Friday, November 26, 2010

Review: Rise Again

By Ben Tripp

Review by Dread Socket

It was when I caught myself uttering the words "Ben Tripp can kiss my ass!" after he killed off a character I was really beginning to like that I realized I was in for the long haul. Seriously in. He crafted this person against all expectation and then the bastard killed him. Bad Ben, bad!

Ben Tripp's little bit of Deadlit nirvana, Rise Again, is an easy book for me to recommend. It harkens back to 2007, the Original Summer of Zed Love, when it wasn't unusual to have 2-3 books going at once while juggling Z films and comics. There were rare occasions when works rose to the top of the pile, distinguishing themselves from the horde and surprised the Hell out of me for being damn near exactly what I'd want in a Deadlit book. Not just pulp entertainment, but nearly perfect without feeling like I was settling (those fans who've waded through umpteenth zed variations to get to the type they prefer, you know exactly what I mean). To my surprise, Rise Again quickly became one of those rare finds.

I was initially put off by the publisher's description and assumed, yet again, we had another by-the-numbers-touchy feely-find-the-loved-one and try-not-to-get-eaten book. In this case, there was the added “edginess” of a female lead in what is usually a male role. It's been my (frequent) experience that when a book makes gender/orientation/(insert non-dominate group) switches from the “norm” it calls attention to itself, as if the mere fact it exists in the narrative isn't compelling enough. Usually the guilty party is a scribe who has no obvious affiliation with whatever group they're depicting and probably has no business attempting to speak with any authority for or about them, especially while using them as a plot device. [Editor’s note: Dread has enough soapboxes stored in his bunker to last until doomsday.]

In this case, Tripp was speaking from the place of an empowered ex-military woman struggling with community/civilian re-integration, functional alcoholism, and combat-related PTSD. That's a mighty steep cliff to climb, with an even more perilous fall if Tripp failed in his characterization. He didn’t. As it ended up, I could probably write a behavioral assessment and modification plan for Tripp's lead Danny. Her psyche profile, in all its intense shades, is revealed with so much depth that she becomes less a character and more an extension of the reader, faults and all. We empathize with her because we do in fact see her drive in us. We also see that her faulty thinking isn't that of the other person, but stuff we could possibly find ourselves contemplating if we were honest about it.

With Danny, Tripp gives us a highly flawed, yet sympathetic “heroine” (however reluctant). We want to curse her under our breath, as we would a friend for making certain decisions and sigh with relief when she escapes a crisis. Tripp holds her, as well as the rest of the characters, accountable for their actions which means there are no miracle saves for any of them adding authenticity and tension to their zed universe. Danny gets the shit kicked out of her more than once and she clearly acts like a dumbass at times. Hell, even the book's catalyst, Danny's search for her sister, is painted as a fool's errand almost from the start. Sentiment doesn’t bode well in their world. We zombie fans are notorious for complaining about not getting enough gritty, realistic zombie action. Tripp’s world cruel and unforgiving, so I must shut up and suck up the consequences (but he can still kiss my ass).

THE STORY: Danielle “Danny” Adelman is an Iraq combat veteran who's returned home and charged not only with continuing care for her younger sister, Kelley, but she’s also sheriff of the sleepy southern California town of Forest Peak. None of this works out particularly well for her. On the day she is to be honored and receive the key to the town, surrounded by throngs of gathered tourists and townsfolk, all Hell breaks loose.

The least of her immediate problems is that Kelley ran away leaving behind a cryptic farewell note. The worst is nearby Los Angeles, overrun by a mysterious infection that turns its victims into mindless, screaming banshees that literally run until they drop dead. The reach of this mysterious infection is expanding beyond the big cities and starting to touch the outlying townships. Freeways clog as people drop dead in their cars while oceans of humanity engulf the streets. The runners eventually trickle into Forest Peak and as the town succumbs, Danny and a group of other survivors band together to find a way out. They soon realize  that those who've fallen will rise again (and we have a title! YAY!). And let me tell you, there’s some pretty creepy stuff going on here. The “spatula/cafe scene” comes to mind as one of the few narrative setups in any novel that genuinely grossed me out.

Danny’s group escapes to the desert in a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants exit that very well could've climaxed the book right there. Tripp handles action sequences skillfully enough that after its excitement, the desert sequence threatens to screech things to a halt. Luckily, Tripp takes the time to continue building his characters during this lull. Danny eventually sets off to find Kelly. Along the way the scope of this contagion is revealed, as are clues to her sister's whereabouts. Danny's journey takes her up the California coast and eventually lands her in the ashen city of San Francisco, with the realization that looking for her sister may not be the best idea after all.

I'm tempted to offer more insight into Tripp's handling of Danny's journey, but it would lead to even more spoilers. I'll leave potential readers to discover the varied twists and developments on their own. I wasn’t even sure what I thought of it all as it was developing, but its handling is one of the book’s strengths and reasons to read it. Another point that I am typically unyielding about is zombie types. Again, no spoilers, but with Tripp's crucial placement, I was willing to accept the touch he added.

