Tuesday, 10 November 2009

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie, Volume One’ (Marvel Comics)

When I picked up Mike Raicht’s ‘Zombie’, and later on Kyle Hotz and Eric Powell’s ‘The Zombie Simon Garth’, (a couple of years ago) I had no idea that Simon Garth was a reworking of a much older character of the same name. Google and Wikipedia set me straight on that score but I was left thinking that I would never be able to read the original comics. Marvel set me straight on that score! Little did I know that there was an ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ collection that would fill in the gaps. It took me a while to get hold of a copy but eventually I did, only to have the front cover/spine/back cover come off in my hands as I was reading it this weekend. It’s a thick book and I guess that the glue wasn’t up to the job (something you guys might want to watch out for if you’re planning on picking up your own copy or any other of the Marvel ‘Essential’ collections). It was a good job then that the story inside was worth the read, even if Simon Garth isn’t the kind of zombie that I would normally read about...

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie Volume One’ collects ‘Tales of the Zombie #1-10’ along with ‘Dracula Lives #1-2’ and tells the tale of Simon Garth; a work obsessed executive who is set to learn some hard lessons about the true meaning of happiness and love. Garth is set to become a human sacrifice in a voodoo ritual but manages to escape when help arrives from an unexpected source. This reprieve is short lived however and Garth is killed by his former gardener, only to be brought back from the grave as an undead zombie. Now, Garth is under the control of the fabled amulet of Damballah and must obey the will of whoever holds it. Despite this though, Garth’s real aim is to achieve the peace of true death...

You would have thought that I’d know better by now. I thought that Marvel were solely about superheroes and mutants but way, way, back in the day they were also all about Dracula, the Wolfman and... the Zombie. This isn’t the George Romero style zombie (what I would normally go for); what we have instead is the zombie of Voodoo lore and this Caribbean tone adds a more vibrant feel to the proceedings (and the artwork). What we get as a result is a refreshing contrast to the grimy and bleak post-apocalyptic fare that I’ve been used to in the past.

What I also enjoyed was the change in approach to what I’ve seen in Romero’s films and ongoing serials like ‘The Walking Dead’. Whereas the zombie media I’ve been into concentrates more on mankind’s attempts to survive in the face of a zombie infestation, ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ turns this round and comes back at it from the opposite direction. Simon Garth is one zombie on his own in a world full of humans only too ready to take advantage of his situation; he has limited control over his actions (although he does display some evidence of free will) and must somehow get by in the face of overwhelming opposition. As with all zombie fiction, it’s the humans who are worst of all. It helps then that Garth is a hard character to put down...!

There’s also a lesson in morality to be learned it that comes across very well. By stripping away everything that Garth originally found important he is able to put things in perspective and eventually act to put things right in his life; both as a zombie... and later on.
I very much enjoyed reading the tale of the original Simon Garth. If ‘Volume Two’ is ever released then I’ll be sure to pick it up.

That’s not all there is to ‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ though as the book also collects the ‘one off’ short stories that accompanied the main feature. This is the bit where I would normally have a list of examples but my copy of the book is in pieces (awaiting repair) so I don’t have it to hand right now! As you would expect in shorter stories, the emphasis isn’t so much on character development as it is on quickly setting things up and then smacking the reader in the face with a gore ridden conclusion. The simple message is that evil never wins and it’s a message that’s played out almost too far across a volume of this size (the same thing over and over again)... To be fair, the affect would have been far more pronounced in a shorter punchier monthly issue.

‘Essential Tales of the Zombie’ was perhaps a strange choice of reading for a weekend in Paris but was nevertheless an entertaining read that I had a lot of fun with. Like I said, if volume two ever makes an appearance then I’ll be there to pick it up.

Eight and Three Quarters out of Ten


RKCharron said...

Hi Graeme :)
Thanks for the excellent review!
Reading about zombies while having a wonderful weekend in Paris seems appropriate what with their famous graveyard and catacombs.
Thanks for sharing,
All the best,

lee-tyke said...

HA ! ! ! both the covers of my copies of Essential Spiderman fell off upon opening them. I think they use that glue they allow you to use only at primary school. I sulked for ages..........

The Fantasizer said...

Hey Graeme
I have been visiting your blog for quite a few months now, and I have found quite a few rare gems this way.
I have noticed your affection for zombie fiction, an interest I sadly don't share, probably because I've never actually read a zombie novel, ever. So could you suggest something that a newbie like myself would like? Something you think formed your basis for zombie love.

Graeme Flory said...

That is a great question (and I might just have to post at a little more length on this...)! I originally got into zombies through George Romero's 'Dawn of the Dead' (the original and best) and then gradually moved onto books.

'The Walking Dead' series (Image Comics) is pretty much essential reading as far as I'm concerned. Brian Keene's 'Dead Sea' is also more than worth a read as is Max Brooks' 'World War Z'. If you click on the 'zombies' link you'll find more books as well :o)

The Fantasizer said...

Thanks Graeme I'll most definitely check out these titles!