Sarah Palin? Are you around to help? Tarnation! The whole country has bust a nut in this Zombie Western graphic novel. But, don’t you worry, it’s the latter 1800’s and, nope, dinosaurs weren’t roaming the Earth. It’s the time of, well, think of John Wayne, yeah that time, the time of the Westerns. Maybe your great-great-grandma could help. We shall see. We shall all see in, “ROTTEN VOLUME TWO: REVIVAL OF THE FITTEST.”
The U.S. presidential election of 1876 was supposed to be both a celebration of the one hundredth anniversary of the United States of America and a time to move forward. Instead, the hotly contested election threw the country into a panic and nearly caused a second American Civil War. Rutherford B. Hayes was chosen to become president in a backroom deal. Samuel Tilden, who won a clear majority of the popular vote, was shut out. Mark Rahner and Robert Horton take that rather acrid period in American history and propose that a sickness took root in the young and struggling country that spawned a series of outbreaks of the living dead. The latest collection of their zombie comic book, “Rotten” lays out in gorey detail just what happens when the zombies come marching home.
“Rotten Volume Two: Revival of the Fittest” draws us closer to these creatures. Apparently, there are a variety of species, with each new discovery seeming to be more fierce than the last. Back then, they were to be known as “revenants.” That’s the best name that Agent J.J. Flynn can come up with, something taken from the Bible. Not to say that he’s anywhere near religious himself. He’s more the pragmatist, much like his partner, William Wade. Funny thing is, that old time religion keeps finding its way into this story. With one “revenant” outbreak after another, there’s always a charlatan ready to exploit the situation in the name of God like a Bill O’Reilly-type character or a Glenn Beck-type character. The first leads a charge against Charles Darwin. The second, the Glenn Beck-like one, gets the spotlight as a dim witted yet conniving con artist leading a town down a road to hell.
Much of the appeal of “Rotten” is how it has managed to construct a perfect backdrop for total mayhem. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either. There’s the political satire but it strikes like a cobra, it doesn’t whine. Then there’s the sheer majesty of zombies let loose on the Wild West. You’ve got the two agents, serving under orders from the President of the United States, Flynn and Wade, and it’s up to them to make sense of what’s going on and take out as many zombies while they’re at it. Flynn, the guy with the cool eye specs, does most of the research. Wade, the guy with the mile wide grimace, does most of the ass kicking.
It’s great to see these two characters develop over the course of this book. Flynn is the intellectual. He is certainly capable of doing battle with zombies but he’s even better at a battle of wits. He spends a good chunk of time in conversation with Charles Darwin and his colleagues debating the possibility of the living dead. He also makes a lady friend, the owner of a rather curious Chicago restaurant that specializes in a most robust and unique sausage. Wade, on the other hand, is a lit fuse ready to blow. He could battle zombies in his sleep. And he’s doing a lot of that in the Pacific Northwest, where new zombie outbreaks have his hands full. But he too, has some time for pleasure. There’s a hint that he may get a chance once more to pursue the beautiful wife of the owner of the notorious Hep (Can you say, Halliburton?) Industries. Oh, but wait, Flynn’s lady friend, Minnie, was an old flame of Wade’s. Hmm, that complicates things.
There are a number of awesome scenes in this book, much to the credit of the book’s artist, Dan Dougherty. They will take your breath away. Let me share the one extended scene that I can come back to over and over and that I want to see in a “Rotten” movie. That’s the scene where Wade has a whole town’s worth of zombie mob crazy after him. These things can really haul ass. And they’re as determined as pit bulls. We see Wade high tail it into the woods, into the fields, down a log chute, into a stream, and those things are still after him! Finally, out of nowhere, a grizzly bear appears roaring his head off and charging after Wade. With one last forceful push, Wade gets a hook into a tree with one of his trusty zombie spikes and climbs his way to safety. The grizzly tears into the zombies. And then the zombies tear into the grizzly bear. Yes, total mayhem ensues as only “Rotten” can provide.
Dan Dougherty is a master illustrator. He creates endless variations of zombies, a multitude of facial expressions, an amazing array of anatomical contortions. This is some of the most inventive stuff going on today in horror and in comics in general. When was the last time you saw a zombie dislocate a horse’s jaw? Right. That’s just one fine reason to pick up this book. You want to read the story that goes along with that zombie dislocating that horse’s jaw.
I’ve been keeping up with “Rotten” from the very beginning and I am confident that we can expect more awesome zombie goodness ahead. The book leaves us with some tantalizing loose ends. For one thing, there’s this strange albino bounty hunter type who is in closely following what the agents are up to. In fact, he is following way too close. And then there’s that restaurant back in Chicago. There’s something really wrong with that meat. It’s no spoiler to tell you this but THAT’S ZOMBIE MEAT! What the consequences are for Flynn, who ate quite of bit of that special sausage, are up for grabs. So, for now, grab yourself a copy of this latest collection. It will definitely satisfy and leave you wanting more, although it may put you off from eating sausage, at least for little while. If you read “Rotten,” then you probably like sausage too much to give up. Anyway, I digress. The book collects all the recent issues of “Rotten,” from number 7 thru 11. The last two issues are new, never before published material. It is 156 pages. Find it at your local comics shop for $15.99 or go check in on Mr. Rahner’s site for more details on where you can get your hands on “Rotten.”