Are there moments that threaten to get out of control? Ehh.... yea, probably depending on your suspension of disbelief and maybe even life experience, but I found it acceptable. There were a couple of points in the development of the desert survivors’ predicament that I found a little forced. That felt a little clumsy in the pacing when compared to Tripp’s thoroughness elsewhere. Otherwise, I was willing to roll with almost anything he did after the escape from Forest Peak. You certainly won’t see some hot babe on a motorcycle come crashing through a stained glass church window, perfectly timed to save a group that’s being attacked by mutated monsters (*ahem*RE2*cough*rolls eyes). Instead, Tripp confidently juggles all elements of zombie lore like a veteran and creates an immersive zombie experience that you'll want to revisit again… after you’ve caught your breath.

384 pages
Publisher: Gallery (Simon and Schuster)
Pub Date: October 26, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-1439165164

R.I.P. Ingrid Pitt

INGRID PITT, a Hammer Films goddess, died on November 23rd, at the age of 73. She belongs in a class with Karen Black and Barbara Steele, old-school horror divas you don’t mess with unless you want to be beaten to death with cleavage and eye-fucked harder longer and faster than the TSA could ever imagine. 

Along with the aforementioned ladies, Ingrid Pitt was one of the leaders of the emerging sexual revolution in horror films that didn't assume that all women were victims. One of her most famous roles was for Hammer Films as a lesbian vampiress. 

It is interesting to note in her obit that she said she dreamed of becoming an actress while spending three years in a Nazi concentration camp. 

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Walking Dead: Review Episode 4, "Vatos"

By Dread Sockett

Since “predictable” is in the air these days, it won’t surprise you when I say I’ll (sorta) follow last week’s entry and drop dime with nerd rage first, then I’ll kiss and make it better. Cool?

Now that we’re starting to get into more serious character insight, I think it’s becoming evident that these episodes really need to be longer. Personally, I feel the short episode action is just not working and in fact I suspect it’s stifling the creators. There is just too much that needs to be communicated in the time allotted and it all ends up feeling rushed. It also bugs me because some of these shortcomings are going to eventually reflect poorly on KIRKMAN and his comics, which I honestly feel is almost tragic. AMC needs to hook this show up with more time, or slow the pace down, so the potential is reached. This also might relieve some of the cocked eyebrows the show is receiving because of these dense-ass characters and situations.

FIRST CASE IN POINT: I appreciated the intro sister chat between Amy and Andrea thinking “Yea, this is what I’ve been waiting for.” Here the characters can breathe and I can see there are people under these entitled and/or idiot facades. These semblances of attempted normalcy in this apocalyptic setting, while delivering insight into characters is sorely needed especially now that we’re two shows from the end of Season 1. I don’t care if they’re talking about fishing lures, just give me tidbits of their past/present and maybe I will understand and care, finally.

Then it occurred to me that well, this must mean one of them is gonna die. Not in the future, but NOW, this episode. There were just too many Hallmark reflections and tight camera angles happening all at once. It seemed to foreshadow one of their deaths per Hollywood Rules 101 (reflect on shared history and loss, then kill one leaving one left to carry the torch and there you have it: automatic character tragedy and sympathy). A classic cliché set-up. And BINGO!  We had a winner. The good thing at least, like Carl’s tent comments in episode 3, this sets Andrea on her 2.0 path comic readers will be familiar with (hopefully).

THANK BEELZEBUB that Andrea (Laurie Holden) pulled off the final scene with just the right emotion that this sorta trite setup was mostly forgiven. It really was touching. It’s these little moments I look forward to finding while wading through the quagmire that sometimes surrounds them.

A minor quibble: easing up on them micro-zooms would help let the scenes like this breathe a little. A contrast between Andrea dealing with the urgency of her sister’s death and the camp attack crisis surrounding her simultaneously would’ve taken this up another notch. As it was, I caught myself thinking of OASIS OF THE ZOMBIES’ almost aggressively, intimate zooms and really, that’s not a good thing when Laurie Holden is working her shiz. And that she did. Kudos to her.

HOODRAT CAREPROVIDIN’ - CASE IN POINT 2: Okay, havin’ a little...err... teeny bit of insight into this particular set up (hoodrats moonlighting as careproviders, not the whole zombie apocalypse or hostage trading) I really appreciated seeing this attempted. The thought counted, at least a little in my book. However, the execution of the concept was clumsy, like someone from the outside looking in and maybe even romanticizing what some crazy gun exchange would look like, but never having met a thug except through MTV’s Cribs. And yes, I do realize it was a front. This was a script issue, not a matter of whether a reformed custodian could pull off a smoke screen. Just cuz you’re a custodian doesn’t mean you’re oblivious to your environment, it is usually the opposite.

What stood out like a sore thumb, was our Junior homie in the wife beater who gets clocked by Darryl. Like the later gangbanger scenes, there was a mix between shit delivery and bad lines that made this feel a little tilted. It’s most notable because Darryl at this point is becoming damn near one of the best developed characters in the show and he makes the baby boy hoodrat’s deficiencies in script and acting stand out. The poor actor kid was no match to any of the guys in those scenes.

