Friday, 20 February 2009

ZombEE! ZombEE! Zomb -EE-EE-EE! AW! AW! HEY HEY! ELLA ELLA ELLA! Under my Umberella.

Second to Final Crisis: Fantastic Four - True Story, my favourite of the non-DC Final Crisis tie-ins has been Final Crisis: Crossed by Garth Ennis. After finishing reading The Affinity Bridge yesterday I think I know why; I'm under attack from Zombies.

The Affinity Bridge is not a terribly good book. It's harmless, by-the-numbers, steampunk DetFic that sneaked out of the SF section of the bookstore in the hopes that it might trick mainstream readers who enjoyed Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters into picking it up on a Borders three-for-two deal (a reasonable hope - that's how it got me). But it does have one really good idea in it, and it's an idea about Zombies. It doesn't develop or explore the idea in any way, just bringing it in to tie three plot-threads together at the end before a bit of running about and perfunctory crashing of airships, but it's there and it's an awesome idea about Zombies.

I was excited by it. I was hungry to look around for somewhere else where it might be developed properly. Then I caught myself... since when do I care about Zombies?

Thier manky shambling antics have never interested me in the slightest. Vampires were the object of my morbid teenage fascination, and even now I cling to the general belief that you're not alowed to be undead unless you're going to make the effort to be a bit saucy. Forbidden touch of spectral lovers - good. Tearing claws of mangled hordes - bad. If you're going to cross the unbearable divide between death and life, please check on arrival that your flesh is 'porcelain' and not 'putrefying.'

Back in 2004, Shaun of the Dead did a lot to move zombies from my 'things in which I have no interest' brain-box to my 'things in which I have a potential interest' brain-box, and Ross Cambell's The Abandoned helped keep them there, but it was only last year that things really changed. I seem to have spent most of 2008 thinking about Zombies.

On telly then my favourite show of the year was Charlie Brooker's Dead Set.

Political cartoonists tend to hate it when their targets want to buy their work. Splashing a vicious, inky attack in the direction of someone only to have them hand over some cash for it and put it on the wall of thier stairwell ruins everything! It makes the level of collusion involved in satire too explict. It reduces things to the level of those Allistair McGowan parodies of Eastenders that were filmed on the sets of Eastenders, the ones which always left me wondering why he didn't just get the cast of Eastenders in to film them, or even just show a few minutes of Eastenders (both techniques later refined by Harry Hill).

A satire on reality television filmed on the Big Brother sets, broadcast on E4 and featuring Davina and Brian Belo, you'd have thought Dead Set would have run into the same sort of problem, the implict approval of its subject compromising anything it said about that subject. Instead it somehow managed to sythesise everything I love about reality TV in general (and Big Brother in particular) with everything I hate about myself for loving it.

It ended up asking a genuinely horrific question - what if the programme really does tell us something about human nature? The way contestants respond to being in the house and the way audiences respond to watching it...what if that's stuff we really can't get past? By the time I realised I was the target of its attack, it had torn my guts out. WITH ZOMBIES!

"I sincerely hope some of you vomit," said its writer. I didn't while watching, but the show's stayed with me to the extent that I might yet at any time.

Zombies stayed with me too, and plodded after me into Crossed and Final Crisis. Neither of which feature Zombies trading under the name 'Zombie', but that seems to me to be typical of Zombie films anyway. The local reality bubble of a zombie movie quivers as soon as you use the 'Z' word to describe the legions transformed into murderous savages by a mysterious outbreak. Say "zombie" and you're no longer in a 'real' life-or-death situation but at an intertextual nexus. Zombies are after us! The things from the movies!

While stories like the 28 Things Later films deny the zombie-ness of thier zombies to avoid self-conciousness, Crossed and Final Crisis have other reasons. That's a bit obvious really - when would Mozza ever strive to avoid self-conciousness?

Emmett Furey's CBR's interview with Ennis says this...

"In the post-apocalyptic setting of Crossed, the planet has been ravaged by a worldwide infection that turns its victims into remorseless, homicidal maniacs. The infection is spread by bodily fluids, often by bite, and victims can be identified by a telltale cross-shaped rash across their faces. The infestation is similar to a zombie outbreak, but Ennis insists the similarities between the Crossed and the undead end there."

A few issues in, it's obvious that it doesn't end there - their function in the storytelling is exactly that of a big bunch o' Zombies - but even if it did then that 'there' where it stops is quite far along the way to a working definition of Zombies.

But there is a big something that sets the Crossed apart from the zombies who don't get called zombies in films that don't want to say 'Zombie.' They don't want your brains. They don't want to kill you. They don't want to eat you. They just want to do evil, and thier only interest in you is that you're a potential candidate for that evil to be directed towards.

In that interview Ennis describes the dream in which the idea of Crossed came to him. At first he thought he was seeing his friends under attack from zombies, then he realised they "weren't zombies at all, they were simply people who'd turned evil-- deeply, irrevocably evil-- and were looking forward to indulging all manner of foul intentions as soon as they got their hands on their intended victims. The looks on their faces said it all, a sense of cruel yet delighted anticipation."

