During a protest against the Vietnam War at Washington’s National Mall, a zombie outbreak thought to have already been eradicated a month previously rears its ugly head and threatens to send the entire country into a downward spiral towards oblivion. Collecting Volume 2: Issues 1 through 5 and the Holiday Special.
I’m not sure why zombie holiday specials aren’t more of a popular thing. I get wanting to see the classics every year like A Charlie Brown Christmas in December, A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving in November, It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown in October, and Those Are Third Degree Burns, Charlie Brown in July, but the classics can get boring after you’ve seen them over and over again. Trust me, I know this, I’ve seen The Little Drummer Boy about three hundred times, and A Christmas Story about two hundred times more than that. I love both of them and dozens of other holiday specials that I continue to watch year after year, specials I’ll continue to watch until the day my rotting carcass is finally put down for good, but wouldn’t it be interesting to watch a Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer where Rudolph goes zombie and eats the other reindeer for making fun of him, or a Frosty the Snowman where Frosty is more interested in eating the kids than helping them out, his top hat being a way to zombify him versus just bringing him to life, or best of all, a Santa Claus is Coming to Town where Santa comes down the chimney not to deliver gifts, but to eat the flesh of those who have angered him. Maybe I’m a little touched in the head for thinking so, but I know I can’t be the only one who’s ever thought about it. Right?
Our second installment in the Night of the Living Dead comic series begins a month after the first one ended. People around the country have heard strange reports of the dead returning to life and attacking the living, but the government was able to blame it all on hippie shenanigans, an excuse most people seem all too happy to believe despite the carnage we witnessed in Volume 1. The year is 1968 and the Vietnam War is in full swing, Christian, a former soldier who was shipped home after a serious injury, is on his way to Washington D.C. where a peace protest involving thousands of hippies ready to take a stand against American aggression is taking place, taking a stand here meaning getting high, getting naked, and having lots of sex. Christian was involved in a terrible massacre that left thousands of innocent Vietnamese men, women, and children dead, and his conscious won’t allow him to let such an awful atrocity go unpunished. He’s heading to the peace protest because, unlike the hippies who are only interested in using the event as a venue for their hedonistic purposes, he actually wants to make a difference. His only problem is getting there, lucky for him three other people are on the way to the protest as well, Rodger, Tracy, and Laura. They pass him on the road and offer the man a ride, taking him all the way there so he can tell the world the truth about what’s going on in Vietnam, but there are others making their way to Washington D.C. as well, others of the undead variety. All hell is about to break loose in the nation’s capital, and what was supposed to be a peaceful protest is about to turn into a bloodbath. Elsewhere, in a scenic winter cabin, a family is getting together to celebrate Christmas, but a dark secret one of them is harboring is going to come screaming out of the ground for some much deserved vengeance.
The follow up to what might have been my favorite Night of the Living Dead tie in is just as good as its predecessor, better in some ways even. I loved that this collection kind of answers how the zombie epidemic was able to spread so far almost uncontrollably. The fact is it was entirely controllable, but people were so willing to believe it wasn’t happening that no one did anything about it. In the first volume we saw zombies overrunning several cities, including New York, killing scores of people, yet after only a month everyone has easily chalked it up to a bunch of crazy hippies. It was almost obvious that with all the death and destruction, something far worse was happening, but people immediately bought into the governments excuse, as poor as it was, because it made more sense than the dead returning to life and consuming the flesh of the living. In ignoring the problem it’s been allowed to spread further than it would have had people acknowledged what was going on and dealt with it. At the end of the first volume it seemed like maybe the problem could be handled, much as it did at the end of the original Night of the Living Dead film, but the powers that be didn’t want their citizens worried about the undead menace, feeling it would make the populace more wary of them than they already were, so they decided to kill two birds with one stone and bury the zombie epidemic while at the same time discrediting a counterculture movement they wanted subdued. Seeing this made a lot of sense as to why things had deteriorated so much between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead. It was always implied in the films that people let the problem get so far out of hand they were unable to control it by the time they woke up to what was going on, but it was nice to actually see it, something you’re finally able to do with volume 2.
