Zombies. What is even up with those guys? From mutated viruses diabolically engineered by pointlessly evil companies to space radiation from space, it seems like the dead are just looking for any excuse to rise out of their shallow graves to gnaw on the living. Sometimes their journey is given a reason, other times not so much. Sometimes its just enough to know that the man who is trying to bite you isn’t just a hobo with rabies, its a friggin’ ZOMBIE and you should have no qualms about lodging a pipe into its head with extreme prejudice.
A formula for zombie survival has emerged in the past several years: Travel in groups of four. The Left 4 Dead games embrace this fun mechanic like an old friend, and even movies like Zombieland get in on the fun. If you really want to see the formula done right, however, you should be reading Dead Winter, by S. Dave Shabat. This comic follows the journey of four very different companions as they attempt to survive the apocalypse, though when it comes right down to it, zombies are the least of their worries.
The story starts with Lizzie. Or Liz Cooper, if you’re feeling particularly formal. A former English and poetry major at college, Liz once totally won a lot of money in a poetry contest and then promptly blew the money on something frivolous. Unfortunately, that was the only time she ever hit paydirt with her writing, and was forced to turn to table waiting to make ends meet, living in a tiny apartment with her fiance, Trevor, and her cat Mr. Cuddles.
Liz has a lot to be happy about in her life, but most of it is eclipsed by the substantial girth of her boss and chief aggressor, Frank. A veteran of Vietnam, Frank either has a weird way of showing affection or simply hates everyone. By the time we join Liz, she doesn’t care which option is which. Frank works her like a slave waiting tables, mopping floors and taking orders, and Lizzie often bemoans the lack of pay she receives for her efforts. Due to the fact that Frank is an unpleasant monster of a man, Lizzie is one of the few employees he has, which means she’s just about always on call.
There are bigger problems on the horizon, however. An illness, referred to by doctors as some kind of strain of bird flu (take a wild stab on when Dead Winter started) started spreading quickly through town. Eventually, some people started to be a little more bitey than what is allowed in the realm of good taste, and well, things started snowballing from there. Lizzie is blissfully unaware that the world is going to0 hell until she has a particularly bad day, quits her job at Frank’s, and nearly gets killed when a zombie-driven car t-bones her on her way home.
From there, Lizzie’s journey really begins through reality and through the increasingly violent world that exists in her dreams. The comic is done in black, white, and gray, with splashes of red shown here and there when effective. Lizzie’s dream sequences, however, are done in full color, which does wonders for breaking up the comic’s mood and tone.
Along the way she’s joined by Alice, a cheery nurse who escaped from the local hospital when things went to hell, Lou, a big-hearted behemoth of a plumber, and… uh… Monday. Black Monday Blues, to be precise. We’ll get to him in a moment.
Like I mentioned earlier, Dead Winter does a great job the four person zombie apocalypse formula. Each character is fundamentally different from the others. Lizzie’s injuries make her the most vulnerable in many ways, but she tries to stay strong for Alice’s sake more than her own. Alice wants to save everyone and seems to treat every dispatched zombie as another patient lost. Lou becomes dedicated to the group immediately after hooking up with them, and seems to be quite the history buff in addition to being handy with a wrench. And Monday, well… Okay, maybe Monday’s in it for somewhat selfish reasons.
Monday’s a professional badass for hire, involved with countless assassinations and “delicate situations” over the years. Monday’s only in town because he has been blackmailed into participating in something that sounds rather… unfortunate. That was before the zombie apocalypse put a huge wrench into the works. Now he has a new plan, one that Lizzie will definitely not approve of.
But Dead Winter isn’t just another zombie-smashing spree. There’s plenty of that, true. But what gives the small group of survivors the most trouble is more often than not still alive. The apocalypse has a way of messing with the heads of those who aren’t immediately converted into zombies, and as such the group has to face off against people who are losing their shit, have lost sight of what’s important, or are looting for looting’s sake. It helps to breed a sense of paranoia when interacting with even the most innocent of individuals.
But between chapters, we’re often shown the other side of the apocalypse. The survivors who are working hard to clear the streets and save the innocent. The ones spray painting hopeful slogans on buildings to keep up the spirits of those left behind. Of Yuri, the most badass Russian to ever punch a zombie’s head off. Of Cuddles, the cat who is alive beyond all reason.
It’s a lesson in humanity as well as a glimpse into what the worst of what people can manage to think up. But through it all, you never stop rooting for our main four survivors, and, of course, quietly hoping none of our favorites get bitten, mauled, blown up or shot in their search for family, shelter, safety or in one case, revenge.
Then again, they do have Monday with them. And he’s not the kind of guy I’d bet against. Not even a nickel.
Shabat does a great job with tone in this comic. Events that happen parallel to scenes of gore and action add an element of awesome to the whole ordeal. However, there is one major warning I have on this comic. Yeah. NOT SAFE FOR WORK.
Don’t get me wrong, most of the time this comic is fine. But then suddenly we’re hit with BAM shower scene. NAKED NAKED NAKED. This happened three times, which I thought was kinda weird, as for the most part this isn’t that kind of comic. So, be careful where you read. Nudity is limited to like, one panel each time, but the comic’s not done yet. Just be warned.
Actually, not sure why I’m of the thinking that brutal gore and zombie maulings are work okay, but nudity isn’t? Huh. That’s a neat social weirdness I’ve got going on there.
Anyway, check out Dead Winter here. Aim for the head.