Anti-Life justifies their cruel yet delighted anticipation!

Exactly like Ennis's post-Zombies, the victims of the Anti-Life Equation in Final Crisis have been exposed to an infection which has given them over to radical, absolute Eeeeeevil. One fun way to read the series is to imagine that Crossed is what the DCU looks like during the month of story-time FC skips over. Now it sounds like we've won our battle and got Superman Beyond included in the Final Crisis hardcover, lets start petitioning to get Crossed bundled in there too between issues #3 and #4.

Or maybe not, since what's really interesting about comparing Final Crisis and Crossed is looking at the way two writers can respond to exactly the same ideas in totally different ways. The tagline for Crossed was even, "There is no hope"!

Morrison says "Final Crisis was written [as] a doom-laden, Death Metal myth for the wonderful world of Fina(ncia)l Crisis/Eco-breakdown/Terror Trauma we all have to live in."

Ennis is thinking along the same lines..."The world's a pretty grim place at the moment, and little is being done to alleviate matters. We're able to tolerate war, genocide, and famine; we're happy to ignore devastation by earthquake, hurricane and tsunami. Body counts mean nothing. Our governments are full of scum who plainly don't care about the welfare of their people and are happy to let them founder. Seen in that light, the notion of humor in a story of global catastrophe just didn't sit very well with me."

One thinks that a responsible writer should respond to the horrors of this time by moderating his sense of humour. The other thinks that a responsible writer should respond to the horrors of this time with a last minute save from Captain Carrot and the Zoo Crew.

You can even see in that interview the exact point at which Ennis and Morrison's understandings of reality diverge...

"I went to see 'Iron Man’ recently, which attempts to incorporate real world problems into a superhero story, and to me that simply rendered the guy-with-powers fantasy even more meaningless than usual. There is no one like this, nor will there ever be." (Ennis, CBR)

Morrison thinks there are plenty of people just like that, and that Ennis just saw one of them.

"[E]verything we can experience is real, including dreams and stories. These characters are in here, in the universe with us, and they have shit to tell us. And that's what I find really exciting. They're real in the sense that you can hold them in your hands and interact with them. They don't need to pretend to live in New York. It's much more real than that – they're actually alive in our hands. " (Morrison, IGN)

Final Crisis was all about sythesising 'opposites' (as was my experince of watching Dead Set), so maybe something will come along to officiate at an alchemical marriage of Crossed and FC's two opposing post-zombie stories. Maybe it'll be the story Geoff Johns is doing later this year about Zombie Supervillains from Outer Space? Whatcha think?

In the meantime, my favourite zombie story of recent times remains Batman RIP.

Have a look at the specific details of the Black Glove's plan.

First Bruce is paralysed with the Joker's neurotoxic roses. Then he's...

Doctor Hurt: Buried alive in his best cape! [...] But not so deep that we can't exhume what remains after dessert. [...] Air inside the coffin will run out in exactly thirty minutes. His brain will begin to die seconds after that, whereupon he will be raised up like a drooling Lazarus...

Jezebel Jet: Permanently brain-damaged! The way I like them. We can disfigure him to look like his worst enemy.

Now have a read of this...

"Though it is said that voodoo houngans (priests) can turn humans into zombies by magical means, the practice is rooted in hard, undeniable science. 'Zombie Powder,' the tool used by th e houngan for zombification, contains a very powerful neurotoxin (the exact ingredients are a closely guarded secret). The toxin temporarily paralyzes the human nervous system, creating a state of extreme hibernation.
Manu humans have been buried while in such a state, only to awaken screaming in the pitch darkness of their coffin. So what makes this living human being a zombie? The answer is simple: brain damage. Many who are buried alive quickly use up the air inside their coffins. Those that are recovered (if they are lucky) almost always suffer brain damage from lack of oxygen. These poor souls shamble about with little cognitive skills, or, indeed, free will, and are often mistaken for the living dead."
(Max Brooks, the Zombie Survival Guide)



  2. Got cut off before I could add my own comments; I have no idea if this is any good or not, but the author description is such a dichonomy that I almost HAVE to check it out.

    "About the Author
    JANE AUSTEN is the author of Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Mansfield Park, and other masterpieces of English literature. SETH GRAHAME-SMITH is the author of How to Survive a Horror Movie and The Big Book of Porn. He lives in Los Angeles."

  3. That is genius! Not so much for the idea of adding Zombies, but for the idea of keeping the original text and just splicing the zombie scenes in.

    A little like how Hustler spliced totally incongruous hardcore scenes into totally inapropriate bits of 'Caligula.' As I'm sure is documented in Grahame-Smith's other work.

    I'm ordering this as we speak.

  4. It really has been zombie-o-rama in the DC events. The bit you wrote relating to vampires strikes me as interesting considering the representation of Mandrakk and what becomes of Ultraman. Even then it's not the sexy shiny vampire treatment. It's viewed as decayed and disgusting. It's a very even view throughout the work that anti-life and undeath is something nasty and to be avoided.

  5. Consistent except for the the magnificent fury...OF FRANKENSTEIN! :)

  6. There does always seem to be exceptions to prove the rules, doesn't there.