Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Zombie Hunters (a webcomic)

So, I'm a bit of a scholar of zombie apocalypse literature, games, and film. There's something fascinating about the genre. I think it's the very human nature of the storytelling. The problem is that most people misunderstand the genre of the zombie apocalypse and mistake it for any horror movie with zombies in it. Really, few things could be further from the truth... But I could go on and on about that. I actually wrote a 20-page paper on the subject that was presented at a symposium. But a discussion of what the zombie apocalypse is is not the purpose of this review.
Ahem. As I was saying, I enjoy me a good zombie apocalypse, and The Zombie Hunters provides. It's a webcomic started in 2006 by Jenny Romanchuk. It follows the story of a group of zombie hunters. Though the name is slightly misleading. These aren't people who go out and hunt zombies. Actually, they are semi-disposable, second-hand citizens who are used for salvage operations in the uncharted "wastes".

Let me back up a bit. In this universe's background, the zombie apocalypse was caused by a virus that turns dead people into zombies. The thing is, unlike most zombie apocalypses, the virus doesn't kill you right out. Instead it mostly lays dormant until the infected person has died, at which point it reanimates the poor schmuck into one of several different zombie types. Fast-forward a bit after the collapse of civilization. In one area of the world, probably The U.S. or Canada somewhere, the Argus Research Campus, ARC, is a scientific commune on an artificial island that acts as the only form of government and safety for the survivors. Most of the survivors are clean and work for ARC in one way or another. However there is a certain amount of the survivors who are infected with the virus and must therefore be semi-segregated from the rest. They can still interact with the non-infected in most normal ways: they have jobs and the like, but they have fenced off barracks they must live in, have to wear armbands identifying them as infected, etc. This is for the obvious reason that if people aren't careful, they'll spread the infection. Also, if they die, they'll turn into a zombie and start eating people. A lot of the infected take jobs as part of salvage crews, since the island needs certain supplies and salvage is one of the most dangerous operations. Since they're already infected, it's not as big of a risk if they go.
This comic starts with a group led by Jenny (a girl who looks suspiciously like the creator) and it's obvious things are not going well. Apparently they're lost when they shouldn't be, they're getting surrounded by a horde of zombies, and rescue may or may not be on the way. From there the story bounces around a little. It mostly advances forward, but there is a major re-wind, where we learn about the events that lead us up to the start of the story. The pacing is good, the tension in real, there are no "hero shields" as many of the characters get hurt or injured (some only a little), and there's lots of humor. Actually, the only major change in the comic over its run seems to be that there isn't as much of a focus on humor now as there used to be in the first couple of chapters. I'm a little torn. The more serious tone seems more appropriate and keeps the art style more consistent, but I also think that Jenny (the creator) did a pretty good job of actually being funny in the middle of very serious situations. It could give a little bit of mood whiplash at times, but it wasn't anything to worry about, I thought.
The best part, as with any real zombie apocalypse, is the characters. They feel like real people and you care about all of them, even when they're acting in ways that seem less-than-kind. You can tell that they've all been through a lot and have their own ways of coping.
Probably one of the best things that Jenny (the creator) has done was she introduced a pretty good mystery near the beginning of the story and she's only been doling out small bits here and there. You need to keep reading if you're ever going to find out what's the deal, but at the same time she's made the story interesting enough on it's own merits that you don't mind waiting. And you do have to wait. The comic only updates once a week (Mondays), which feels like forever. Buuuuuuut... the art is really good, so I don't mind too much. Good art takes longer to draw... so I understand. I can barely draw stick figures myself, so I only know what people have told me.

Bottom Line: If you like zombie apocalypse fiction at all, or if you just like a good story and don't mind a bit of gore, check out The Zombie Hunters. I love it. In fact, I would even say that it's even better than The Walking Dead. As much as I love The Walking Dead, because it is very good, I have to say that The Zombie Hunters is better. You're free to disagree with me, that's fine, but at least head on over to the site and give it an archive binge. Or, if you want to help out a struggling newlywed, buy on of her books. I just got my pre-order in the mail the other day and lemme tell you, I am more than satisfied. I doubt you would be either.

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