By Joe Brusha, Vincenzo Riccardi, and Grostieta
One of the most interesting and dynamic names in idea comics today is easily Zenescope Comics. They first made their mark by getting out ahead of the re-imagined fairy tale crazy that continues to dominate a lot of media at the time of writing, but since then they’ve displayed intense energy and passion for broadening their horizons. One major area they’ve been exploring more and more is horror comics, though there’s always been an undercurrent of horror iconography to their previous properties. Their first foray into this genre is the excellent Grimm Tales of Terror horror anthology comic, followed by the amazing horror-comedy Hollywood Zombie Apocalypse. Now Zenescope opens the horror-genre fusion box again for Aliens vs. Zombies, a compelling blend of space adventure and zombie apocalypse that breaths new life into both genres.
The basic set-up of Aliens vs. Zombies is a superb example of lateral thinking at its absolute best. When the book opens the Earth has been more or less overrun by a zombie plague though some bastions of authority remain. The source of the zombie plague, however, is actually revealed to be a meteor. Both the contents of the revelation and the fact it’s revealed at all help to identify Aliens vs. Zombies as more of a throwback within the zombie genre. The real glut of zombie fascination that started near the end of the 2000’s has predominantly bred stories like Walking Dead or Zombieland where the cause of infection is basically a mystery. Previously though there was an emphasis on seeing the genesis point of infection and the meteor answer feels like a direct reference to classic films like Night of the Living Dead or Night of the Comet that also featured space based explanation. It’s a cheeky little in-joke for fans of the zombie genre, similar to the explanation behind the outbreak in Shaun of the Dead. Where Aliens vs. Zombies gets extremely clever is how it weaves this idea into its core concept, helping to elevate it from mere zombie trivia.
The idea at the heart of the comic is that the eponymous aliens are actually a multi-species team of scientists and specialists who’ve been following the zombie virus as it rockets from planet to planet. This idea is such a perfect extrapolation for bridging genre gaps I’m amazed no one else has come up with it before now. The only real danger the idea posses is that with the main focus on the aliens it’d be easy for the Earth to feel subsumed and for the reader to lose interest in the spacemen given all hope is lost for humanity. Luckily Aliens vs. Zombies is smarter than that and a key part of the central conflict arises from the clash between the alien science force and the remaining Earth authorities.
The aliens themselves are a great bunch, artist Vincenzo Riccardi does a top notch job with their designs. Each of the crewmen is instantly distinct as a unique species and individual with designs that seem to emanate from somewhere between Mass Effect and Farscape. What really sells the aliens is how well they balance the familiar with the unique. Looking at the crew you can see many of the key alien stereotypes at hand like bug-man, lizard-man, big-head, brute, basically the same kind of load out as the enemies in XCOM: Enemy Unkown. However, Riccardi finds just the right flourishes of weird uniqueness to keep them from slipping into generalness.
Riccardi and colorist Grostieta do really great work throughout the comic. Riccardi’s depictions of zombie carnage are evocative and well imagined while Grosieta punctuates them with this soft crimson layer that colors everything with an apocalyptic tone. There’s also a major emphasis on big, high impact splash pages that punctuate the issue perfectly. It actually creates a unique dichotomy in panel construction between the horror and scifi sections of the comic. The horror points like the reveal of zombified Philadelphia or zombies on a plane are always in tight, claustrophobic panels. There’s no room to breathe or get your bearings in them, to the point that some zombies even break out of the panel barriers. Meanwhile the sci-fi stuff with the aliens often ditches panels altogether. The vast splash pages give them a sense of scale and grandeur as well as limitlessness.
Aliens vs. Zombies probably won’t change anyone’s life, but it’s a great ride of a comic and a thoroughly enjoyable adventure through genre fusion. Best of all, every page oozes with passion and effort from everyone involved. This easily could’ve been a dumb, cash-in project trying to skirt by on a ludicrous name like Sharknado or Aztec Rex, but instead it’s a well written, imaginative, and excellently constructed work full of energy and enthusiasm for the concept and the medium.