Night of the Living Dead: The Beginning (2006)
By: Tristan Jones on November 18, 2010  |  Comments ()  |  Share 
Cover Art
Cover Art
Publisher: Avatar Press
Writer: John Russo, Mike Wolfer
Art: Sebastian Fiumara
Released: 2006
You know, until I went back and checked the old reviews I wrote on this site, I had completely forgotten that I had read and reviewed Avatar Press's Night of the Living Dead: Back from the Grave, and after reading the review, I saw why. For those who aren't necessarily familiar with all of their published work, Avatar Press publish what I guess many could call hardcore horror comics, with some being written by such visionaries as Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore and Mark Millar. The problem is, they also publish a lot of stuff that runs from being mediocre to absolute garbage - and a lot of the garbage is the stuff you wish wasn't.

I'm a big, big fan of Night of the Living Dead. The faithful remake by Tom Savini is one of my favourite horror movies, and the original, while perhaps not as impacting or as watchable today as it was in years gone by, cannot be overlooked as the horror classic it is. I, like most fans of the genre, hold the film in very high regard, which is why I hate seeing it exploited the way it is time and time again. Back from the Grave was a huge disappointment back when I first read it, and reading it again now is painful (why did I even DO that?!), and the subsequent one-shots Avatar released (NotLD: Hunger, New York and Just a Girl) were just more of the same exploitative garbage (with the exception being Just a Girl, which was interesting in concept - the story of the Coopers prior to the film - but still poorly executed). So when I saw that Avatar would be revisiting the Living Dead universe, I decided to go back and take another look at things.

One book I never bothered with, purely because of the awful taste every other licensed book left in my mouth (see my reviews for Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Nightmare on Elm Street's books) was Night of the Living Dead: The Beginning. Part of me kind of regrets that decision, because having just reread it, it's not bad. It's certainly far from perfect, and any Night of the Living Dead purist is going to be able to shoot it full of holes straight away (which is somewhat surprising, seeing as this is written by John Russo, the man who co-wrote the original film and produced the remake), but it's a decent read.

As the subtitle suggests, The Beginning is a prequel to Night of the Living Dead. We see Ben, we see Johnny and Barbara, we see the farmhouse, we see the Sheriff from the end of the movie, and we see the diner from Ben's story. While there's a geeky thrill to seeing these things, once you get past the "Oh! That's…" moment and actually follow what happens, the story becomes a matter of make or break. The problem with prequels to pre-existing properties is that you know where it's all going; you know which characters carry over and which don't, so the personal or emotional investment in characters is usually nonexistent and the rest can come down to being nothing more than an interest piece over entertainment. The other problem with prequels, especially one such as this, is that we've already been told what happened to characters like Ben. One of the most memorable moments of the film is when Ben explains what happened just prior to his arrival at the farmhouse the movie takes place in, so when the book starts to contradict already established continuity, you kind of raise an eyebrow and wonder whether it's creative license for something coming further down the road, or simply laziness.

Unfortunately, the sceptic in me is inclined to believe the latter, and the fact that there was no reimagining of the original film to follow up this book published within the year of its release doesn't help either. However, if you're willing to overlook that fact, what you have is a pretty serviceable zombie comic.

The story revolves largely around the appearance of zombies at Beekman's Diner, splitting off occasionally to show us what is happening at the farmhouse. It never really covers any surprising ground and is relatively paint-by-numbers as far as zombie stories go, but as I said, compared to the other Night books Avatar have published, it's pretty solid. Somewhat surprisingly, the moments of drama between the borderline gratuitous gore work well and are essentially what keep you reading. There are also a few seemingly unnecessary moments of sexual innuendo that reek of B-movie cliché and kind of betray the nature of Romero's "true" Dead series, but it does feel like Russo and Wolfer (who helped script it) are trying to give it a little more dramatic gravitas and realism in the same way the films did.

The artwork by Sebastian Fiumara is okay. There are some kind of jarring moments of female nudity, and some action sequences feel a little awkward but for the most part his work is solid. To be honest, that's about all you can say about it. There's nothing spectacular about it at all, and it's not exactly painful to look at. It certainly works for the story, though I can't really see it working in too many other books without feeling slightly amateurish. I'm assuming his work has evolved over time, as the dude worked on the massively popular Ender's series at Marvel, as well as their recent Loki one-shot.

In the end, what you have is a book that's definitely better than the rest of Avatar's "Dead" books to date, and definitely a readable zombie tale, but with zombies seemingly being the flavour of the decade, there are so many other books out there that do this sort of thing far better - a couple even coming from Avatar themselves. Check it out if you're a fan of the Romero films, but don't go in expecting anything other than an interesting take on events just prior to the film.

P.S. If you are interested in checking them out, all of Avatar's Night of the Living Dead books have just recently been collected into a single trade paperback, which can be purchased or ordered at any local comic shop.
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