Night of the Living Dead: Back From the Grave (2006)
By: Trist Jones on September 28, 2006  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Publisher: Avatar Press
Writers: John Russo
Art: Sebastian Fiumara
Night of the Living Dead is considered by the vast majority to be the defining zombie horror film. We may as well face facts: it pretty much gave us the phenomenal cult trilogy that has since spawned countless imitators and inspired generations of film makers, writers and artists alike. Without it, we wouldn't have what is largely touted as being one of the best (if not the best) horror films of all time – Dawn of the Dead - which is why it pains me to say that Avatar Press have once again managed to take a seminal cinematic horror experience and turn it into yet another exercise in needless exploitation and comic book horror mediocrity.

Long time Avatar writer, and co-writer of the original Night of the Living Dead movie, John Russo (Escape of the Living Dead) is, unsurprisingly, the man behind this eight page instalment in the Night of the Living Dead continuity. For all the fans who may be unaware of this, Avatar Press recently obtained the comic book rights to the classic film, the first of which, Night of the Living Dead: The Beginning, was an official, completely George A. Romero authorized prequel to Night of the Living Dead. The unfortunate thing is, as far as I can tell from the solicitations, Back from the Grave is also one of these approved tie-ins, and… well… it's not very good.

Admittedly, there isn't much you can fit into an eight pager – it's very much the short story way of thinking. You have a couple of characters, a situation, a starting point, and an end, and it's not exactly hard to see where this one goes, especially if you're a long time follower of Avatar's material. In Back from the Grave, Russo drags out three no-hoper teens (who don't exactly look as though they'd belong in any of the films) and plonks them in the middle of the woods at night for some good ol' alcohol consumption around a campfire. There's nothing really to say about the characters, other than the fact that you know they're dead as soon as you see them, and the six panels of a bug-hungry zombie (who displays his unnatural reflex responses, dexterity and strength through the short) only reinforces this. Anyway, basic line is, two guys, one girl, one of the guys is all bummed out because another girl he was chasing wouldn't come, said guy gets up to get something from the car and is mashed by aforementioned superzombie. While this happens, other dude with girl decides to get more firewood and is promptly munched on, and the girl runs and screams and presumably gets devoured trying to start her car. Pretty straightforward.

What saddens me about this book (outside of the price – more on that later…) is that it manages to cram all of Avatar's needless gratuity into its minute page count. You've got zombies ripping jaws off and gouging eyes, axes to heads, heads bashed against cars, and a hearty titty-squeeze to top it all off. Logically, if this truly were to stay within the confines of the NOTLD reality, a lot of this stuff wouldn't be happening. One of the zombies, and I suspect it may be the superzombie, manages to pummel his fist through the car windscreen. Some may say I'm reaching or nitpicking, but when something claims to be set within a particular universe, it should be adhering to the rules of that universe, and if I recall correctly, no single zombie had enough strength to properly get itself off the ground, let alone smash it's fist through a windshield.

Russo's work here is nothing to write home about. It doesn't really make me excited at all for the upcoming prequel books, and it doesn't really break any new ground in its story telling; it's just a straight up zombie smash-and-grab, and pretty inconsequential from a writing standpoint.

The art, while good, is pretty much standard fare for Avatar these days. Sebastian Fiumara (Avatar's My Flesh is Cool, Jason X Special and Alan Moore's Hypothetical Lizard) delivers the goods but it's all far too similar to everything else Avatar puts on the shelves. It's good, I just wish it were different.

Hopefully, when the actual ongoing series comes around, it won't fall into the same trap that this one has, and hopefully Avatar use the much coveted license properly, because, as is the case with so many films that claim to be part of Romero's Dead series through rights and zombies, this feels like just another standard zombie book with a recognisable name used as nothing more than a lure. The book is priced at a ridiculous $2.99 US, which will stand at around six dollars at your average Aussie comic store, and completely unjustifiable when you have comics like Marvel's absolutely mind-blowing Civil War #4 sitting just nearby for exactly the same price, with three times as many pages and superior art and writing. Even for the serious collectors, I cannot recommend wasting the doshi, and it really is for completists only.

Here's hoping things pick up, otherwise we're in for another horrendous disappointment from Avatar Press…
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