Which brings me to the “negotiation” scenes: So like I said, I was real cool with the end of the world homies as caregivers idea, as I can see people I know doing just that. But at the same time, none of their gangster asses shoulda broke code THAT QUICK (fakin’ the funk or not). Having a spokesperson who would seems also as unlikely, but maybe this is a down South thing the creators were doing. Grandma swoopin’ in doesn’t excuse things either. I mean shit, you go there and have this “new take” on “minorities” but then make them too stupid to barricade the doors effectively against the elderlies during a shake-down for guns?!

The selling of this scene relied first and foremost on credibility. Here, it fell flat, feeling like Hollywood Gangster 101 (lotta 101’s this episode). There was little tension and it felt rushed. I’ll give Kirkman some swing on this since some of what I thought was needed to sell this set up was more authentic aggressiveness in the script/lines, which in turn, theoretically, woulda allowed for less wonkyass delivery. I mean, damn, I never thought I’d say it, but more cussing would’ve improved the believability factor. But all the real-ness came through via the swagger display only (I mean geez guy, I was ready to slap wardrobe if I saw someone bust out with a DICKIES and STACY ADAMS combo with waxed, razor pleats). This just felt like the suits came in and did some ‘clean-up’. “We want that urban thing Kirkman, but it needs to play to middle America.”

THAT SAID: This is where I would’ve liked the episode opened up in length, with this idea and group explored a little more. It not only would’ve been a refreshing change, but there was an intriguing social dynamic at work here. They darn sure had it together more than Rick’s group.

QUIBBLES AND BITCH: Uhm... so let’s bag on Glenn for a sec. Now you’re buddies just tried to save your ass, while risking theirs, from what they thought was a near-death situation. You obviously have insight to what’s happening with your abductors to know the Homeland-terror-level-alert has dropped. The least you coulda done when they came into the joint was get off your ass and look like this meant something and start explaining. But noooooooooo... let’s not ask too much. Side-effects of WoW withdrawal are a very ugly thing folks.

CAMP: Jim’s meltdown was a moving scene. I’m glad to see his character finally having some depth after not knowing WTF he was about all this time. However, I still think the camp people are mostly idiots. Shane and the bunch showing up like a mob to someone who is obviously having a PTSD issue (even before the reveal) was a bit sloppy. Shane obviously missed the behavior mod classes at work. Dale, I like a lot and is clearly the most sensible of the bunch. His “Faulkner watch” speech wasn’t all that deep, yet actually kinda poignant, but our mall babies just missed it entirely. Are there brains in them heads to eat? Gonna be some hungry zombies.

ED: HAHA. AWESOME. And last but not least: the writers need to beef up Rick a bit. He’s kinda becoming the least interesting character. I think we’re skating on thin ice when Darryl becomes the more interesting of the two. T-dog seems to be coming around too and I kinda like the dude. His original rooftop intro wasn’t all that flattering. He’s feeling more like a real person now and not some cutout. And all hail the extras who get eaten. We’d have no cast and no reason to rewind to see who the Hell that was who got munched, cuz ya know ya never saw their butts before.

Speaking of munchies... Is zombie junk food fattening? I suspect I’m gonna be sporting a paunch when this season ends. There’s a lot of “stuff” in these ingredients, but dammit, I just can’t stop watching it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Review: The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse!

The Mammoth Book of Zombie Apocalypse!
Review by DeadVida

I assumed this would be an anthology, and it is, but not in a traditional sense. I was expecting something straight-forward, offering apocalyptic tales by disparate voices, and while that is the case the framework actually holds together in a tight universe and offers a Rashomon effect of the end of the world.

The narrative starts with an email, which describes England’s current political state and the writer’s protest of the destruction of a church in South London. The church had been built by (a fictional) disciple of (the real) architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. Hawksmoor was responsible for designing and building churches all over London in the late 1600s-early 1700s. Modern theorists speculate about the possible Satanic or supernatural pattern these churches make when viewed on a map. When the ground near the church is excavated, something that had had a long standing prohibition, The Death is unleashed upon the world. It is suggested that this has happened before and that the Great Plague in the 1600s wasn’t actually bubonic plague, but zombies! I LOVED the mixing of fact and fiction here and also appreciated that exact answers are never provided because of the narrator’s view is all that we are ever given.

From there the story takes off and while this book will seem dated in ten years, I loved that the authors and editors used modern technology as a means for capturing the variety of individual experiences. Early on in the outbreak, we learn what is going on from emails, BMC (a fictional BBC-type company) internal memos, letters, interviews, medical reports, newspaper articles, voicemails, PDAs, and police reports. As the virus spreads and infrastructures collapse, documentations of experience shift to individuals instead of “official” sources. These include the diary of a 13-year-old girl (which seemed a tad too influenced by Anne Frank), Twitter chatter, texts, blog posts, pilot transcripts, uploaded video files, letters and more. There are some unreliable narrators, some nice twist endings, and even humor.  Some of the stories are downright creepy and gruesome.

