Saturday, June 14, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #164: iZombie, Vol. 1 by Roberson & Allred

The joys of a serialized story -- where it comes in packets, every week or month or so often, moving things forward every time but never finishing until the overall series is cancelled -- are subtly different from a traditional closed-ended work. Mainstream comics readers are very familiar with those joys, since the superhero genre has locked itself more and more into an endless and endlessly proliferating single uberstory per company over the past two decades. (And they're not the only ones: soap operas have done the same thing for more than fifty years, and other TV genres have gotten into the act more recently.)

But it's not a style I'm that familiar with these days, since I've wandered away from the realm of floppy comics and settled into the land of book-shaped objects, where each volume is supposed to stand by itself. (Of course that's not always true -- I've read epic fantasy; you don't need to cite the obvious candidates -- but books have at least the assumption that each volume is complete, and the audience gets rightfully indignant when that isn't true. The opposite is the case in superhero comics: the audience is surprised and confused when anything final actually happens and an event is irreversible.)

iZombie was a serialized story -- more in the Vertigo sense than in the Superman sense, more like Mad Men than As the World Turns, with a sense that everything would wrap up eventually, but that "eventually" might be put off for a long time if the audience was willing. It was written by noted SF author Chris Roberson -- he writes plenty of other things, but that's context where I met him, at least -- and drawn by the wonderfully unique Michael Allred, whom I haven't kept close track of over the past decade or so, after he stopped doing Madman and spent most of his time drawing other people's stories. It ran twenty-eight issues from 2010 through 2012, and was collected into four trade paperbacks -- the first of which was iZombie: Dead to the World.

And I finally got to that first volume this week, four years after the first floppy and two solid years after the series ended. (I've never claimed to be overly au courant.) It's all beginning and setup, carefully placing narrative hooks to be explained later and to grow into larger episodes down the line. There's enough here to get interested in the characters and their world, but nothing like a resolution of anything -- not that you should expect that, in only 5 issues of a DC Comic!

Gwen Dylan is a zombie, though she doesn't remember how that happened. She cut herself off from her former life -- only teased her, though we'll surely learn more later -- and now works as a gravedigger in Eugene, Oregon, for easy access to the sweet, sweet brains she needs to eat once a month. Unfortunately, when she eats a brain she gets the former owner's thoughts and memories for about a week, which can be annoying. Her best friends are Ellie, a forty-years-dead ghost that lives in her home cemetery, and Scott (aka Spot), a were-terrier. (Their origins are vague enough to fuel later stories, as well.)

But Gwen's latest lunch was murdered, in a creepy ritualistic way, and Gwen is driven by his memories to find the murderer. But that murderer turns out to be the mysterious, compelling John Amon, who explains the cosmology -- which Gwen clearly didn't know -- telling her that she's actually a revenant, a vanishingly rare case of both the oversoul and undersoul (thoughts and emotions, respectively) staying in a dead body.

The rest of the bingo card: oversoul + no body = ghost; undersoul + no body = poltergeist; oversoul + body = vampire; undersoul + body = zombie; animal undersoul + live human = lycanthrope; human oversoul + someone else's body = possession.

Amon is also a revenant -- a very old one, because of course he is. And he's going to tell her all of the secrets of the universe, but not quite yet. But he does hint darkly, about her death and transformation and about what revenants need to do to survive in the long term. But all that is plot hooks for the future.

There's also a secret society of supernatural hunters, because, again, of course there is. They're the Corporation of Fossors, and two of their men just blew into town: one older, hardened, battle-scarred, and the other young, impressionable and gorgeous. Does Gwen meet cute with the young one? Do they spark immediately? Clearly you've read stories like this before....

At this point, it would be clearly better if we knew iZombie ran for five years or so, or had a plan to do so, in order to give Roberson and Allred time to work out all of the plates they've tossed up into the air. (I haven't even mentioned the paintball concessionaires-cum-sorority of vampires.) Sadly, this is a fallen, flawed world, so there are only another 23 issues of iZombie beyond this point -- though, knowing that there's a real end, not too far away, is appealing in itself.

This is less than a quarter of the story that eventually appeared, which is plenty of space to complicate and explain and subvert and insinuate. Roberson's prose and characters are smart and fun and interesting, with quirky takes on standard horror/fantasy ideas. And Allred's pop-art inspired drawing is as fresh and appealing as ever -- also, as ever, ably supported by his wife Laura Allred's colors. This might not have run as long as everyone might have wanted, but it's still a neat thing and we're better off because it exists.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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