Friday, February 11, 2011

Review: Rotten v1 Reactivated

First of all, a giant "it's about damn time" to Moonstone for finally publishing this thing.  They solicited this trade way back in September, but never got around to publishing it until early January.  When I talked to writer Mark Rahner at the Jet City Comic Show back in September he was extremely frustrated with the delays, and I can see why.  Rotten is a sparingly printed comic, that steadily sells out, yet still leaves unlucky buyers wanting the issues...Myself included.  I wanted to jump on at the fourth issue, but the first three issues were nowhere to be found, and thus had to wait for the trade to come out.  And wait, and wait, and wait.  Sometimes when I wait in anticipation for something for long periods of time, that thing I waited so long for fails to live up to my heightened expectations.  Luckily Rotten: Reactivated didn't let me down.

This comic takes place during the Rutherford B. Hayes administration, and focuses primarily on two characters, William Wade, and J.J. Flynn.  Wade is an army vet who has been forced back into service by a president who cheated and stole office.  Wade has been sent to the mining town of Shimmer to investigate a strange phenomenon...Outbreaks of the living dead! The trip to Shimmer doesn't reveal many answers, as the duo is forced to deal with scores of zombies and a mine owner who forces the town's residents to work his mine at gun-point in return for his "protection" from the strange creatures.  The two barely escape with their lives, but become separated when Wade catches a bullet and seeks succor from the Shilo family, a family that cant seem to "let go" of a daughter that is barely showing signs of life... You better believe that girl is a zombie.  Lastly, the three-part story arc is rounded out as Wade and Flynn go undercover at a dilapidated army fort.  Wade poses as the new Commander there in an attempt to discover the source of some mysterious on goings at the outpost.   The fort has been plagued by occasional zombie attacks, and upon further inspection Wade and Flynn discover yet another type of zombie.

Wade and Flynn are stuck playing catch up in every situation they find themselves in, and though they are fast learners, the zombies are never quite the same in each situation.  The cause of the outbreak is unclear, rumors abound that it could be a sign of the apocalypse, a strange new virus, or possibly even have something to do with that new fangled theory called "evolution".  What is clear though is that in each situation the zombies are different from the last batch, which leads one to think that whatever is causing the outbreaks is mutating.  A scary idea given the frontier setting, lack of communication, and the state of scientific knowledge at the time. 

The best thing about Rotten is that much of the material can easily be connected to current or very recent historical events.  The bit about Hayes is a clear poke at the Bush versus Gore election, and there is lots more.   Including the government re-conscripting former soldiers, that whole Terry Shaivo ordeal, major corporations making money off war efforts, and even the torture of prisoners in Abu Ghraib.  These elements help the story interact with contemporary issues despite it's wild west setting.  Reading Rotten and coming across these elements makes the experience all the more rewarding.  I always appreciate it when writers engage contemporary issues in intelligent ways, and in that sense Rotten succeeds.

Aside from the political/historical references, Rotten: Reactivated is a well written comic.  I am very wary of anything having to do with Zombies, but this graphic novel manages to make the story not about the Zombies, but about the survivors.  There is definitely a lot more to learn about Wade and Flynn, but the makings for great characters is there.  At this point they can only react to the zombie outbreaks, and try to patch things up.  As a reader I got the sense that I was learning just what the hell was going on alongside Wade and Flynn.  This heightened sense of mystery was an endearing trait, and left me wanting to read more.

The one glaring weakness of this Graphic Novel is the art work, which can look rather rough and flat.  There were many times when I had to take time to look too closely at a panel to figure out what was going on, and that disconnect can take away from my enjoyment.  I think the problem is that early on in the graphic novel, the panels per page ratio is a lot higher than it is later in the book.  This causes many of the pages to look busy, cluttered, and constricting.  Later on, in the Frostbite story for instance, instead of eight panel pages you get more pages with six or less panels, which opens things up and leaves more room for more detailed art.  As a result, the second half of the book looks better than the first half.  Weak art can be a major deterrent for me, but luckily the art in Rotten: Reactivated is just good enough to keep me going, and all signs point to more improvement in that area.

All told, Rotten is a pretty sweet zombie comic.  It's a great blend of western and horror, basically right up my alley.  I'm a subscriber to the monthlies now, so hopefully Moonstone can manage to make the releases more timely.  For sheer strength of story, I give this my recommendation.  Comics readers could do far worse, and there is very little out there that is better.  If the art was better I'd put this title up there with The Sixth Gun but it is sadly not on par in the art in that series.  Still, a great read, and a book that looks to be improving with each installment.  I say it's worth a look.

Grade: B-

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