With about 20 contributors, this could have felt uneven, but it doesn’t and it held my rapt attention straight through. In the end you are left with questions, which is how it should be. The apocalypse shouldn’t be a tidy thing. Recommended!

Stephen Jones (Editor)
Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Running Press
Pub date: December 7, 2010
ISBN-13: 978-0762440016

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Review: FUBAR (graphic novel)

Review: FUBAR
By Jeffrey McComsey
Review by Dread Sockett

Deadvida scored a copy of Jeffrey McComsey's self-published WW2 zombie magnum opus, FUBAR (complete with some kickass sketches and sigs), for the West Coast RIGOR MORTIS archive & headquarters where of course, I am Chief, Commander and all around soldier of Bullshitus Excellentus and other zombie/horror claptrap. I think I read it twice the day it arrived. Truthfully, this review should've been completed a few days after its release in September at the Baltimore Comic-Con 2010. Unfortunately, it came in just days after I'd finished RIGOR MORTIS #3's ObCom piece on NAZI ZOMBIE films, so I was a bit over the whole write-about-NZs-thang.

So here we are months later and my Nazi fatigue has abated. I'll first say that I LOVED the idea of this graphic novel, really. It damn sure is about time someone did this. It's also great that McComsey and crew recognized the limitations, as well as unexplored areas, of the NZ idea and opened it up to include Allies which helped immensely toward making this alternate bit of history seem believable as a zombie concept.

BLAZING COMBAT: In the thanks, McComsey drops props to Warren's BLAZING COMBAT as being a primary inspiration for this work. For those who don't know, BC is cited by comic eggheads as being some of the most important war comics. Released in the sixties, and condemned to die after four issues due to its anti-war stance (Vietnam), BC was hardcore stuff that carried the torch that Harvey Kurtzman and crew started with EC's FRONTLINE COMBAT and TWO-FISTED TALES. BC is legendary, and rightly so, since it not only had fine stories, it also carried the likes of Frazetta, Severin, Toth, Wood, etc. Oddly though, the reason I'm taking the time with this is, is I can't tell you how rare it is to hear that someone took inspiration from a WARREN title. It's always MARVEL this and DC that. BLAZING COMBAT was genius, so when I say these guys started off on the right foot with this reviewer, you know why.

Ironically though, the excitement I had reading the BC reference put me in a spot where I needed to keep from accidentally drawing comparisons to BC (and just for clarity, McComsey never once suggests they were emulating BC).

McCOMSEY's HEROES: FUBAR is a collaborative effort spearheaded by McComsey that includes: Stephen Lindsay, Dominic Vivona, Steve Becker, Benjamin Truman, Jim McMunn, Mike Imboden, James Ngyen, Phil McClorey, Steve Willhite, Kyle Kaczmarczyk, Rob Croonenborghs, Jonathan Moore, Helaine Crawford, Shawn Williams, Darrin Stephens, Lonny Chant, with Jason Meadows/Jeff McClelland lettering. Jeebus. I hope I got everyone (and forgive me if I didn't I mean sheesh, I DENTED MY COPY trying to get these names right, so be nice).

He's assembled a pretty diverse range of artists for the comics within and as a whole, FUBAR is an epic graphic novel that quite frankly needs to be made into a movie. The general wrap-around idea of FUBAR is that the Nazis have come up with something (i.e. crazy shit) that would give their fading empire a scorched earth finish – with zombies. They lose control of this and thus the premise for all of the tales is set within this alternate reality. Readers piece this together as the stories unfold. I enjoyed this a lot since this is the first time I've seen the idea done to this degree and done pretty well. Most NZ flicks have the monsters set in modern times, here, we're right smack dab in the middle of WW2 in a pretty compelling what-if scenario that puts all sides into the fray. Very cool.

GO TELL THE INKERS: My one criticism is that FUBAR, as a whole, could've used a more serious tone in its illustrations, which I did actually enjoy. This is not to say there wasn't seriousness put forth in the style varieties because there are indeed a few. The problem I had with the look is that there wasn't one story that cemented a truly serious look for FUBAR's universe. Considering the subject matter, I'd think an even darker look for the art was needed for at least one balls-to-the-wall set piece. Hell, it could've had an Impressionist strip and I would have been okay with it if I had a really good anchoring piece to reference.
As it was, I spent just a tad too much time visually working through and occasionally being distracted by many of the stylistic panels. Stretched arms, really exaggerated expressions, etc., worked against the strip dynamics at times. There was more than one occasion where I thought if a story was done in a darker realistic style and toned down the almost whimsical imagery a few notches, whatever piece woulda kicked more ass and the art wouldn't be fighting the story for a reader’s attention. For example, JONATHAN MOORE’s wash-style found in the pin-up section looked like a good candidate for a full-length anchor piece. His Churchill is perfectly nasty as is Stalin and Eisenhower. They’re even more effective than the zombies that he draws in his inked story “De Guer”.

