Monday, November 12, 2012

Microreview [comics]: Rebel Blood

The Meat

Image Comic’s Rebel Blood, like a classic EC horror tale, ends with an ironic twist -- but I can’t tell you about it lest I ruin your reading experience. This presents some difficulty in reviewing it. What’s worse, Rebel Blood is a zombie story, the least interesting of horror subgenres. There’s really nothing much that one can do with it: the dead rise and survivors try to survive. But artist/co-writer Riley Rossmo and co-writer Alex Link manage to actually do something with this tired formula. But I can’t tell you about it.

Rebel Blood’s plot is pretty thin: Chuck is a troubled father working a firetower deep in the forrest. When zombies attack, he makes a mad dash to save his family from zombies, both human and animal. Then the story takes a turn. The end.

But Rebel Blood is really an artists’ comic and the story’s thinness gives Rossmo an excuse to deliver impressive artwork. Rossmo draws inspiration from the history of horror comics: the influence of Al Feldstein and Bernie Wrightson come through his moody facial characterization and figures. His art also evokes classic European styles. But Rossmo offsets this clearness with frantic, expressionistic inking --reminiscent of Eddie Cambell and Mike Dringenberg -- that, along with his moody colors, give the artwork a modern look.
Rossmo also deserves kudos for avoiding convention in his portrayal of zombies. His infected are bloated, almost fluid creatures sprouting tumors, tentacles, and second faces. Additional points are given for making zombies out of forest animals. The mere idea of a zombie squirrel terrifies me for reasons that I can’t altogether explain. (Jumping abilities and sharp buck teeth.) 

Rebel Blood’s creators focus on the psychology of surviving zombie apocalypse, highlighting the isolation, alienation, and existential fragmentation following the raising of the dead. It’s not simply a matter of telling the reader that our hero is losing his mind, but rather showing it. Rossmo and Link do this through the use of alternating flashbacks/foreshadowing and time-shifting panels as a narrative device to express our protagonist’s lunacy.

There are some drawbacks to this fragmented storytelling:  the constant jumps in time can get confusing, especially in the early issues. If I had read this monthly on an issue-by-issue basis, this lack of sequential clarity might have prevented me from following the series. Reading it in one sitting, however, allowed me to fully appreciate Rebel Blood’s disjointed narrative structure.

Nevertheless, Rebel Blood is still a zombie comic. Haven’t we seen enough of these? The Walking Dead has done in comics what 28 Days Later did for film: They both made any further zombie tales unnecessary. Need I mention the wretched Crossed series?

This one gets a pass and a recommendation. Like Shawn of the Dead got. 

The Math

Objective Score: 7/10

Bonus Points: +1 for Rossmo’s excellent artwork; +1 for an unexpected twist ending

Penalties: -1 for being a zombie comic

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10. “Well worth your time and attention.”

[Check my math here.]