Building an entire pop-cultural universe after its inception in Romero’s Night of the Living Dead, these days the modern zombie tale shows more resilience than its shambling horrors, especially at the box office—the first new wave of zombie films made its arrival with Resident Evil, 28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead, and subsequently led directly into Zombieland, The Walking Dead, and 28 Weeks Later on the big and small screen. Zombie video game icons Dead Rising and Left 4 Dead received rave reviews from gamer mags and fans alike, and even pillars of the literary canon, most famously Pride and Prejudice, have felt the clamp of rotten teeth around their skulls. No matter what the medium, in today’s publishing climate, zombies make for good storytelling and better business.
Which is something comic writers and artists have known for a while. Comic books and graphic novels—or at least, the more horror-oriented selection of the genre (think the original Tales from the Crypt and Tales of Fear) were championing the cause of the living dead for decades before Hollywood’s current renaissance of the revenant. The Walking Dead (which garnered its broadcaster, AMC, the most-watched premiere episode of its history) had its beginnings in the comic series by Robert Kirkland, who then went on to create Marvel Zombies for Marvel Comics, which has run to five series arcs—even Marvel’s rival label DC now has its Black Lantern Corps, a team of Green Lantern-esque marauders composed entirely of the dead. By now, zombie territory is familiar ground for the industry to tread (even if there is a mouldering hand exploding out of it and grabbing hungrily at the sky). And so often, what counts in making a feature stand out from the pack are the little things; the new additions and twists on what’s come before.
A new addition to the ranks of the irredeemably hungry is found in the graphic novel Quarantined, by Michael Moreci and Montgomery Borror, and it’s a worthy one. Quarantined ticks the boxes of many of the tenets of the genre—a mysterious ailment has laid claim to a small town, turning the citizenry into bestial monsters that roam in moaning packs and will feed on the living at the drop of a hat, and now a small band of survivors of the growing carnage have to find their way to freedom—a task made all the harder by the fact that the town has been placed under quarantine by order of the government and the military (which, when you think about the fact that most of its population have started feasting on human flesh, sounds like a reasonable enough order).
Quarantined follows a core group of survivors —father and son Henry and Jonah Foreman, lone thief (and heavy drinker) Leontes, amnesiac lab worker Jillian, surviving medical professional Richard Nash, and adversarial small-town sheriff Miles—along with an exhausted band of surviving townsfolk, attempting to navigate their way to safety. The town is almost completely over-run by what was left of their friends and neighbours; now literally desperate for hearts and minds and despatchable only by the time-honoured destruction of the brain. And so, having found a place to hold up, the group needs to work out what to do next—wait out the havoc in the hopes of rescue, or venture out into the danger of the feeding frenzy roaming the streets beyond?
Quarantined’s first issue opens with the epidemic already begun—communications are down except for a repeating military broadcast about the quarantine and a dire warning not to drink from the town water supply, the local hospital is in flames, marauding creatures are firmly in control of the streets, and what few scattered survivors are left alive are either killing themselves, falling prey to the savage jaws of former loved ones, or scampering to higher ground just as quickly as they can. It’s shortly after this first wave of violence that the core group of Quarantined’s characters begin to coalesce, hiding out in the town library’s bunker-like safe room and trying to determine just what the hell is happening to them.
The difficulty in creating a work in such a well-trodden genre is in putting a fresh twist on what is, by now, such familiar material—28 Days Later did it admirably with the inclusion of fast-moving, slashing rage zombies rather than slow, lurching bodies; Dead Island recruited an eager legion of players with the release of its NSFW gory, brutal, and ultimately tragic reverse-action trailer, and Quarantined does so by throwing new some new twists into the interplay of the survivors –for instance, just as the core group has its own plan for surviving and escaping the horrors of the town, so too does the local philosophy professor and his cabal of students and hangers-on.
As with many zombie pieces, there’s a larger concept at play here than just a desperate struggle for survival in the face of brain-eating freaks (although that certainly plays its part). At the core of Quarantined is a story of redemption and humanity—the main characters are driven by past sins and sufferings to make it through the hellish surroundings they find themselves in. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the relationship between Jonah and Henry—the past loss of the woman who was wife and mother in their family drives Henry on in his search for safe escape for himself and his son. Of course, other issues come to the fore when a man has to gun his way through a horde of screaming human monsters; to its credit, Quarantined doesn’t shirk from the question of what effect that would have on a person, especially when they’re doing it with their son by their side.
Borror’s art is integral to the movement of the piece—his strength in creating vivid panels of actions brings the true, threatening nature of the enemy into being. There is something truly monstrous about his former citizens; their growling and shrieking is just one indication of their hunger, another, and more violent one, is in the twisted expressions Borror has given them, rather than reducing them to a featureless mass of approaching drones. It’s highly reminiscent of some of Tony Harris’s work, especially the strongest panels and sequences of Ex Machina, a graphic novel which shares some of Quarantined‘s questions of morality, humanity, and survival.
A taut sense of pace and an eye for what may seem like more minor side details completes the overall quality of Quarantined—there’s a sly hint of a bonding moment when Henry, Leontes, and Miles, the latter two instant adversaries due to both their lifestyles and personalities, all instinctively gun down the same surprise attacker at once. This kind of treatment and the growing, widening arc of conspiracy and revelation at the group gets further and further from the town centre (and closer and closer to the truth) are the hallmarks of a work made by expert hands.
And, of course, it’s always fun to see a man shoot a couple of grenades that he’s taped to a door and in doing so, explode ten kinds of hell out of a bunch of monsters.
After all. It’s the little things.
Quarantined features story by Michael Moreci, art by Montgomery Borror, colors by Lauren Anne Sharp, letters by Jim Campbell, and was edited by G.M. Jordan. It’s currently available online at Comixology.