When DCeased was first announced I wasn’t incredibly excited, but I also wasn’t opposed to the idea. Of course the concept of a zombie apocalypse taking place in a superhero universe isn’t anything new—both Marvel Zombies (which I never read but I know it exists) and Blackest Night come to mind. I enjoyed Blackest Night well enough, and I distinctly remember the image of an undead Batman scaring the heck out of that story’s heroes, and it makes me wonder if we’ll see a zombie Batman in this comic book as well. But most of all I wonder how Taylor will make this story stand out, because I feel like it’s hard to tell a zombie story anymore these days without relying on cliches. And yet, having enjoyed Taylor’s Injustice runs, I have faith in Taylor to deliver us a cool and scary superhero story after all. So, let’s have a look at DCeased #1 and find out what the creative team has in store for us, shall we? MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD.
For the most part this comic is a thrilling ride through the DC Universe. From the first page to the last, we are treated to great action sequences, great characters and great dialogue. This is clearly a Tom Taylor story in the sense that it’s tightly plotted and scripted. The premise is basically that a technological virus is spread through social media and other electronic devices such as personal computers and televisions, and anyone that looks at it turns into a mindless, raging zombie. The book is very entertaining and it could be read as a commentary on today’s smartphone-and-tablet age. Think about it, a story where the horror comes from a device that a lot of people spend most of their day staring at? That’s a scary idea, if you ask me (even though this concept specifically has been done before).
But before I start raving about the good stuff, I want to get some criticism out of the way. For starters, there are a few moments in this comic that seem redundant to me. The first of these moments has to do with Batman and the Justice League. After defeating Darkseid on page one, we find out Cyborg has gone missing and then it is revealed that Batman has installed a location monitor in Cyborg’s system. The members of the League immediately confront Batman about that. Flash calls it “secretly hacking our friend” and when Batman is asked if he has a tracker on Superman too, there’s a brief pause before he says “no,” which is a pretty strong hint that the real answer to that question is actually “yes.” While all the dialogue here is in-character and by no means badly written, it does feel like a complete drag because we’ve seen this type of stuff play out a number of times already. The scene also ends so quickly that none of it carries any weight, and so it looks like a mandatory thing that Taylor had to include in his script. Honestly, I think the sequence would have been better off without this.
My second point is that this entire comic is just setup for the remaining five issues and Taylor uses quite a bit of exposition during the opening pages, and I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, I appreciate that Taylor doesn’t spend an awful lot of time showing the entire battle against Darkseid but cuts right to the outcome, because such a battle would likely require an entire 6 issue series of its own, and this series is not about that battle—it’s about that battle’s aftermath. I also like the narrative voice that Taylor uses for the exposition—it’s an easy read and it gets all the necessary details across in an entertaining fashion. But much like the Batman scene I just talked about, the exposition also feels rather mandatory and, I daresay, somewhat uninspired. It just fails to get me excited about what’s to come, because I’ve seen this kind of stuff so many times before.
Third, I dislike that Superman breaks Darkseid’s jaw on page one because there is no followup. Green Arrow even comments on how it must be hard for Darkseid to speak with a broken jaw. But then Darkseid speaks in the next panel and doesn’t at all appear bothered by his jaw throughout the rest of the issue. In fact, nothing in the book even remotely hints at Darkseid having a broken jaw, and so it doesn’t play any part in the actual story.
Fourth and finally, I don’t get why the Justice League doesn’t lock Darkseid up in the Phantom Zone or some other type of prison? Instead, they just tell him to leave and never come back. I mean, this is Darkseid, arguably the most powerful and terrifying villain in all the DCU! But they just let him go because…that’s convenient for the plot? Well, all I know is that I don’t like it and that, because of this and my previous points, this issue has a rough start. But fear not, my fellow comic fans, because this rough start leads to good stuff!
