Zombies: A Love/Hate Relationship
I can’t say that I’m a big fan of the zombie genre. But then, I can’t say that I am not either.
Zombies are everywhere these days. Movies, books, calendars, web pages, television, video games, even comics. Like I said I can’t say that I am a big fan of the genre. This is mostly because zombies are everywhere. And, for the most part, a lot of these stories are pretty much the same.
I should state that More than anything, I have a problem with the term “zombie.” For me, a zombie is a reanimated corpse. That’s it. No flesh-eating, no brain eating, just a simple reanimated corpse. I think this concept stems from my first exposure to zombies, supposed “true” stories in which corpses are reanimated for the simple reason as to be cheap labor. One story I remember hearing was of a woman who had a neighborhood child helping her around the house with permission from the child’s mother. One day she felt sorry for the child and fed him. The child, upon eating the food, immediately left. The woman later discovered that the woman had brought the child back for perform tasks for money, and the meal made the child remember he was supposed to be dead.
For me, that is a zombie. What we see now that everyone calls zombies are really ghouls, which I learned about from Dungeons and Dragons. Even the classic movie Night of the Living Dead never actually refers to zombies as zombies, just “the dead.” It was a point I would make many times when I wrote my third National Novel Writing Month project, an as-yet untitled story that combines zombies, vampires and werewolves.
The problem I have with most zombie projects out there (beyond the whole zombie vs. ghoul point) is that many of these projects forget that the focus of these stories are supposed to be the people who find themselves in this nightmare, and not the zombies themselves. This is why Night of the Living Dead works so well. The story is not about the dead, but about the people who find themselves trapped in the farmhouse. Sadly, many of the zombie stories I’ve seen tend to be a lot like Marvel Comics Marvel Zombies series, which focuses predominantly on the undead versions of their superheroes and less about survivors forced to deal with them.
There have been a few zombie projects that have stood out for me, though. These are the projects that rise above the sea of wannabes and misguided ideas.
Night of the Living Dead – Romero’s classic movie which really started the whole zombie trend. Like I said before, it remembers that the protagonists of the story are the survivors in the farmhouse and not the zombies. A novelization of the movie, written by co-screenwriter John Russo is available, paired with Return of the Living Dead, a novelized sequel to the movie that Russo would use for the title of his own zombie movie. While Night captures all of the eeriness of the movie, Return did not work all that well for me, mostly populated by characters I just could not gather any sympathy for.
The Walking Dead – Robert Kirkman’s zombie comic, like all good zombie projects, remembers that the living are the focus of the story, and not the dead. While Kirkman’s group of survivors often have to deal with the zombies, they often find that the living are more dangerous than the dead. AMC’s version, soon to be entering its second season, remains faithful to the original source.
World War Z - Max Brooks approaches his follow-up to The Zombie Survival Guide with a journalistic approach to a world-wide zombie outbreak. The book covers interviews from numerous sources, from soldiers who fought on the front lines, to world leaders who are forced to make dire choices, to civilians who find themselves unprepared for what they would face in the wake of the zombie epidemic. The Zombie Survival Guide makes a good companion piece (though WWZ reads just fine without it), but Brooks’ third zombie project, The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks tends to break down into what doesn’t work for zombie stories.
The Zombie Autopsies – Often gruesome, this book tells the story of a group of scientists as they attempt to find a cure for the zombie nightmare.
Dead Inside Do Not Enter: Notes From The Zombie Apocalypse – This book spawned from the website Lostzombies.com, a zombie apocalypse inspired social website. The book, mostly just snippets from notes gathered from various sources (from contributors of the website), is a grim look at what happens when the world breaks down.
Zombies: A Record of the Year of Infection – written as one scientist’s journal, this project features many illustrations as the story remains personal and professional at the same time.
Essential Tales of the Zombie – Marvel’s first zombie series, and truer to the traditional concept of what a zombie is (a reanimated corpse).
Likewise, there are many low lights in the zombie genre.
Marvel Zombies - Originally appearing as a twist to a promoted “crossover” with the Ultimate universe and the Marvel universe proper, the Marvel Zombies soon took on a life of their own (pardon the pun). I found the issues annoying and unlikable as the writers focused strictly on the zombies and nothing else.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – Mixing Jane Austin’s novel with zombies just did not work for me. I gave up on reading this book maybe a quarter of the way through it.
Night of the Living Dead comics – Avatar Press currently releases comics which are set in Romero’s zombie universe (with stories written by John Russo). There are some of the stories that do work, but a lot of these comic books tend to boil down to zombie attacks, massive gore, and nudity. Avatar Press has also published other “zombie” style stories (Black Gas and Crossed) which play out with the same amount of gore, violence and nudity.
Return of the Living Dead – Russo’s “spinoff” series. While the first film is a bit creative for something that plays like a B-movie, later installments break down into the typical zombie focused fare.
There are countless more books, comics and movies that focus on zombies that I have not mentioned, either because I have not read/seen them, or I just have no real interest in them.
And for the record, my next National Novel Writing Month project, Attack of the Spring Break Zombies, will not actually feature “zombies,” either of the reanimated corpse style or the ghoulish kind.
- Horror: The State of Zombie Literature: An Autopsy (nytimes.com)
Posted on September 23, 2011, in Books, Comics, Media, Movies, Opinion, Personal, Television and tagged Books, comics, Living Dead, Marvel Comics, Marvel Zombies, media, movies, National Novel Writing Month, Night of the Living Dead, Opinion, personal, television, Walking Dead, World War Z, zombie, Zombie Survival Guide, zombies. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.