Tuesday, April 04, 2017

The Back Three-Quarters of iZombie by Chris Roberson and the Allreds

I normally credit comics to the writer and the artist, but colorists are really important, too, and Laura Allred's color work is so much part of what we think of as "Michael Allred art" that not mentioning her is a big oversight. Hence, the title of this post.

Some time back, I read the first volume of iZombie, written by novelist/publishing entrepreneur/great guy Chris Roberson, drawn by Michael Allred, and colored by Laura Allred (who I didn't credit as strongly at the time). By that point the series was already done and collected, but I can be slow to catch up with things....so, three years later, here I am with the rest of it.

(In between, the general idea has become a TV show I've never seen. I hear it's very different but not bad, and I hope it's generating big checks for Roberson and the Allreds.)

My vague memory is that iZombie was originally planned to be an ongoing series, and it got a cancellation order somewhere in the middle, with enough lead-time to get to a satisfying ending. Which may be true, or maybe my memory is wrong, because this story feels organic and complete -- the four volumes of iZombie tell one story and firmly shut the door on that story, in a way very unusual for Big Two comics. (Of course, iZombie was from Vertigo, and the credits indicate that the creators actually own the copyright, which makes a huge difference.)

Gwen Dylan is a zombie -- dead but still walking around, and in possession of most of her memories and thoughts as long as she gets a regular diet of fresh brains -- in the lovely town of Eugene, Oregon, where she lives in a crypt convenient for her gravedigging job. (Done by hand with shovels here, which I understand is at the very least very, very retro.) Her two new post-death friends are the '60s ghost Ellie and were-terrier (like a werewolf, but cuter and more civilized) Scott.

If this were a long-running serialized comic, it would be about that trio -- solving crimes, foiling plots, helping people, hanging out, and getting on with their lives. Some of that does happen here, but iZombie turned out to be a very plotty book, so they have to compete for page time with the ancient Egyptian mummy Amon, the various monster-killing agents of the Fossor Corporation (including a cute guy Gwen dates), the Dead Presidents (the requisite super-secret government agency that uses monsters as agents), Amon's ex-girlfriend (a Elsa Lancaster-haired revived-corpse-turned-mad-scientist) and her new vampire henchwoman, both Gwen's old best friend and her forgotten-since-death kid brother, Scott's dead grandfather (now in a chimp body), a supernatural Shadowesque crime fighter who gets mostly crowded out by other things, a Russian brain-in-a-Mr-Coffee and his hulking henchman, the local band of vampires, and Scott's co-workers/D&D group.

There's a mildly apocalyptic zombie invasion -- from the secret tunnels under Eugene -- that pops up in the third volume, leading the usually-enemies Fossors and Dead Presidents to stand back-to-back killing monsters in cool fashion, which we all expected would happen.

But that's just a warm-up for the real apocalypse: the Lovecraftian entity Xitalu is about to squeeze into our reality from the spaces between and eat our world, if not stopped through mass sacrifice. And several of the people mentioned about want to try to control Xitalu, which may be possible (or maybe not) but is definitely crazy and suicidal. Amon's plan to drive off Xitalu is not much better, though.

And then it all ends. Really. This is a major comics series with a realio trulio ending that's not just a springboard for more stories. (Well, it's not impossible to tell more stories about Gwen, but they would be radically different from this and involve none of the rest of the cast.)

It's all bit overstuffed, particularly towards the end. I don't know how much warning the creators had about the impending end, but it feels like some events might have happened differently, and some elements might have been spaced out more, if iZombie was likely to keep running another year or two. Now, both urban fantasy and superhero comics -- two of iZombie's most obvious parents -- tend to be overstuffed with characters and concepts and plots anyway, so this is not unexpected. And it does all come together in the end, even if we wonder about a few of the loose ends. (What was the deal with the Phantasm, anyway?)

In the end, iZombie is Big Concept urban fantasy in comics form, as much about a girl thrust into a supernatural world (with some supernatural hunky guys, natch) as anything else. And her choices, as usual for the genre, drive the story. Comics don't focus on women and their choices all that much, so this is entirely a good thing -- even aside from Gwen, a lot of the driving forces of iZombie are women, from that vampire "sorority" to Ellie to Galatea (the villain, more or less). It might be slightly rushed and slightly too full, but Gwen is a compelling central character who interacts with an amusingly odd collection of folks and manages to save the world in the end. And that's entirely a good thing.

These three books are titled uVampire, Six Feet Under and Rising, and Repossession. They're still available, and (along with the first book, linked way above) tell one complete story. More comics should do that.

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