The overall tone of this issue is a mixture of superheroism and full-on body horror. If you’ve read Taylor’s work before—for example, Injustice—you probably know that he has a good sense of humor too. However, so far, DCeased is not a typically funny story, although there certainly are fun moments—such as Jon and Damian’s amusing banter as they are playing a video game on Jon’s console (by the way, I really love how these guys are just chilling in Lois and Clark’s house in Metropolis). But for the most part the creative team clearly wants us to feel uncomfortable while reading this story, and they don’t shy away from brutally mutilating some of our favorite heroes right in this first issue! Seeing these heroes fall prey to a dangerous techno-virus this early on immediately raises the stakes and shows us that we’re in for a wild ride. So you better buckle up, because you’re not going to like what happens to some of these characters, and I mean that in the best possible way. Especially in ongoing superhero comics it’s sometimes hard to fear for a hero’s life, because we all know that they will reappear in next month’s issue. But in an out-of-continuity book like this, anything can happen, and that’s why sometimes these out-of-continuity stories are more exciting than the ones that are in continuity. This is definitely the case for this story.
Case in point, we find Cyborg nailed to an operating table in Desaad’s lair on Apokolips, and this is perhaps my favorite scene in the book. Cyborg doesn’t appear all that scared of Desaad and his comebacks are witty and direct. Yet, there’s sweat dripping from his forehead, which could mean that underneath it all, he is afraid (or maybe it’s just really hot on Apokolips). What I particularly like about this scene is that it seems to symbolically speak about the dangers and pitfalls of the technological age that we live in, and particularly the notion that people who spend a lot of time on their phones or other devices are becoming more and more like cyborgs themselves, because half their lives are on these devices and/or the internet. To a point that a lot of people are more inclined to immerse themselves in a digital realm of ones and zeros than, for example, have a friendly conversation with someone on the metro. In Cyborg’s scene in the book, there is a moment where Darkseid orders Desaad to cut out Cyborg’s human tongue so that he can’t speak anymore. In a horrific way, this symbolizes for me the shift from direct, human contact to a completely digital way of interacting. The fact that Cyborg’s system grows back a tongue (if somewhat questionable, because how is Cyborg’s system able to do this?) underscores this shift from human to digital for me.
On art duties we have Trevor Hairsine & Stefano Gaudiano, James Harren, and Rain Beredo on colors. While each artist brings his own aesthetic to the table, I think that they’re all a good fit for this book. Hairsine’s style probably works best for the horror scenes, like the one at the end of the issue that takes place in Wayne Manor. Hairsine, Gaudiano and Beredo create a moody, shadowy atmosphere, and when the fighting commences, they make it look gritty, bloody and painful. There’s also an air of desperation hanging over this scene, because Batman is forced to fight those that he cares about. In a time where most fight scenes with Batman convey rage and anger, I find it refreshing to see a fight scene with him which is more about sadness and despair—especially in this book it’s incredibly powerful.
Harren handles the Apokolips scenes. His style is less realistic than Hairsine’s and leans more toward the cartoony, but this doesn’t mean that he can’t draw a creepy place inhabited by creepy creatures. His Desaad especially looks scary, and the way Darkseid emerges from the shadows, with his red eyes and stoic attitude, is impressive and awe-inspiring. What follows is a bloody torture scene, where Harren shows just enough to give us an idea of how Cyborg is being mutilated by Desaad. Leaving this to the readers’ imagination is perhaps more powerful than showing it in full, because now it can be as gross and horrifying as we can imagine. As the scene continues, it becomes more action-driven and even features an enormous explosion, which shows us how much range Harren has. All things considered, this book has some great artwork, which effectively tells a horror story that’s as claustrophobic and personal as it is cosmic and overwhelming.
- You are into zombie stories!
- You enjoyed Tom Taylor’s Injustice!
- You want to see an exciting take on a zombie apocalypse in the DC Universe!
Overall: While this book has a bit of a rough start, it quickly picks up the pace and manages to get me invested in the story. With strong art, strong dialogue and strong characters, it seems that we’ll be in for a creepy, emotional, uncomfortable and at times outright disgusting show—exactly what a horror story should be.
Disclaimer: DC Comics provided Batman News with an advance copy of this comic for the purpose of this review.