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Zombies: The Subgenre That Rose From The Dead

Zombies will not die.

That may seem something of a superfluous statement to you, but it’s true. They won’t die. Not even if you destroy the brain (if you subscribe to The Walking Dead/Zombie Survival Guide theory of zombie killing). The zombie subgenre is alive and kicking and just as soon as we knock them down they get right back up again and we relive the nightmare all over again. There’s an epidemic of T-Virus proportions when it comes to zombies. They’re in our comic books, they’re in our video games, they’re in our books and they’re in our movie theatres and the rot shows no sign of stopping soon.

zombie

The Walking Dead is arguably the hot newcomer on the comic book scene. I know that seems like a crude statement to make, being that it’s now nearly 10 years ago that the first Walking Dead comic was published, but it has achieved heights that you would have to have been Marvel or DCs bitch to even get close to before. TV makes things big. Sad as that fact is, it’s true. Most of your pedestrians will not have heard of The Walking Dead before it was rammed down their throats by Fox in 2010. Before that it had been a remarkably successful comic series produced by Image Comics (you might know them for Spawn, among other things). They’re not really one of comic books’ major players, but they’re part of the growing number of publishers who wanted to retain the copyright for the projects they worked on (see also, Dark Horse).  Anyway, The Walking Dead was such a powerful success that they made it’s creator, Robert Kirkman, a partner at Image. I think Kirkman’s fresh approach on, what was at the time, George A Romero’s subject area was what helped to sell the comics before the TV show in 2010. Kirkman focuses on the minutia of people’s daily lives and the zombie apocalypse is just the backdrop to what is, at it’s heart, a story about a group of people just trying to get by and deal with each other’s shit.

What is refreshing about the story is that it does not follow any great hero. It’s nobody’s job to save the world from the zombie invasion. Nobody’s job to find out what happened and to make the people that are responsible pay. What’s inspiring about The Walking Dead is that these people don’t much know what happened. They find out bits and pieces as time goes on (and beautifully, the comic, the video game and, I suppose, the TV series all follow different people who find out the same information in similar ways. It feels so very real as they discover more information about the ‘walkers’) but mostly, they want their old, boring ways of life back. They want the lives they moaned about back. They want to be safe. They want to know where their next meal is. They want to go to sleep at night know that nothing is going to wake them up in the night trying to eat their flesh. Something I sure we can all relate to.

Regardless, The Walking Dead has gone from a comic book series attempting the mammoth task of ‘humanizing’ the zombie apocalypse into an empire of decomposing, shuffling corpses that are ravenous for the fleshy tissue of the marketplace. It managed to reignite the flame of interest in this particular area of cult horror after it had long been battered into submission by such artisanal masterpieces as Uwe Boll’s “House of the Dead”, Steve Milner’s “Day of the Dead”, anything with Milla Jovovich in it and the ostensibly infinite stream of excrement that surges forth from Troma Entertainment (I like those guys – I am a Toxie fan, but they need to learn to pace themselves!). It gave us a story that was free from cheerleaders. Free from screaming hysteria. Free from the cartoon characters favoured by the Resident Evil franchise. Free from the trigger happy zombie kill-fest that eat up the special effects budget faster than you can say “Why did we stop making vampire and wizard films?” It made survival horror about survival. It even manages to breathe life into all of your favourite old zombie tropes by handling them in a vibrant way. When somebody gets bitten and hides the bite. When somebody decides to stay with the zombie of a loved one that’s turned rather than leave them. When zombies swarm and somebody has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save the rest of the group. They’re all there!

I recently got my hands on a copy of The Walking Dead on Xbox 360. There’s not much to say about it, other than, you should play it. It was originally released in a downloadable form, chapter by chapter, although it’s not hard to locate the full series for not too much money.  Lose yourself in the story, don’t read anything else about it. Just get it and play it.

Playing the game ignited my interest in the comic book series and I am now 4 novels in. It’s the comic book I read when I am getting sick of superheroes and villains and I just want to read something else. The art, although black and white is consistently decent and the story-writing is impeccable.

Everyone jump on this bandwagon!

Everyone jump on this bandwagon!

I am currently playing Resident Evil 6 and it’s a weak counterfeit of the survival horror genre. It’s trying to be too many things. It can’t decide if it wants to be Resident Evil, Gears of War or Bayonetta with it’s ludicrous over the top action shots and larger-than-life heroes and villains. I suppose it’s very hard to keep it fresh when you’re well over ten games into a franchise but I feel like that’s when it’s time to abandon the franchise, rather than spit in the face of people who liked your previous work. I have very little faith in Capcom’s ability to make games (I have heard good things about Monster Hunter but I still doubt Capcom’s ability to pull off a brilliant idea with any skill). I hate every single game of theirs that I have played and I have played a lot. I’ll be sending this back without completing it. I wanted to be proved wrong by a fresh take on an old theme with a powerful system to back it up. I wasn’t. It was shit. Avoid.

It took me loads of work to find a poster without Brad Pitt's face on it. Be grateful.

It took me loads of work to find a poster without Brad Pitt’s face on it. Be grateful.

We’re on the eve of a new Hollywood blockbuster known as ‘World War Z’. I was aware of World War Z (and its predecessor ‘The Zombie Survival Guide’) as a novel before I heard there was a film. World War Z again, is another franchise where author Max Brooks has managed to freshen up a very tired subgenre. The movie is directed by the bloke that did Quantum of Solace and written by a relative unknown. I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve seen it.

All in all, we’re seeing more fuel to the zombie fire. Naturally this craze is another that will eventually burn itself out. It ran itself into the ground once before with George Romero and it will do again. The resurgence we’re seeing now is due to the fact that we’re seeing a lot of talent that will have been influenced by Romero when growing up, beginning to write and create and spin this horror subgenre in their own way. Expect to see the zombie pandemic get stronger before it dies out.

Zombie-Batman-Mask

Rob Zombie is a huge fan of the zombie genre. So much so, it’s in his name. He sings about it. Rob Zombie is into zombies in a big way. He even looks like he was recently exhumed to perform for you all. He has been involved in a number of slash horror films, none of which I am qualified to go into right now.

Everywhere I go it seems that there are zombie themed events popping up where you can pay a fixed amount of money and an event management company will have you play your own real-world survival horror game as actors portraying the living dead shuffle towards you through Leeds City Centre as you run for your life. I’m sure it’s a great deal of fun, but it doesn’t suit my playstyle and nothing set in an abandoned mall ever has.

In fact, recently, Leicester City Council were forced to admit that they were in no position to respond to a zombie attack. I mean, I worry about taxes, water rates, recycling, the preservation of protected public spaces, but apparently entirely fictional epidemics are somewhere on the agenda too. They’re everywhere.

It’s on our TVs, it’s in our video games, it’s in our comic books, it’s in our music, it’s in cinema, it’s in our social events, it’s in our novels and it’s taking route in our global consciousness.

It speaks to our inner fear of staring into the abyss and the abyss staring back. Our fear that our neighbours are a threat to us. It speaks to the human spirit and the urge to survive against all odds. It speaks to our hypochondria. What if we lost control? What if the virus was unstoppable. It speaks to us as the apex predator in the food chain. Nothing hunts and eats us… But what if it did? The fact that they don’t run, they don’t sleep, they don’t think and that they can’t reason tears at the core of our being. One bite strips us of our humanity and that scares the living dead out of us.

The outbreak is spreading, and it’s going to get us all.

...run

…run!

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