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Avril Brown Presents:

The recent surge in popularity of these creatures forced me to stop and ask myself: What’s the deal with zombies?

I have already detailed the basic reasoning behind why vampires appeal so to the masses: they are forever young (and typically gorgeous), they usually have super strength, heightened senses or some otherworldly power, and the chance at finding and having a true, eternal love is a distinct possibility. For fantasy freaks the ‘vampire thing’ is kind of a no-brainer, as long as you’re not overly squeamish about ingesting large quantities of blood.

Zombies, however, are reanimated corpses complete with dead, rotting flesh, usually some sort of vicious fluid oozing from the eyes or mouth and a single-minded desire to consume human flesh. Clearly there is no romanticism associated with the zombie craze, so the explanation for their appeal must fall into other categories.

Clearly, there is horror aspect. Zombies have always freaked me out. The fleshy bits falling off and the mindless way they continue to exist with thinking or feeling are creepy enough, but they are also difficult to kill. Destroying the head sounds easy on paper, but it is very challenging to hit such a small target from a distance with a firearm, even if it is simply meandering and moaning. Getting up close and personal while using a baseball bat or tire iron to smash in the skull is an effective kill method, but that means getting within biting range of a zombie’s putrid, infectious mouth. One little bite is all it takes to turn into a zombie, and there is no cure. The movie (and recent adapted comic book) ‘28 Days Later’ took this particular part of the terror up a notch and created not only rage-filled zombies who can move as fast as Devin Hester on a punt return, but their infected blood is highly contagious. All it takes is one drop to make it into the system via an open wound, mouth, or even the eye and you have less than ninety seconds before the rage overtakes you and you become one of them. Like I said, freaky.

Warren Ellis’s comic book ‘Black Gas’ pulls out all the perverse stops with his take on zombification. A black cloud emerges from the depths of the Earth and transforms people into their most degraded form. One man comes home to check on his folks and finds his mother who unceremoniously tosses her husband’s head down the stairs, his mouth stuffed full with his own severed package. Ouch. Another memorable panel in the book is a two-page spread showing hundreds of people locked in an orgy of fighting, feeding and fucking. No inhibitions, and no escape.

In addition to the blood, guts and gore, one of the true appeals of a zombie story is the human element. What the survivors do with their lives, how people can either come together as a community or descend to the lowest versions of themselves, either through circumstance or just because they were waiting for an excuse, is a major part of a zombie tale.

‘World War Z’ is a novel which presents itself as a collection of narratives from survivors of the Zombie War that nearly decimated the planet. The diversity of the stories found in this book are massively entertaining and range from depressing accounts of battles and lives lost, to inspiring tales of countries and people uniting in the face of a common enemy. Governments everywhere formulated their own response to the undead threat, and each suffered causalities they never imagined. One told of an old Japanese gardener who was struck blind by the bomb, but who single-handedly began the zombie resistance in his homeland and found peace for the war within himself, believing he finally understood why the gods took his sight. Another favorite was a retired dog handler, who stroked the leathery head of his ancient dachshund during his interview and told of their role in the war. Dogs were trained to bait zombies into traps or knock them down for an easier kill, and the bond between handler and canine was stronger than iron.

Robert Kirkman’s comic ‘The Walking Dead’ is an ongoing series heavy on both horror and human elements. Both this book and ‘28 Days Later’ open with a standard, scary-as-hell introduction when the protagonist wakes up from a coma in a hospital…and he is alone. No patients, no doctors, no one else to be found in surrounding buildings. We all desire time alone now and again, some more than others, but it is a rare soul who would be thrilled with the realization they may be the only person on the planet left alive. ‘Walking Dead’ has explored some of the most disturbing scenarios imaginable, most perpetuated by un-zombified, fucked up humans. One man who fancies himself a governor kills, rapes and tortures people for fun, all the while finding time to feed his zombie daughter who, incidentally, he is in love with. Sick shit.

Mark Rahner and Mike Horton’s ‘Rotten’ is a story of zombies in the Old West, and in the fourth issue they showed what a camp full of bored and scared soldiers have been doing with their time. Sent to get the cavalry in shape while also eliminating the zombie threat, secret agent William Wade discovered a gallery of zombie bodies the soldiers had displayed. Most of the creatures were still ‘alive’ and all were exhibited in various, and humiliating, positions.

Some creators take the comedic route on zombies and either kick up the carnage to ridiculously campy levels (such as with the ‘Evil Dead’ and ‘Army of Darkness’ movies/comics) or arm an ordinary salesman with a cricket bat and turn him into a zombie-killing, girlfriend-saving hero (like in ‘Shaun of the Dead’). Shaun and his friend Ed even used zombie vocalization to their amusement by incorporating one zombie’s moans in their drunken, impromptu jam session. ‘Zombieland’ recently hit theaters and showed how zombie killing can be a fun, trust-building group activity, and no matter how much the world seems to have gone to hell it is important to pause and enjoy the little things, like Twinkies.

While I used to avoid zombie stories like the proverbial walking plague they are, I believe I finally understand the appeal. Mind-numbing terror, stomach-twisting degradation or side-splitting humor, zombies are multi-faceted creatures and can be used to provoke a range of emotional responses. As long as intelligent, perverted people continue to take the creative reigns of the undead, zombies should continue to be freaky fodder for years to come.

Avril Brown 

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