Written by: George A. Romero
Illustrated by: Alex Maleev
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Format: Softcover, 10.5 x 8, 128 pages, Full Color, $19.99
In a world of fast zombies and vampires that sparkle, where can a classic monster maker go to make some solid, traditional horror?
For filmmaker George Romero, the answer is Marvel Comics. Having arguably created the modern interpretation of the zombie with Night of the Living Dead, Romero has used the flesh-eating ghouls to take a metaphorical look at society through the "... Of the Dead" series of films. Turning to comics for his latest edition, Romero adds to the loose storyline from his movies by introducing a new undead menace - vampires.
Empire of the Dead opens five years after the first zombie outbreak, in New York City. The Big Apple has survived, having walled itself off from threats both undead and alive. Medical scientist Penny Jones arrives in the city and quickly teams up with Paul Barnum, who leads his team of zombies into gladiator-style fights for the entertainment of the masses. Jones feels the zombies retain some semblance of thought, and can be trained to do more than simply attack and consume - a theory that shows some validity with the discovery of an undead police officer who still seems to do her duty. Overseeing this is the mysterious Mayor Chandrake who, along with his son Bill and many in the upper echelons of NYC, share an inhuman need to drink human blood...
Empire of the Dead touches on many themes familiar to Romero's works, with the zombie as both a threat to and threatened by living people. The introduction of vampires to the scenario works in this story, as Romero eschews the more outlandish elements of the mythos and plays up the aristocratic bloodsucker image. Class struggles are touched on, as even in a world of zombies people still have to earn a living. And as with his previous works, it's the bad habits of people that cause as much harm as the monsters they're trying to escape.
Alex Maleev's art masterfully captures the feel of the story. His lines are thin but stark, and makes prodigious use of shadow whether in the night time cityscapes or darkened inner lair of the Mayor. His figures are expressive, and the layouts capture the feel of the Dead films. And the zombies look appropriately scary.
The first of a three volume story arc, Act One is just that, setting a complex and compelling story that takes Romero's previous works into new territory that is as thought-provoking and terrifying as those that came before.
Empire of the Dead is suggested for Adult (18+) readers who enjoy horror, social commentary, and the films of George Romero.