Monday, April 2, 2012

The New Deadwardians #1

Cover by I.N.J. Culbard

The New Deadwardians #1 (March 28, 2012)
Writer: Dan Abnett
Penciller: I.N.J. Culbard
Colorist: Patricia Mulvihill, I.N.J. Culbard
Letterer: Travis Lanham

If Vertigo Comics is adept at anything, it’s harvesting clever retreads of old ideas.

When I first glanced at the cover of The New Deadwardians #1, I was originally indifferent: another zombie story. Whatever.

Then I thought that a mash-up between zombies and the world of Downton Abbey could be quite a bit of fun and decided to read it (as an aside, I would love to do some more exploring on the popularity of Downton Abbey and why it so appeals to a pop culture/society that is one-hundred years older. What is it about that show that is so addicting across generations, as evidenced by the fact that during the second season, my mother, sister, two best friends and I gathered in the family room with popcorn to watch the latest episodes and spent countless hours discussing the various ins and outs of the upstairs and the downstairs? But that’s another blog entry…).

Furthermore, Vertigo is quite skilled at promoting writers who are excellent storytellers and know how to be quietly unsettling. For a zombie story, subtlety is nearly unheard of and when you throw vampires into the mix, you would assume that you would get a messy explosion of horror clichés.

But part of the brilliance of The New Deadwardians is that it is set in Edwardian England and amongst the upper crust. Abnett employs the classic English stereotypes of stiff upper lips and suppressing emotions to his advantage and in doing so, turns what could have been an over-the-top horror comic into a clever exploration in class relations, cultural malaise and of course, zombies.

This comic and the narrator, George Suttle, are so understated that in fact, I didn’t even realize this was a vampires versus zombies story until the very last page (I know that Suttle has tiny fangs on the cover, but I just wasn’t too observant and besides, you can rarely trust the cover art). I was more focused on the tensions between this isolated bubble of upper class English society and the lower class that is more at risk of zombie attacks due to unfair zoning laws since the birth of the Restless Curse (cleverly, Abnett never employs the terms “zombies” or “vampires,” instead using “the Restless” and “the Young”).

Suttle’s mild melancholy was also intriguing for a narrator as he was balanced between providing exposition and setting up the central conflict. He could easily have just been a whiny, depressing character but Abnett managed to rein him in just enough. I actually care about the guy.

I also care about the very intriguing mystery presented to the reader at the issue’s conclusion along with the world Abnett has created. While not as breezily refreshing as American Vampire, The New Deadwardians is nonetheless a clever spin on the horror comic and the zombie (which frankly needs it).

The only weak spot of this issue to me was the art. For some reason, the penciling by Culbard reminded me of a strange and unpleasant mix between Gallant and Goofus and Davey and Goliath. The strange anatomical proportions pulled me out of the story and particularly distracted me. The coloring by Mulvihill and Culbard, however, perfectly emphasized the grey, isolative world of Deadwardian England and also gave the comic an appropriately aged feel.

Rather than being a mere novelty comic, The New Deadwardians #1 is an example of strong story telling and a mystery that hints at being thoroughly gripping. If anything, it’s the mystery and Suttle’s struggles to solve it that make this issue worth checking out.

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