It only took them a little over 13 years, but DC finally has their “Marvel Zombies.” You know, the kind of story that shows what happens when their universe succumbs to a zombie outbreak. What happens isn’t quite as inventive or darkly amusing as that series was, but it still offers a propulsive superhero action/horror story that offers up some fun character moments and interesting twists as the DCU marches to oblivion.
Things start with the Justice League handing Darkseid his ass and getting the New God to promise that he’ll never come back to Earth. Darkseid has no problem agreeing to this because he already has what he came for: Vic Stone, Cyborg. It turns out that the Apokoliptian technology that made him also houses the other half of the Anti-Life equation that Darkseid has been searching for. Unfortunately for everyone in this story, his attempt to remove that equation unleashes a plague that spreads through biological contact and visual media. By the end of the first issue, over 600 million people have been infected and it’s only going to get worse from here.
“DCeased” comes to us from writer Tom Taylor and artist Trevor Hairsine, with talented people like James Harren and Neil Edwards pitching in on the art. Taylor is someone whose star has been on the rise in the industry over the past few years thanks to well-regarded work on the “Injustice” titles at DC and (especially, in my opinion) “All-New Wolverine” over at Marvel. So I went into this expecting a solid tale and that’s what I got.
My main issue is that it’s not much more than that. The story starts off at a breakneck pace and doesn’t slow down for anything over the course of its six issues. It’s also pretty ruthless when it comes to killing off your favorite DC heroes. Most of the cast is made up of A-listers, with the most recognizable B-listers on hand as well. Don’t expect the majority of them to make it through to the end of the volume.
What you can expect is for the writer to deliver some interesting twists on them in this hour of crisis. Like finding out who the newest Green Lantern of Sector 2184 is going to be. Why Wally West and Barry Allen have to sit most of this story out. What does it take for Luthor to finally forsake his feud with Superman. Along with what everyone’s going to do when they realize that the world can’t be saved.
Taylor has good answers for these, even if he does breeze through some of them. He also has a lot of fun with Green Arrow being the voice of reason/sarcasm/comic relief for what that’s worth. The problem is that these things are more diversions than story hooks. Writerly bits of sleight-of-hand to distract you from the fact that this story is basically playing out the way you’d expect the zombie apocalypse of the DCU to go down. It’s well-done for what it is, but you can only have superheroes being zombified, being murdered by other zombified superheroes, or murdering said zombies so many times before it starts to get a little repetitive.
It’s probably a little bit telling that the issue with all of the crazy ideas about how to stop this catastrophe winds up being the weakest of the bunch. While “DCeased” was a six-issue miniseries, it had an extra one-shot tucked into the middle of its run. “A Good Day to Die” is ostensibly the story of how Mr. Terrific, Mister Miracle, Big Barda, Booster Gold, Blue Beetle, and (very reluctantly) John Constantine try to find their own way to stop the outbreak. First by science, then through magic, and then the old standby of time travel.
That’s all well and good for these characters. Problem is that it reads like a bunch of deleted scenes and subplots that Taylor had thought about, but didn’t want to include in the main series. So if you’re wondering why the zombies couldn’t be magicked away, you’ll find the answer in this issue. The actual explanation, and most of the characters here, aren’t really fleshed out as well as they should be.
If nothing else, I’ll admit that I liked the Constantine-centric scenes that were illustrated by Darick Robertson. Not only does his presence mean that I can fool myself into thinking that these scenes could’ve been set during Vertigo’s heyday, but John acts remarkably and disturbingly true to form in them. Most of the issue is handled by Laura Braga, whose work is much on the same level as what she’s being asked to draw.
As for the art in the main series, Hairsine gives the action a dark, chunky look to it. I’ve seen him do stories with a more epic sweep over at Marvel and that’s missing from his work here. Fortunately his style feels appropriate for a grim superhero action/horror story as he does a great job of rendering the gruesome action. His zombies are as vicious and bloody as you’d expect, and look appropriately wrong when they’re superheroes or the loved ones of superheroes.
Pitching in during the first and last issues are Harren and Edwards, respectively. The most I can say about the latter is that I didn’t really notice his fill-ins at all. Harren, on the other hand, has a style that’s so distinctive that it absolutely clashes with main artist Hairsine’s. So it’s a good thing that Taylor has him draw an Apokolips-set torture scene that quickly escalates into outright catastrophe. Harren’s style winds up being perfect for this kind of action, leaving his work to come off like a memorable movie star cameo in a big summer blockbuster.
That’s what “DCeased” ultimately is. It’s a big superhero thrill ride that’s meant to shock, scare, and excite you, sometimes all at once. It kind of succeeds on delivering what’s promised. How much you’ll actually enjoy this will depend on what you want to see in a superhero zombie apocalypse. Oh, and like any successful summer blockbuster, it’s already getting a sequel in “Unkillables.” I can’t say I’m completely gung-ho on this, but seeing what Taylor has in mind for what the villains of the DCU were up to while this story was going down does have me at least a little interested.