I read G.I. Zombie considering the possibility that it might be some quirky, hidden gem that would ultimately go unnoticed due to its not focusing on a major DC player, and I just couldn’t let that happen. I mean, he’s an American soldier that’s a freakin’ zombie! How cool is that? He’s like Captain America meets George A. Romero, right? Think of the potential!
Unfortunately, all of said potential was misdirected to read more like a misunderstood-zombie romantic comedy with just a little bit of a PG-13 edge.
Created and written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, and illustrated by Scott Hampton, Star Spangled War Stories really didn’t have very much to offer apart from a whole lot of plot build-up with virtually no payout.
The tale begins with a wide shot of an ominous-looking bar (complete with hungry-hungry alligators and dark-and-stormy-night backdrop), located in Nowhere, Mississippi. From there, we spend the next four pages watching a strange woman named Tiff try to find “a new place to hang her panties” by talking to some biker guy named Duke. Challenging Duke to a game of pool, Tiff starts showing off and trying her darnedest to prove herself to be tough. Tiff’s really getting into acting like a badass when a few of Duke’s buddies drag a man through the door, claiming that he’s a Fed. The next three pages are taken up by Tiff’s continuing to act salty by attempting a bad-cop interrogation on the Fed, which ends with her cutting off his hands and shooting him in the head.
Turns out, the dead Fed is actually Jared, the Zombie G.I., so he didn’t really die when Tiff shot him in the head! Plus, he and Tiff are secretly undercover to catch Duke, who is an illegal arms dealer! What a twist!
By this point, halfway through this issue, I didn’t really care about the characters, but the plot itself was not terrible. In fact, if the rest of the book had paced itself well, it could have led to a really neat introductory adventure.
However, instead of continuing the story to get to a point in which we see how the situation with Duke plays out, the rest of the issue progresses as such:
- Tiff kisses Duke good night, drives to her motel, vomits outside, then walks in to find Jared smiling at her from the couch.
- After helping Jared reattach his hands, Tiff goes to sleep, making sure to tell Jared not to leave the room.
- Jared leaves the room, just in time to encounter a family pulled over on the side of the road. The male in the family punches the woman in the family for back-talking him, so Jared rips his arm off and eats him.
- Jared returns to the room. Tiff berates him for leaving.
- They hop in the car to ambush Duke but hit a baby deer on the way. Jared, being the deep and sensitive man-zombie that he is, takes the deer into his arms and carries it back to its mother. The issue ends with Jared and Tiff looking over a hill, talking about how tough Duke is going to be.
That’s it. That’s the end.
Apart from some hardcore deus ex machina plot devices (e.g. What if Duke hadn’t tried to pick Tiff up at the bar like they had expected him to?), the real problem with this comic is that it takes itself way too seriously, particularly in its dialogue.
A series like this needs to take at least second to acknowledge how ridiculous-but-awesome the concept is — take the time to give an elbow nudge to the audience, as if to say, “Hey, this guy is an American flag-toting zombie with guns. ‘Merica!” Standing alone, most of the ending scenes would have satisfied such a need; but rather than leave them be, Gray and Palmiotti attempt to inject somewhat cliché three-dimensionality into their protagonist, making him say wannabe complex lines like, “[It may be in pain], but it’s not dead. There’s a difference. Trust me, I’m an expert,” as he carries the broken fawn away. These moments of wisdom make the reading experience feel reminiscent of eating a very dry cake covered in a thick layer of rich icing. Throw them on top of an unsatisfying plot that’s trying really hard to be “adult,” and you’re left with a cool concept that falls far from its idealized self.
Regarding illustration: while extremely interesting and occasionally hauntingly beautiful, Hampton’s work is sometimes hard to follow, and has the tendency to distort itself between frames. It also gives the story more of a weird, trippy vibe than a creepy one. Personally, I think it might have worked better with something closer to the cover art.
Overall, I’d say this issue might be worth a once-over in the shop, but it’s probably not worth even the $2.99. I do, however, acknowledge that this is a brand-new effort and may take a little bit of time to fall into place. We’ll see if #2 is any better.
I haven’t lost faith in you just yet, G.I. Zombie.