Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Zombo’, out January 22 in the US (and 24 January in the UK) from 2000 AD.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘2000 AD DIGEST: ZOMBO’ CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Mickey Rivera. It’s unclear when the infection began, all we know is that it spread quickly and without warning. Somewhere in the early 2000s, the collective subconscious, amplified by mass internet adoption, coalesced around the love of zombies. This love materialized and spread. The pandemic wreaked havoc for an entire decade or more, and it remains strong to this day. Zombie walks marched through city streets. Movie studios acted as multi-million dollar vectors, scrambling to feed the public’s lust for campy, gory zombie visuals.
By 2009, just a year before the premiere of AMC’s The Walking Dead, there was no end in sight. It was that year, with the Western world deep in the feverous throes of zombie delirium, that 2000 AD’s eternal editor, The Mighty Tharg, decided: “Fuck it, I’m cashing in.” Zombo, written by Al Ewing and illustrated by Henry Flint, premiered in Prog 1632.
Despite being contemporaneous with the “zombie craze,” Zombo is something entirely different than anything else you might find from that time period. Its titular hero isn’t the mindless, flesh-hungry ghoul which is a mainstay of the genre. While he shares their belligerent appetite, Zombo is light years more intelligent and polite than his popular cousins. A perfect gentleman in most respects, he will first ask if he can eat you. If by accident he bites half your face off, you can be sure the last words you’ll hear as you slip into that last deep darkness will be his sincere apologies.
Zombo draws from the spirit of classic 2000 AD. Flint specifically cites the magazine’s 1986 strip Sooner or Later by Peter Milligan and Brendan McCarthy as an inspiration. He wanted to create comic “where you didn’t understand why things happened, they just did.” Though it’s accurate to say that Zombo is an utterly insane, careening hell-train of jokes and violence, its plot is fairly easy to grasp. In this universe, a pan-human government has enacted galactic colonialism, allowing space-faring settlers to claim whatever unoccupied planetary territory they can land on for themselves. Certain settlers wander onto sentient “deathworlds.” These planets are carnivorous. Their fruits bite back, and their rivers are infested with extremely bite-y tentacles.
One such deathworld has resurrected those who have died on its surface, turning them into infectious living dead. In an effort to stop the spread of the infection, the Pan-Galactic government creates Zombo, a genetic splice of human and zombie DNA. The story begins with an intergalactic passenger flight (with Zombo aboard, in stasis) crash landing on one of these deathplanets. The story ends on a pan-human television show, with Zombo seeking intergalactic fame as a pop-star. In-between these events, readers are treated to a parade of brazenly goofy and satirical characters: a family of inbred cannibalistic space colonists; a group of rebel youths eager to film their own deaths for internet fame; twin government spooks with a very intimate relationship. There are even celebrity appearances. I would suggest against becoming too attached to any one character, however. In Zombo, all things are equal. Death comes for all, but at least it’s entertaining.
This book’s visuals are as densely packed as the jokes. The back matter touts its “lurid palette of blood reds and bile yellows.” Flint gives Zombo himself the look of a putrefied, brain-damaged Swamp Thing. Words like “serene” or “relaxed” belong nowhere near this book. It’s clear, even before the severed limbs start flying, that it has no chill.
As I read through Zombo I got the feeling that its creators were trying above all else to entertain themselves rather than the audience, and I found that, in this case at least, it worked incredibly well. The resulting miasma of pitch-black humor and violence is unapologetic in its demand for attention. Though it’d be a massive stretch to call Zombo an “intellectual” book, its gags do an amazing job of highlighting our society’s more embarrassing ideologies. For instance, at one point a news reporter begins an in-depth investigation of that suicidal YouTube street gang: “They call themselves the Suicide Boys! Roving gangs of listless youth, without prospects or futures—only the lure of a grisly death! Stalking the streets, finding creative ways to end their own lives—then filming the sickening spectacle for their jaded peers!” A beat later, next panel: “Oh, it all sounds like harmless fun—but could it be leading to drugs?”
Zombo is a throwback to less careful times. Its creators have gobbled up the best of sub-mainstream comics of the 80s and 90s and regurgitated something surprisingly palatable. It’s a teensy bit offensive. It’s a little bit corny. Have I mentioned it’s violent? In the end, Zombo may best be described with British colloquialisms. It’s fucking mental. It’s bloody brilliant. It’s so densely packed with random gags and playful pessimism that it often seems in danger of drowning in its own sardonic multitudes, but somehow it holds it all together. Let your guard down, lay back, and let Zombo chomp on your brain for a bit.
Written by Al Ewing.
Art by Henry Flint.
Letters by Simon Bowland and Annie Parkhouse.
8.5 out of 10
‘2000 AD Digest: Zombo’ hits stores January 22 in the US and 24 January in the UK.
Feast your eyes on this six-page preview of ‘2000 AD Digest: Zombo’, courtesy of 2000 AD!