Double Take Comics Takes on “The Ultimate Night Of The Living Dead”
Reviewed by Taylor Hoffman // @taylorcheckers
This week marks the release of Double Take Comics’ first wave of ten original books that all take place during the same unofficial extended universe of George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, The Night of The Living Dead. Set in 1966, there’s something strange happening in Pennsylvania. If you’re at all a fan or even have any peripheral knowledge of the original source material, then you already know they’re coming to get you, Barbara. Reading all ten collectively, I do recommend that fans of the horror genre pick all of these up to get a comprehensive view of an exciting new adventure in the creepy and inspiring world where the dead are out of their graves.
Bill Jemas is the main brain behind Double Take Comics, the new comic distribution imprint from Take-Two Interactive, the video game distributor that brought us some of the most popular modern games including Grand Theft Auto, Bioshock, Borderlands, and many more. The bar is high for quality, and these comics are a solid start to building an expanded universe of these beloved zombies. Yet, it’s a rough start. It’s a new company exploring a very ambitious goal of releasing ten new books at once. It can work, but a giant cross-over universe thrown at us all at once is overwhelming. The new teams are all talented writers both new and old, but some are trapped by bland shaggy dog stories that seem to only be filler until a quick climax. I’m hoping for a more delayed satisfaction, overall.
Formerly the vice president of Marvel Comics and a slew of other entrepreneurial endeavors, Jemas is involved in the story creation of each series. He pens Spring #1: Born Again with Jenn Sodini and John Flynn, Honor #1: Protect. Burn. Beat. Burn. with Frank Ortega, which focuses more on the crime and police side of the equation. This world is one built from love of the classic property and Jemas says there are plans to expand beyond what the movie(s) have shown us, even possible titles to start including superheroes. There’s promise in this extended universe, well, “Ultimate” universe. Is there some connection between the usage of “Ultimate” here and at Marvel? Not exclusively, but marketing wise, it is a great, albeit formidable, pitch.
A property that’s in the public domain like The Night of The Living Dead has an unlimited potential to explore and each of these new series takes a slightly different take on the unholy events occurring in the in Evans County, PA. There is no listed reading order, so you can really jump into any one and still get something from a title. There’s no forward or anything that mentions these books are all part of this announced “Ultimate Night of the Living Dead” event despite all of them taking place within miles of each other, and, eventually, thematically touching on the zombie elements.
There are some infographics in which I expected to find Easter eggs, but the most informative thing is a small map in the back that shows where each book is taking place and from there I judged where to begin. Going in only knowing the basic premise, I had to pick by what cover grabbed me first. Unfortunately but unsurprisingly in this age of comics, the cover art is not the same as in any of the books and the disparity in quality is upsetting and misleading on most of them. The gorgeous cover for Spring #1: Born Again by Frederica Manfredi, featured in Rise, is lost to the very distracting amateurish and inconsistent interiors. Spring takes place at Lake Mitena and everyone is ready to have a relaxing time smoking weed and swimming around in the slight PG-13 nude. Of course, the undead lurk in the water waiting for their chance to snatch some unsuspecting teens away from an otherwise perfect summer. There’s more care to some of the main characters at certain points, but it gets lost in messy coloring and highlighting. With a few review sessions on sequential art, the movement from panel to panel could be far less awkward because as they stand now, the lack of smooth transitions from one second to the next throw away details of simple background movements of characters. No one reacts from panel to panel and that could easily be tweaked to be more engaging.
I suggest starting with Rise #1: Sister’s Keeper penned by Michael Coast and Jeff McComsey and penciled by Federica Manredi. Here we’re just off Main St. visiting the cemetery with the cult favorites Barbara and Johnny, plus a few hundred other unexpected, slow, and very hungry attendees. This one has probably the most consistent art and coloring by Vladimir Popov. The graveyard scenes have darker beauty with almost water-color look to them that adds story momentum from one panel to the next. Yet, once the scene changes, it gets strange. The amount of daylight makes a huge difference in the art style and coloring. I want to believe that’s intentional, somehow. There are some art choices, mainly flat and expressionless faces and extremely awkward body poses from characters that are not zombies. These are elements that are inexcusably distracting because the artists are talented, but it feels like the final run editing of the books didn’t address these glaring mistakes. Somehow some characters are… resurrected… for some reason?
The pacing in Spring and Home suffers from zombie trope fatigue in which the story centers around the last few pages for the not-too-surprising “shock” endings. They’re obviously re-establishing the universe through fresher characters discovering the dismay ahead of them. Like Zenoscope and Avatar, Double Take Comics is digging their own niche in the horror comics genre. Yet, we must wait for the gore and get through this first wave of on-slaughters to get to the full-course meal.
However, if this endeavor is to succeed, then I’ll need a little more meat to chew on. Right now, I’m searching for more than scraps to really enjoy, which is unfortunate because there is a wealth of positive things in these books, but they are too spread out. As a whole, this isn’t quite the dish I wanted, but there’s plenty for fans to devour. I just want more brains and, definitely, more consistent lettering throughout the books. Series are expected to continue monthly in 2016 after an evaluation period in November, so in the meantime, pick these up and figure out your own route to survive the impending apocalypse. Even with the flaws, this is a great idea that with a lot of hope and hard work should be more polished the next round.
Find more comprehensive previews, creative teams, and universe information at the official doubletakeuniverse site and check your local comic store to get each issue at a great value of only $2.50 each!
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