Despite these criticisms, FUBAR actually manages to be pretty visually consistent and satisfying because, well, everything's so damned stylized. Just maybe next time I think I'd like to see these guys knock out the subject matter with a really serious art tone and nothing that feels like I could say “that was a fun read”. Nazi Zombies should never be a "fun" read.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Walking Dead: Review Episode 3, Tell it to the Frogs

By Dread Sockett

Let's make a deal. We all like bargains, right? And this is an apocalypse so we should all be in wheeler-dealer mode. If I (with fingers crossed behind my back) promise to (try to) be (sorta) nice(ish) this episode, will you let me talk shit....offer constructive criticism? Would it sweeten the deal if I said this was probably (rough edges and all) my favorite (all points considered) episode (despite feeling like an apocalyptic GENERAL HOSPITAL) so far? FAIR? Good, let's get bizzay:

So the bad: Why, oh why, didn't they just combine the first three episodes? Or even broadcast "TELL IT TO THE FROGS" with "GUTS" ("Tell It To The Frog Guts?") as one segment? It would have made the changes feel less arbitrary and maybe even more agreeable. I sure would've had some different opinions. The closing shot in Episode 3 clearly shows they could've done this and left us with a real cliffhanger. Instead, by appearances, they just took a hatchet to the middle of Episode 2, irrespective of original story integrity, and then tacked on yet another product endorsement....err, cheesy ending. I mean damn, this is poised to become the feel-good apocalypse if they don't watch that shit.

Let's just look at it from a story presentation and this viewer's perspective:

In "GUTS," we had virtually no reason to assume any of the characters had any redeeming qualities or a reason to care about them other than the fact that they were in a zombie apocalypse. Well, except Rick, who's looking for his family, but we know more about Morgan and son than him at this point, so he's still getting sympathy on credit cuz he sure ain't sayin' much. And how much quiet brooding and inner turmoil do we allow before we just admit Rick is kinda dense? Well intentioned, but not the brightest bulb. I mean, we're already suspending disbelief that he basically walked away from a coma, without dying from dehydration, residual effects, or zombies. I'm runnin' outta suspenders for my pair of disbeliefs, mmmkay. 

And let's be clear – when I say we had no reason to believe squat, this translates to we had no reason to bother watching further episodes that involved this mostly thick-headed, bitchy, entitled sounding group of people – at least as the mostly smart entertainment that readers came to expect from the books. As cheap, zombie junk food it's stellar-seriously, but is that what they're gonna settle for? It's like that BF/GF you dated who's really long as you looked at them in profile. Unlike the books, we have before us a group that acts like all their socialization skills came exclusively from their Facebook and Twitter accounts. And with no internet you know that shit was doomed from the get-go so why bother? Leaving us hanging with a group of irritating people is not a cliffhanger, it's just irritating. But thank gawd for redemption in Episode 3. Merle's rooftop cliffhanger was a genuinely intriguing close that made you wanna know WTF happened next??? The two episodes should never have been split. That's my nerd-rage this post and I'm sticking to it. Now the good.

THE WEIRD EPIPHANY: You gotta admit, Merle's opening scene was some powerful shiznit. However, isn't there something a little off when we finally get some new character development that makes us pay attention, and dare I say maybe even care, and it's in the form of the villainous, racist dude we're supposed to hate? Like we go from cardboard bad guy to the deepest guy in the show. So now he’s like cardboard with glitter on top. Merle's meltdown was, as far as this show is concerned, amazing. He went from completely losing his shit with the zombies about to snack on him to flip-mode and deciding to go out swingin'.

I felt like I got to know Merle more than anyone else in this show and all before the opening credits even hit. That was some pretty deep stuff. The only other characters that displayed this believable, nuanced and tragic quality were Morgan & Duane. I really kind of felt bad for Merle up there, in that okay, the dude's a scumbag, but he doesn't deserve to go out like that. At least let his ass go down fighting. I'll give this one to the creators (Michael Rooker’s performance goes without saying) for mind effin' me this way, makin' me feel kinda guilty for givin' a damn about Merle. Ya bastards. Now where was this quality of storytelling before? The later camp scenes are certainly revealing and a most welcome progression but Rooker stole the show.

DEVELOPMENTS I LOVE LONG TIME: I was really enjoying the chance to finally get some insight into these people. Thankfully they redeemed Lori a bit with her quarry-side revelation with Shane. THAT was interesting. I’m also gonna wait for more info as to why she knocked boots so quick with her husband’s best friend – dead or not (sorry folks, say whatcha want, but that’s just creepy even after the reveal). I'm also on the fence about her character in general after being a snit to Rick when the group is arguing about fetching Merle and she basically volunteers him; then has the nerve to bitch about it when he jumps on the chance to go back.

Ed gettin' his butt tossed like yesterday's newspaper was immensely gratifying. Seeing Carol run back to him after was also interesting since it showed the creators were gonna tackle some interesting, possibly complex, abuse issues. If it's handled carefully, all of that could provide some compelling viewing that goes beyond these already tired cat-fights. Shane also proved to be a little more layered than I previously thought. Not that this says much, but he has a bit more depth this go around and seeing how this whole triad works out is gonna be some serious talk show shiz for sure.

