iZombie (Comic Review)

Cover to iZombie #2

iZombie

(This is a review of issues 1-18 of the ongoing series.)

You can learn a lot about the Vertigo series iZombie from the title. Originally solicited as “I, Zombie”, a name referencing Asimov’s classic I, Robot as well as the Vertigo property I, Vampire, it was changed to iZombie at the last minute. This name is either a nonsensical attempt to sound like an Apple product, or intended to imply that this is a new brand of cool, slick, popular zombies. Either interpretation would fit the series.

The main draw of iZombie is artist Michael Allred. His art is fun and breezy, with a pop sensibility can turn grotesque monsters into trendy versions of themselves that deserve that Apple-style “i” prefix. However, in most people’s minds his art is directly associated with his crazy, surreal writing in the Madman comic. iZombie is written by Chris Roberson instead, and Allred’s art suffers without that creative spark in the story.

Gwen, the zombie lead, is a recently-deceased woman who retains her personality andInternal art from iZombie humanity, but will lose it if she doesn’t eat at least one brain a month. So she works in a cemetery that specializes in natural burials to gain access to the still-fresh brains of people she won’t need to kill. The catch is that eating a brain gives her the memories of that person, and she feels obligated to help them complete their unfinished business. The comic interweaves several plots involving the supernatural folk living in her area. Among others, Gwen hangs out with a ghost stuck in a 1960’s mindset and a wereterrier (like a werewolf, but unthreatening), and a sorority of vampires outside the town run a paintball business to attract their victims.

Yes, this series features a wereterrier and paintball. There is also a government task force called the “Dead Presidents”, whose name should be taken literally. Moreover, after Gwen meets cute with a monster hunter (who doesn’t notice that Gwen isn’t a normal human), he surprises her on their first date with a miniature golf outing. Not only does Gwen take this strange date location in stride, but she isn’t scared off when he gives a speech about the important role mini-golf played in his relationship with his mother. There are echoes of this a few issues later when Amon, the mummy character, announces that Skee Ball is the “passion” of his millenia-old life.

Mini-Golf!In short, this is a series in love with its own cleverness, where many of the interests that drive the characters are geeky pop culture elements. This could work, especially given the atmosphere created by Allred’s art, but it would be more effective if the ideas were more original than friendly werewolves. At the very least, the story needs to be less driven by random coincidences and characters who don’t act at all like believable people.

A good microcosm for the series as a whole is issue 6, which tells the backstory of wereterrier Spot. He’s a geek who loves comics and role-playing, but can’t talk to girls, and seems meant for the readers to identify with him. How did he meet up with Gwen’s group? Well, he kept staring awkwardly at them in a diner until she invited him to join them. Not only was that interaction completely unbelievable, but it doesn’t explain how these supernatural beings found each other. It’s difficult to accept that normal people don’t know about monsters when this group keeps bumping into strange creatures around every corner. In that same issue, Spot’s grandfather dies, and the narration goes out of the way to explain how Spot hadn’t talked to him in years and never thought to worry about the old man’s age or health. It’s not a problem, though: The grandfather’s soul becomes trapped in a chimpanzee’s body, and once again a supernatural creature accidentally joins the group without alerting normal people.

The most effective parts of the story are the mysteries that unfold very slowly, such as Gwen’s forgotten past, how it may relate to the mummy Amon, and whether a mad scientist is trying to raise a Lovecraftian horror. New pieces of information are doled out regularly, though they occasionally come up thanks to more coincidences (especially with people from Gwen’s past). In fact, the comic is usually juggling four or five plots at once. Roberson balances them very well, and in the right situation, it would be effective. Here, though, since half of the plots tend to be uninteresting, it just makes the story feel like it’s progressing too slowly.

iZombie has the right art and attitude to make it a lighthearted romp through monster cliches, but it falls short in the implementation. Without more original ideas and better plot devices, all those clever pop culture references just feel like cynical ploys from someone who doesn’t actually get them himself.

Grade: C-


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