement in this book of just how teaching and upbringing can make the difference between life and death and the remarkable tendency of kids to fulfill whatever expectations they have of themselves.

In "No Place Like Home," Ty needs liberation from and vindication for the abuse he takes from his murderous, criminal uncle. The "killer rain" provides Ty with an opportunity for vengeance, but it comes at a terrible price. He becomes exactly what he's always felt like.

In "A Girl and Her Dog," JoJo is well-loved and supported by family and friends. She has hopes and dreams, and though she has doubts as her world falls apart around her in this grim coming-of-age story, she strives to overcome them.

And that brings us to "The Beast" by Niall Presnall-Kelleher and Steven Yarbrough. That a firefighter would stick a baby in a butcher's display case to protect her seems very disturbing, but the point of the story is a very nice one on which to end the book.

A promise and a little someone depending on you to keep it can be reason enough to keep up the good fight.


  1. Thanks for the review on our book, glad you enjoyed it. Just one thing: you gave The Beast the credits for Hearts and Minds.

    --C Buchner

  2. Thank you for pointing that out, and apologies to Mr. Presnall-Kelleher and Mr. Yarbrough for the error. This is just the sort of thing that happens when I'm finishing up a long review just as the bronchitis meds are kicking in.