The one “reveal”I found most interesting was the most subtle – Lori and Carl's conversation after Rick left for Merle. It was just a few words from Carl reassuring Lori that spoke volumes about where his character was headed so it was cool to see the writers jump on shaping him into the little man he becomes. Dale was also handled well, and is obviously set to be at least one of, if not the voice of reason in their crackass camp.

And am I the only one who thinks Merle and his brother are hardwired to survive this zombie crisis better than anyone else here? I mean damn, the bro took down a deer and came back to camp with a string of squirrels and Shane's best idea was rounding up frog legs with the son of your best friend, whose wife you were previously banging until he recovered and showed up out the blue from that coma you lied yer ass off about to get some tang. I'll place my bets with the roadkill and backstraps guy until further notice. Now, I said I was gonna be nice so you can decide what the Hell women doing all the laundry is all about. Though if they start handing out hot coffee to the menziz during a zombie bum rush, I'm outta here. All we'll need next is for a gay survivor to show up and get assigned to sprucing up the camp. Just sayin' ya'll, not hatin'.

So now, we're at least getting somewhere. Characters still remind me of doorknobs at times, but this episode gives me hope that we've got some workable, even complex story developments stepping off. Hopefully, all this drama we're seeing is explored intelligently and not for sake of cheap thrills. Onto episode 4….

The Walking Dead: Review of Episode 2, "Guts"

By Dread Sockett

Did none of these survivors have any home training before this apocalypse? Have none of the writers or anyone involved with getting this to screen ever spend time on the streets? This episode just kicks your ass unmercifully right into this group of highly unlikable, smack-talking "survivors" and expects you to automatically feel for them. Tell you what, the only feeling I had was to slap all of their asses.

My first impression here was wow...none of these people have ever depended on other people for their survival. I just had a real hard time believing this shit, zombie apocalypse or not. No, I've never been in an apocalypse, but I sure know the other and damn, if you might need someone for your survival, you might try not being an asshole from the second you meet them. It was like only overworked cube farm prisoners survived and they've run out of espresso.

Did none of these people notice this guy has a cop uniform on? Had society broken down that quickly that you would go all Paris Hilton then put a gun in a cop’s face without batting an eyelash? Obviously, he could have scored it along the way and really been a serial killer, but you know, there's how many of you and one of him? Yeah, within the first few minutes I think this group of "survivors" set me off bigtime. So the dude supposedly brought the zombies to their group, considering those among them, I don't think there woulda been much of a loss there.

And wait, wasn't it Glenn who told Rick anyway to make his 15 bullets count before he even left the tank? I sure didn't hear Glenn rush to have Rick's back on that. Yea, you can talk shit over a broadcast ("Hey dumbass.."), but when you're faced with being accountable amongst your new peers (even an "I told him too and forgot about the zombies" might have helped)…

Course, it all makes perfect sense if you think about it, these are the same dipshits who collectively allowed Merle Dixon to stay with them. They're all fine sticking a gun in a potential cop's face and threaten to KILL him but they ALL stand around and do absolutely nothing when the power-hungry, racist dude beats the shit out of one of their Black homies. I went from only having a cursory liking of Rick to being 100% on his side within the first coupla minutes of this episode's opening. This wasn't exactly how I'd hoped to “feel” for this character.

I'll try... try to not lose it on this new character thing that not only veers like a drunk driver from the comics (reel it in guys, you're getting way too Hollywood now), but these tired conflicts – Merle & T-Dog??? The only saving grace to this setup is Michael Rooker (Merle) is a badass, but even he can't elevate this forced-rooftop crisis. It's like someone at the top said, “We need to do some of that, you know, zombie social commentary stuff. Let's be groundbreaking and do something with race, yea, that's deep. Better yet, let's have deliberately diverse survivors and have the racist guy spit out a bunch of racial slurs so everyone knows he's hardcore and that they're supposed to hate him.” Social commentary in zombie films is about the subtext, not spoon feeding.

Now…um…Shane and Lori's…moment. What. The. Hell. I'm trying to reserve judgment on this horrendous detour from the comics until after episode three and I see what they plan on doing with this relationship's noticeably modified set-up. As I've said, I'm cool with changes, but in this case was it really all that necessary to take Lori and her “off-screen” regrettable thing with Shane in the comics and have her straight up banging the dude TV-style as the show's first scene??? Shouldn't we have gotten a chance to see her get to that point, or past that point, with some insight regarding her coping with Rick's death? Should we assume this is how she's dealing with it? Instead the woman is dropped onto the floor of a potentially zombiefied forest gettin' her smooth jazz groove on. This was just sloppy soap opera drama. Damn, I said I wasn't gonna go here, huh? Oops.

