Thursday, 19 July 2012

‘Batman vs The Undead’ – Kevin VanHook and Tom Mandrake (DC Comics)

Every so often I have to stop and ask myself whether the whole zombie thing has just got a little too much now, at least for me anyway. I actually asked myself this question, just the other day, when I saw a book called ‘White Trash Zombie’ on the shelves in Forbidden Planet. The title looked pretty cool, it was the blurb that killed it for me there. Let’s just say that the rapacious need of Urban Fantasy to assimilate everything knows no bounds…
The bottom line is that if you have too much of the good stuff then it just gets boring after a while. It’s not even a question of something not being new anymore, more like it being the same as everything else. That’s not a good thing for me, not when I feel like I’ve already read the really cool stuff.

It’s a good job then that zombie fiction shares some of the same traits that can be found in zombies themselves. I’m talking about that sheer bloody minded ‘never give up and keep on going’ attitude that the walking dead possess in abundance. There may be some dross out there but there are still some gems to be found in the relentless tide of zombie fiction headed your way. Gems like ‘Batman vs The Undead’…
I missed this book when it first came out, not really following the DC line at all, but it eventually reached me via a trip to the library to pick up some books for Hope. I’m glad Sue keeps an eye open for books that I might like, this one was a bit of a treat.

Professor Herbert Coombs has been wrongly released from Arkham Asylum and is free to continue with his great work, reanimating the dead so that they might serve him. His quest takes him to New Orleans and a museum of the dead, talk about a great place to pick up raw materials…
Batman lies in wait for Coombs but will he be enough to overcome the ravening hordes of the dead? He may have allies but, as the dead grow stronger, they might not prove to be enough either.

‘Batman vs The Undead’ looks like a very quick read on the surface (no page numbers but it is definitely a slim volume) but there is a lot to grip you once you get going. Not least of this is Tom Mandrake’s artwork. This can sometimes feel a little rushed (although this happens when there’s action, an intentional move maybe?) but is dripping with atmosphere and tension for the rest of the time. Mandrake draws a mean zombie and that’s all you really need from a book like this, especially when the denizens of the museum come to ‘life’. It’s not just zombies either, Mandrake also has a fine line in vampires and werewolves. This book is full of panels that I could just sit and stare at, they are so well drawn.

With such a fine backdrop to work against, I more or less assumed that VanHook’s tale would be its equal. It was but only in parts. Things kick off a little too simplistically, Batman fights zombies and… that’s it. To be fair, zombies can’t do a lot else but even so, I felt like the story wanted to get going but couldn’t. As it turned out, I didn’t have long to wait but it felt like it.
When things finally get going, there were plenty of twists and turns to hold my attention but the ending (when we got to it) felt a little bit too… easy. The vampire ‘just happens to know’ where a powerful white witch can be found, just when they need her. A ‘super oracle’ (Doctor Fate) turns up, very conveniently, to warn the heroes off a particular path… The vitality of the plot does suffer from being guided a little too obviously.

There is a lot of vitality left though and that is what ultimately makes ‘Batman vs The Undead’ such an absorbing read (that and the artwork). The pace doesn’t let up for a minute and really gears things up for an explosive finale. You also get to see Batman's faith in science pushed to the limit by a foe that is entirely supernatural (and just keeps coming). Maybe zombie fiction is losing its freshness (pun definitely intended) but ‘Batman vs The Undead’ will keep me ticking over for a while yet.

Eight and a Quarter out of Ten


Unknown said...

I need a reason to get into reading DC (enjoying DC adaptations and reading mostly marvel and TopCow make me feel a bit guilty) - this might be a good one to start.

... or would you recommend the new 52?

Graeme Flory said...

I haven't read a single 'New 52' title, yet, so 'Batman vs The Undead' kinda wins by default I guess ;o)