It’s a good week when I feel challenged to choose my favorite single issue out of that week’s comics haul. This is such a week; I read through my modest (but excellent) pile this morning and spent most of this afternoon dithering over whether I liked Issue 18 of Image’s Chew or Issue 12 of Vertigo’s iZombie best.
Both were fantastic issues, two sets of absolute comics pros at the top of their game and engaging in highly original storytelling, but iZombie #12 edged out because it’s such a complete departure from what this comic usually is and does while still being quite emphatically an issue of iZombie, and a particularly good one at that. And it’s essentially a breather issue!
For those not familiar with iZombie, the name is a slight red herring. We of the early 21st century see a lower-case “i” before a word and our knee-jerk assumption is that it’s some new Apple product. That’s what I thought when the promo for Issue #1 hit the Diamond Preview guide last year. But that’s not it at all. Really, it should be rendered as I, Zombie, for it’s the story of a young woman, Gwen, who has unexpectedly come back from the dead as a zombie. She’s not a mindless, ravenous Romero shambler, though; most of the time she’s just a slightly odd-looking version of her living self — unless she misses her monthly meal of, yes, a brain. But she harvests that from the graves of the newly dead — and pays a price for her continued beauty and non-shambliness. For a while after she consumes a brain, that brain’s former consciousness shares skull space with her own. It’s a marvelous storytelling frame and writer Chris Roberson exploits it to the full. Rather than leaning on it, though, and turning iZombie into an anthology “brain of the month” gag, he’s created (with the ravishing help of Michael “Metamorpho” Allred on pencils and Laura Allred on colors) a whole world for Gwen and her pals, Scott the were-terrier (yup!) and Ellie the go-go ghost) to inhabit, replete with foes (my favorites are a former sorority house converted en masse to vampires who now run a paint-ball park called “Blood Sports” and discreetly sip from patron’s veins when need arises), challenges and mysteries.
Even those who don’t dig this story idea — but really, what comic fan wouldn’t? — are usually seduced into caring about Gwen and Scott and Ellie by the gorgeous art. iZombie looks like nothing else on the stands, from cover to cover. It’s all Allred girls, all the time, and even the Allred boys are gorgeous.
Which brings me to Issue 12, which Michael Allred did not draw — because guest artist Gilbert “Love & Rockets” Hernandez did! What? SCREECH! Hold the phone. What a departure. And that’s just the beginning.
As I mentioned, Issue 12 of iZombie is a breather issue, poised between big story arcs. As such, it’s a spotlight issue, on Ellie the ghost — and a stylistic tour de force by Mr. Hernandez. Ellie and assorted other ghost-types are gathered in the cemetery, telling each other stories. That’s it. And they’re not even, with one exception, particularly hair-raising or unusual stories. But it’s what Hernandez did with them that’s so very extraordinary. We have Ellie telling a child a story from what she still thinks of as comics, for instance. Those being, of course, Harvey Comics from the 1960s (when she died). And not only does the art and the corny humor perfectly mimic good old Casper the Friendly Ghost, say, but the same white bleed-out from the speech balloons is there, and an artificial aging “yellowing” effect has been applied to those pages. It’s brilliant.
It’s also, because this issue is printed on rough old pulp, one of the few sections for which I can find an image to share with you here:
Hernandez also romps through a pseudo-archaic proto-comics style for a faux Native American legend, a “family album” for Ellie’s own story of her strict and lonely upbringing, and his unmistakable Love & Rockets style for everything else. Ellie is especially affecting in that style, all overdone eye makeup and bee-stung lips and angst. It’s nothing like what Michael Allred does with her, but every bit as seductive.
And since this is also just a hint of an origin story for Ellie and Gwen, it’s also not a bad place to jump on if you’re not already a fan of iZombie. You’ll probably become one from this issue, even though it’s so wonderfully atypical.
– Kate Sherrod