Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: Dave: Zombie Hunter #1

There are two well-worn approaches a creator can take when it comes to zombies: 1) the serious, splattery approach, often with a between-the-lines critique of modern society, or 2) comedy (or more accurately, zomedy). Dave: Zombie Hunter, the brainchild of writer Stewart Cook and artist Timothy Ide, sits firmly in the second camp. Not only is it humorous, Dave: Zombie Hunter is downright strange in places.

The path to publication for issue #1 has taken fourteen years and some false starts according to the author's message at the end of the comic book. The concept began as a film script, but after illustrator Ide became involved by drawing up storyboards for the proposed film, writer Cook liked the art so much, he suggested the comic book format instead. Fortunately for Cook, this decision has paid dividends because the story as filmed would have been firmly entrenched in Z-grade obscurity without a decent budget for effects and experienced actors, whereas Ide's skill as an artist brings to life many of the script's over the top moments in a manner comparable to the best comic book artists in Australia.

The story itself is surprisingly engaging and avoids the cliche of other zombie comic book stories, which tend to be a haze of run-action-run scenes with little in the way of surprises or character development. The plot is brisk and the action segues nicely into a number of comedy set pieces, which is no mean feat in just 21 pages.

Protagonist Dave is your typical Aussie loser, a man who runs 'Dave's Zombie Hunting and Grocery Delivery Service'. Unfortunately for Dave, the zombie apocalypse proves to be all too real, and the mysterious Dr Magus (who might have some insight into the nature of the zombie threat) calls for his assistance, setting Dave off on his quest. For a bloke who added the 'zombie hunting' side to his business as a joke, he proves surprisingly adept at dispatching the undead.

Humorous highlights of the issue centre on Dave's best mate Chuck (although the name is purely coincidental, I like to think it's a reference to our very own Keeper of the Dead, Chuck McKenzie), who manages to seduce a zombie chick he'd had a crush on without realising she was undead, and who later, brings an electric carving knife to a fight - without an extension cord! There's another moment towards the end where Dave's sexy girlfriend Vera goes all Bruce Campbell on the zombies, right down to the part where she demands 'some sugar' from Dave.

The plot takes a dip into the bizarre at the end with the arrival of 'The Montys', a sixties-style flower power family in the mould of The Partridge Family, and events descend into a weird apology singalong. The whole thing is just downright bizarre, but you know what? It works!

The downside to Dave is that the story sits somewhere between an Australian and American audience - and suffers for it. An Aussie larrikin, with references to Australian cultural icons such as Rove, Dave also totes a .45 automatic and heads for a place called 'Apple County' (an allusion to California's Orange County, perhaps?). This is a minor criticism, but without the story being grounded in a clear cultural identity, it feels a little generic, which is often a danger with zombie fiction. If Dave had been even more of a sexist Aussie bloke (a tough call, to be sure!), with a clear local setting, this would have enhanced the story's appeal.

Another, admittedly minor, complaint is the cover, which would have been more striking as full-colour poster art rather than upsized black and white panel art. The artwork inside, however, is top notch for an Aussie indie. Full marks to Tim Ide for bringing the story - and the humour - to life. It's a difficult job to make horrific art humorous, but Ide does it with ease.

Part 1 (of what appears to be a two-part story) sets the pace, introduces all the elements and key players, and then throws a couple of curve balls to keep the reader guessing about what's in store in part 2. I'm genuinely looking forward to the conclusion of Dave: Zombie Hunter - and to how Cook ties up the plot threads. One thing can be certain: there will be blood and more than a few laughs.

Dave: Zombie Hunter can be purchased from the creators' website.

This review is part of the 2010 Australian Horror Comics review series by Shane Jiraiya Cummings. To read other reviews in this series, search HorrorScope for the Labels 'Oz Horror Comics'.