Review: Empire of the Dead, Act One

Writer: George Romero

Artist: Alex Maleev

Color: Matt Hollingsworth

Letterer: Cory Petit

I recently spent a Sunday afternoon with some of my favorite nerds and members of my other online family, Talking Comics. Bob Reyer is a friend who shares my appreciation for the place where horror and comics meet, although he possesses a more extensive knowledge of the 'classics' than I. On this afternoon we were celebrating my birthday and he gifted me a comic I haven't read before, written by the grandfather of the zombie genre, George Romero. I know I'm not alone in the opinion that while Romero deserves a spot at the head of the horror dining table forever for his contributions to the growth of the horror genre, some of his more recent projects have been less than impressive. Despite this opinion, when Bob Reyer says "read this", I do just that. 

Variant by Frank Cho

Empire of the Dead centers around Manahattan post zombie apocalypse. It's quarantined and divided up by "safe" and "unclean" segments of the city, according to zombie threat. Central Park now houses a zombie circus, where crowds are entertained with gladiator style undead battles to the...complete death. 

Paul Barnum, the head of zombie collection and training for Circus Maximus, and Penny Jones, a doctor sent to study the possibilities of 'taming' the aggressive nature of zombies, seem to be our main characters. Frances Xavier is a SWAT officer who was lost during a mission, now part of the walking dead and apparently retaining some of her memories and sense of duty. And then, there are vampires in powerful positions, playing games to keep themselves at the head of the food chain. 

All of these people I find to be intriguing characters with potential for great stories. It is only volume one. This view of the world  post-zombie epidemic isn't a fresh one, but we all know how Romero can sculpt gold from a grey pebble. I can't say that I didn't enjoy reading this; I did.

My major fault with this book is that like Romero's most recent films (ex: Survival of the Dead), he changes the rules as he writes, always allowing the zombies to do more and know more than they did a few pages earlier. Some might argue that this growth keeps the zombie trope from becoming stale. I say the more human they are, the less scary they seem. The blind hunger or rage of a zombie is exactly why it's terrifying. If the zombie can ride a horse, remember a family member, use a gun or organize a movement, it's no longer a monster, it's a stinky human lacking a pulse. 

The art of Alex Maleev is excellent. Just dark enough to create the right shadows and portray a sense of the heavy, dead space that humans now share with the living dead. He has a great talent for working a character's face in such a way that they always look a bit nervous or unsettled. The use of various color palettes between panels is effective in separating scenes atmospherically. 

Read It. It's worth a read, especially for zombie enthusiasts looking for a story with some extra character appeal. I hear that the story becomes more compelling in future issues, particularly around Xavier. I will likely see if I can get another volume digitally and see for myself, although all in all, this wasn't my favorite comic in the living dead genre.