The story for volume 2 is great as well in that it is something entirely new while still keeping ties with the story is draws inspiration from. There are some loose ties to the films with a mention of events from Night of the Living Dead, as well as direct ties like two zombies who look suspiciously like Jonny and Barbra, and Christian mentioning he’s from Monroeville, the town containing a certain mall where four people will try and wait out the end of the world. On the whole though, these are completely original tales with completely original characters. Not that this is a bad thing, I loved the story of entirely new people struggling against the rising dead, trying their best to make sense out of a world that has been totally upended. The main storyline was a great addition to the overall Night of the Living Dead storyline, with Christian and a small group of survivors including himself, the hippies he’s come with, a priest, a nun, and a couple of soldiers who’ve realized the stupidity of their commanding officers. They all seemed to represent a different aspect of the outlook towards the undead. Christian and Laura, who are determined to try and change the public’s view toward the Vietnam War, putting themselves in harm’s way to do so, represent the type of people who are actually willing to do something to stop the undead. Rodger and Tracy, two hippies who could care less about any real cause, just going along with the ride for the fun of it, represent the type of person who would complain about the need to stop the undead menace but aren’t willing to really do anything to stop it, only pretending to care so that they might have a little bit of fun. Our priest is, this shouldn’t come to anyone’s surprise, relying solely on the power of religion to save him, hoping only that the Lord will save them all from imminent destruction. The nun on the other hand has faith in her religion, but also realizes that she can’t wait for her god to save her, she must help save herself if she expects to survive the zombie apocalypse. I have to admit to liking her character the most because of how willing she was to fight the undead, having faith in her god but not completely relying on it. The comic doesn’t go the route many others do of mocking the religious or putting them down, it simply seems to say that having a belief is fine, but sometimes you can’t put everything in to it and not be willing to fight. Lastly are the soldiers who decide to abandon their post and go on the run. They represent those that would rather grab the ones closest to them and escape a world they see as having started to fall apart, the zombie menace not looking like something people will survive. It was a great use of characterization to create so many differing characters that represented the differing attitudes many would have, not just in a zombie apocalypse, but in most crises.
While the main story deals with the zombies coming to take a bite out of Washington D.C., there is also an extra issue that’s presented as the holiday special about a family gathering during Christmas at the same time the undead are taking over the nation’s capital. It doesn’t have anything to do with the main story so much, nor does it really connect with any of the films, but it was a great add on none the less. I don’t want to give too much away, but the zombies are used as a metaphor for hidden secrets that won’t stay hidden, the dead refusing to stay buried much like secrets. As much as I loved both the main story and the holiday special, there was one problem that I did have, and it’s a problem I had with volume 1 as well. The zombies are just too damn smart. There are more than a few examples, but some of the more glaring ones include a zombie that pickpockets a man in order to obtain a weapon, a zombie that stabs someone instead of eating them, a zombie that uses the butt of a rifle to knock a man out, and a zombie that moves on from his prey after getting punched in the face. They are both shown and stated to be mindless beasts who’ve lost everything that made them human, but at times they still acted very, very human. Myself, I just thought it should have been one way or the other.
It was still a great collection though that showcased some real talent in both the story and the amazing artwork, especially the extra full page spreads at the end which I’ve included here. There are some truly horrific things that go on, and the artists don’t mind showing it right along with the rampant sex happening on every page. I personally loved it being a fan of both gore and sex, but you should understand this is not a comic you’re going to want to be reading when the kiddies are home. I think any zombie fan is going to dig this addition as much as myself, and I look forward to reading Volume 3.
The Undead Review
Written By: John Russo and Mike Wolfer
Artwork By: Mike Wolfer, Thomas Aira, Paul Duffield, Matt Martin, Raulo Caceres, and Michael DiPascale
Published By: Avatar Press
Release Year: 2011
Rotten Heads: Four Heads Out of Five