I'll be nice and close this with joyous fanboy shouts to the FX. I LOVE THE ZOMBIES here. I have been really amazed with Greg Nicotero's work. Now if we could get the show to have the same consistent excellence that the makeup has, we'd have a bitchin' show. Think of it this way: if the makeup were as uneven as this second episode, you’d see rubber masks every other scene and good prosthetics in-between.

As it is, I'm still eager to see what the next episode's director does and how some of these crackass new ideas pan out. Here's to hoping they work better than this little mess. There really needs to be some hotshit resolution to some of these changes to make some of this pay off, but demanding fanboy that I am, I'm willing to sit it through. Guess we have next episode to see....

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Walking Dead: Review of Episode 1, Days Gone Bye

By Dread Sockett

I was cautiously optimistic when I heard that there was going to be an adaption of Robert Kirkman's famed comic series, The Walking Dead. As with any adaptation, one needs to hold expectations in check and deal with the fact that some things will be changed (plus, who doesn't like a little floss in their sauce to spice up the same ol' same ol? Go on, admit it, Fanboy, a little variation ain’t hurtin’ nobody and it keeps things interesting.). I was fine with some changes as long as the tone that made the comic book popular in the first place was retained. Unfortunately, the TV version delivered a couple of head scratchers. Even if I could guess why the show's creators switched things up, and to be fair it is the same set of writers, I’m still left wondering why the comic's method of doing the same thing wasn't adequate.

Putting comparisons to the original comic to the side, I did enjoy THE WALKING DEAD as zombie comfort food and look forward to seeing how the series develops. Above all else, as any zombie film masochist can tell you, it's damn good to see a TV show with actual scary zombies. Hell, if I can enjoy revisiting THE FLESH EATER or ZOMBIE OASIS for shits and giggles, I'd be an idiot to not find a serious attempt at zombiegeddon worth my time. So please do keep that in mind as these reviews progress over time. I’m admittedly a little harsh on the first two episodes. Thanks to FRANK DARABONT for giving the Zed genre a shot in the arm. Hopefully he is able to keep the genre alive and spare us from sexy teen zombies who fight crime for a while.

Overall, the biggest, most wonkiest switch/development that I'm still grappling with is WHAT A BUNCH OF ASSHOLE CHARACTERS. Now, before someone says the survivors here are acting like “real” people would during a zombie crisis, all bitchy, squabbling, freaked out, etc., I do hafta enact the comic book comparison clause. If you've read the comics, you know that sure, there are good and bad characters in them. And yes, there's that whole stressful zombie apocalypse thing going on. However, we move along in the journey with the characters and watch them become or show themselves to be unlikable or questionable. The characters are given a chance to develop and readers are given a chance to develop opinions and deal with gray area moments. As readers, we are given a chance to at least understand the character's actions and why they are being jerks. You at least know why you can't wait for someone to get their ass eaten. On the TV series it is zero to asshole in less than 60 seconds.

 I appreciate the show's attempt to keep it real, but even a slight build-up could've helped and at least I wouldn't be wishing they all got eaten in five minutes so that we could just start with a fresh group. Lord (Satan) knows, I woulda packed my last MRE and got the Hell outta Dodge rather than rely on these wankers to have my back. Some of what I saw in the second episode felt like we were really watching the fifth episode and that I missed everything before it. We are merely dropped into asshole city and I don't mean Atlanta's zombie population. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Let's start with the introduction to the characters of Deputies Rick and Shane. Sweet jeezuz, if they wanted to paint Shane as an unlikable, woman-hating asshole, they did a good job. So good that now Rick is guilty by ASSociation (see what I did there? We’re clever like that here at RM.), especially when he doesn't bother to lift an eyebrow at some of Shane's ridiculous women-as-doorknobs monologue. Serve and protect, indeed. This is partly, I suspect, due to Rick being lost inside himself, trying to gain control of his wandering Southern accent (this condition manifests again when he awakens in the hospital and goes from varying country boy twangs and crescendos to when he bursts through his family's front door screaming in perfectly enunciated English). Just sayin’.

< tangent> It’s interesting that the comics’ opening in the hospital was pushed further into the episode, presumably to steer away the inevitable (and misinformed) nerd comparisons to 28 Days Later. Instead the show opens with the good ol’ boys car chat. That harkens to a just as similar zed story opening, Joe McKinney’s DEAD CITY. You just can’t win in a zombie apocalypse. They shoulda left well enough alone.

 We proceed from their squad car coffee klatch to what feels like a COPS-styled chase segment (the officers even joke about it). I suspect it meant as a bone to those who might not be able to withstand the episode's understated remainder. Did the producers think the original comic fans were too marginal an audience that they had to have immediate action to make this mainstream? I felt this whole segment was rather unnecessary and as my co-editor said, it also felt as if the producers didn't have enough faith in the source material's own opening, that devotes a mere page to this cops and robbers nonsense, and proceeds to focus on Rick's hospital wake-up.

