It’s been a year since the dead began reanimating and things seem to be returning to normal, but in Death Valley, a cult is intent on shattering everyone’s complacency by bringing about a resurgence of the zombie epidemic. Contains the complete Night of the Living Dead: Death Valley storyline and the Louisiana one shot.
Cults are a funny thing, but they can have their uses. When I say funny I don’t mean haha funny either, I mean funny in that they are a strange thing you should stay far away from if you at all value your sanity, which I guess isn’t really all that funny, but you know what I mean. I’m using funny all wrong I think, let me start over. Cults are a frightening and wacked out thing, but they can be useful if you know how to nudge them in the right direction, a direction that’s more favorable towards the undead. Cults are some of the greatest weapons in the undead arsenal, capable of shielding us during a crisis if need be. You probably don’t know that zombies started the first cults as a diversionary tactic to hide their activities from the living, teaching new cult members to bite their victims before ritualistically sacrificing them to the gods. It left the undead free to attack whoever they wanted without having to worry about getting caught themselves. This was back before we had numbers on our side, so secrecy was kind of a big deal. Zombie historians argue about when these first cults where created, but it’d generally accepted as happening sometime around a long time ago. Cults kind of took off after that, not that they wouldn’t have happened regardless, we just had our hands in the creation of the first few is all. These days we have enough numbers that we don’t have to worry as much about hiding from prying eyes, but it doesn’t hurt to have a few cults on our side just in case they’re needed, so we keep our eyes and ears open for just the right ones to nudge in our direction. I’d rather not get into the methods our propaganda department uses, don’t want to spill too many secrets or anything, but let’s just say they stay busy. I only wish we hadn’t helped that one guy start the cult about the space emperor who dropped aliens into volcanos millions of years ago to help jumpstart the zombies’ creation. Heard the zombie bit got dropped and it’s actually doing quite well now.
Our third and final installment in Avatar Press’ Night of the Living Dead comic line, well last before Aftermath begins anyhow, starts off a year after the living dead nearly overran parts of America including New York and Washington D.C. While the zombies have not been entirely eradicated and pockets still terrorize parts of the U.S., the country has more or less returned to a state of normalcy, many even willing to believe the government’s excuse that it was communists and militant radicals rather than the undead. Attempting to ignore what’s going on around them, a group of friends decide to take a trip out to California’s Death Valley for some fun, sun, and relaxation. Among them is one of the few survivors of Beekman’s Diner, Christine. Christine and her boyfriend Don escaped from the diner during the initial outbreak, but when Don kept Christine from running into a news station to try and save her father, an action that would have surely killed her, she grew to hate him and left Don behind to pursue her own fate. She’s managed to make some new friends though, and they talked her into this trip to take her mind off of the horrors she’s witnessed, but her ex-boyfriend Don hasn’t given up on their relationship, pursuing them into even the isolated desert in the hopes of rekindling their romance. As Don and Christine’s relationship drama plays out and everyone else uncomfortably tries to act like an ex-boyfriend tracking the woman he wants back into the middle of the desert isn’t at all creepy, a cult is slowly building up their numbers nearby. They don’t want living followers though, they want zombies. The cult, led by a madman who believes the undead are humanities next spiritual step forward, have been kidnapping people to expand their ever growing army of zombies. The West Coast of the United States thought it was safe from the undead, but there’s a menace right under their noses in Death Valley, and the cult aims to be the ones to let it loose. Meanwhile, in the swamps of Louisiana, a couple seeking shelter have had to shack up with some nasty people, people that might be worse than the zombies trying to consume them.
Once again, Avatar Press has succeeded in producing an excellent addition to George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead. While the other collected editions of Avatar’s Night of the Living Dead series were created by the pairing of Mike Wolfer and John Russo, the man who helped Romero create the iconic film the comics add to, this one was done by Wolfer alone, a man who’s no stranger to horror comics. He managed to continue the story the both of them had begun while still keeping it a part of the world Romero created, even linking it up to Volume One of the series, bringing the story around full circle to where it started. Christine and Don were both characters introduced to us in Volume One. When the undead first arose to attack the living, they were trapped in the same diner fan favorite Ben mentions in the original Night of the Living Dead. While Ben escaped and made his fateful trip to the farmhouse, a trip that would be his last, Christine and Don drove up to where Christine’s father worked, but by the time they got there, the dead were already swarming the place and it simply wasn’t possible to save her father. Don refused to let his girlfriend out and drove away, Christine already screaming about how much she hated Don for not letting her go to her father. She would have certainly died along with him, but grief wouldn’t allow her to see that. It was the last time we thought we would ever see the pair, their fate left up to our own imaginations, or so it seemed. In Volume Three, the last volume in this series, we have the opportunity to learn the full story of what happened between them as well as become acquainted with a few more people trying to live in a world where the dead won’t stay dead. Wolfer does a fantastic job wrapping up the story this story, taking us from the very beginning of the zombie outbreak in Volume One, to a world still reeling after a few months of dealing with the outbreak in Volume Two, to this, Volume Three, taking place one year after it all began. Each volume did a wonderful job of keeping the story within the world Romero created, and Volume Three is no different.
Volume One kept things almost squarely within the confines of the original movie, showing events that took place in the same town as the film for the most part, while Volume Two took place in Washington D.C., remaining connected to the film but telling an entirely new story. Volume Three continues what Volume Two started, but mixes things up by including characters from the first one. The thing I liked the most about the new story told in Volume Two was that it helped to explain how the zombie problem became so widespread and grew so out of control, and Volume Three expands on that. Between Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead the zombie outbreak seems to have grown exponentially worse, but we never get to see that, we only see it when it starts and when it’s already become too much of a problem to control, the world spiraling the drain as the dead start to outnumber the living. What the comics do is bridge that gap, showing us exactly how it became so much of a problem. Volume Two showed up that people were largely apt to ignore what was going on, the outbreak had only affected a few areas, and even if those areas had been nearly overwhelmed by the undead, they were eventually brought under control, but the zombie problem hadn’t been entirely eradicated. Afterwards the government blamed it on radical groups within the country causing mass panic, and people were happy to believe this excuse. Knowing the full story you want to call them idiots for doing so, but what would make more sense to you, that terrorist organizations were attacking a few large cities or that the dead were coming back to life and eating people? By the end of Two though it would be almost impossible to ignore that something bigger was going on, that this was more than a bunch of radicals running around causing chaos, so the question of how things got so bad still hasn’t been answered. This last volume finally gives somewhat of an answer. The outbreaks were all taken care of, and though people are fully aware of the dead rising, they don’t really believe that everything occurring is because of them thanks mainly to a very successful propaganda campaign that blamed everything on radical militants, read hippies, and communist factions within the country. People know that there are zombies, but think the problem isn’t them, but the people behind them, and they put all their faith in the government to take care of things when the government seems more worried about protecting their own asses. This leads to the mess growing ever worse until it was impossible to control. It was the people not taking precautions and a government more worried about bad PR than those people’s safety that led to things falling apart. I thought it was absolutely brilliant on Wolfer, and by extension Russo, to have crafted their tale so well as to bridge the gap between Romero’s first two zombie films.
Beyond just answering how things got so bad, the story by itself is great. I loved the main tale of the cult trying to spread the zombies as far as they could, and the group of friends that were trying to stop them. The cult was a diabolical thing, they were almost completely insane in their belief that zombies were the beginnings of a spiritual awaking, but they were very reminiscent of the spiritual groups that popped up in communes all over the country in the 60’s, only taken to a perverse level. The group of friends were an example of how people were conducting themselves while the zombies grew ever more dangerous. They knew what was going on, but were trying to ignore that it was as much of a problem as it was, preferring to have their fun instead. There is an extra story at the end as well, a one shot that deals with a couple that were on vacation when they were nearly killed by zombies. They ended up having to stay with a group of three men and one woman in a large estate house in the middle of the Louisiana swamps. This tale was a very harsh one in that it showed the absolute worst that could come out of people in a crisis. That one is most certainly not for the faint of heart. Though to be honest, with as graphic as the artwork is, I wouldn’t think this entire collection would be for those easily disturbed. It’s nothing most horror fans haven’t seen before, but it is most assuredly brutal and sadistic at times, and nothing is shied away from. It’s also gorgeous and immensely talented work done by some gifted artists.
If you’ve read any of the other editions and enjoyed them, then you are definitely going to enjoy this one. If you haven’t, then I recommend searching them out because they are comics that only get better with time. It’s a must have for any zombie fan but especially those fans of Night of the Living Dead.
The Undead Review
Published By: Avatar Press
Written By: Mike Wolfer
Artwork By: Mike Wolfer, Dheeraj Verna, Matt Martin, and Michael DiPascale
Release Year: 2012
Rotten Heads: Five Heads Out of Five