So now, before we really get started we have two main characters that must now prove themselves to be likable or at least tolerable (read: worthy of us giving a damn). Suddenly one is shot and put into a coma, but now because of the wonderful character studies beforehand, we need to try to give a shit that he's in this situation. Normally simply coming out of a coma would’ve granted him a free pass. The comic certainly wins here, because its sequencing allows the reader to journey WITH Rick and discover the deep shit he and the world faces. Who he is or was at that point is not particularly relevant because he's enough of a blank slate that we could all identify with him in some way. Unlike his TV counterpart, we don't have any preconceived notion of his character. And when the comic Rick awakens, we are right there along with him as he is forced to define himself in this new world and this sets up our investment as readers. His TV counterpart has a slight tarnish from the start for being at the very least an enabler to a misogynist. In a story where you are expected to care about a character's plight, all of this doesn't exactly win sympathy votes, gunshot or not.

It took a second viewing for me to really settle into the episode's rhythm, which initially felt choppy from my attempts to process all the changes. I did come to appreciate the use of quiet and stillness as a means to further depict Rick's isolation, all while walking right down the middle of main street USA in broad daylight. This was a pretty risky move on Darabont's part after beating viewer's over the head with the opening chase sequence. It's especially interesting because this contrast works well and while disliking the chase's inclusion, I can see the justification as a set up for this powerful, silent, lonely walk home.

Just as the focus on Rick was wearing thin (in that 'OK, we get it...he's fucked up and buggin’ at all this, can we move along cuz even the camera angles are becoming cliché’ kinda way), thank the great zombie gods we were blessed with the appearance of Morgan and Duane – not only for the show’s exposition, but for some other people-people. Unfortunately, like the majority of the show's cast thus far we are kicked in the pants with the initial appearance of this traumatized father and son duo. Understandably, the pair is FUBAR thanks to the Zed crisis, but their characters are introduced a little too aggressively and we as viewers still aren't even sure WTF is happening. Rick may look a little toasted, but he ain't exactly zombie-looking, yet BAM! He’s clocked with the shovel and next thing we know Rick is tied to the rack in some bedroom (Ooph! Sounds kinda hawt, now all we needed is Michelle Pfeiffer in her CATWOMAN outfit). These beat-you-over-the-head introductions (err, no pun intended, really) are made more glaring when you look back at the scenes of Rick's journey home and how effective those are without doing a damn thing but showing him walking around. This borderline character lunacy from the get go just stoops to those in the back row who might not be paying attention and isn't necessary to convey the desperation. Even the comic's shovel scene doesn't come off half as batshit crazy, yet manages to convey the duo's desperation and suspicion of Rick. Darabont plays subtlety well, I just wished he did a little more of it here and not played to those who need their crisis front and center.

Damn, and I said I did like this show so far, right?

So do you want to hear what sold this show to me as worth giving a chance? It was the portrayals of Morgan and Duane (Lennie James and Adrian Kali Turner) after the shovel mayhem wore down. Until his appearance, even Rick, our hero, did not display the emotional range or even the humanity that James' character does. This of course is not Andrew Lincoln's (Rick) entire fault, but the producer's who chose action over substance then relied on the walk to invest us in the character. Here Morgan gives the show a dose of tenderness, sense of loss, and everything else that Rick should’ve been carrying on his shoulders from the start.  Morgan’s initial ferocity towards Rick, however pushed, is still palpable, and makes the scope and feel of the crisis really take shape for a viewer. His relationship chemistry with Adrian Kali Turner was believable and it also helped that Turner's performance felt convincing. He wasn't the usual smarmy kid we see in end-of-the-world stories. He comes off as a genuinely scared little kid making his way with his dad and trying to rise to the occasion.

I bought their performances and if the show as a whole can give me at least one of these characters to give a shit about each episode, I'm in. This is where the show feels like its source (comic readers will know exactly what I mean). I was waiting for someone to give a damn about and surprisingly, it wasn't Rick, but Morgan and Duane. Hopefully, Rick can grow similarly into a character that we can feel for (rather than being told we should care for him).

That said, the final few minutes are where the show just lost control and will lose fanboys like myself. So Rick finally gets into Atlanta on horseback. Hell, there’s even an iconic scene of him arriving on the freeway overlooking the city that just says some serious shit is about to go down. And it does….. more or less. In the concluding moments of the episode Rick finds himself trapped, the show has finally gotten us to give a damn. Like really fear for his safety. I loved how this was setup. No way out, Zeds for days, and everything a zombie fan would want is delivered. The tension mounts as option after option proves futile. Then, the radio breaks into the moment with a stupid “hey dumbass” transmission and (choke*gag) some beats start bumpin, telling us the show is fixin’ to do some you know, cool shit like pan out from the tank and sell some CDs.

It wasn’t enough to ruin a perfectly timed sequence and the show’s most intense moment with some snarky comment, no… the camera then pulls back to reveal the scope of Rick’s plight and instead of cashing in on this, the producers determine that they should continue some wonky pop-shit music track to accompany this. It just ruined the whole tension that was built when Rick was trying to save his skin. You almost expect one of the zombies to come cruising through on a Moped winking at the camera. Welcome to the YouTube apocalypse, ya’ll.