Sci-Fi January 2018
Return to the Planet of the Living Dead #1
A boring cash-grab with no redeeming value
Written – Joe Wight
Artist – David Hutchin
Editor – Doug Dun and Joe Wight
There are moments when you start to read a title that you feel taken, as if a hand has reached into your wallet and stolen your hard-earned cash.
That’s the experience I had reading Return to the Planet of the Living Dead. The book is from Arctic Press, whose list of awful titles is starting to tip the scales into my list of “don’t buy under any circumstances.” It was produced the same year as the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and I can’t help thinking the title of this mess was somehow inspired by that film. Especially when there were five of these books titled the same as the original Planet of the Apes movie quintet (Planet of the Living Dead, Return to…, Escape from…, Battle for…, Conquest of…).
This also coincided with the release year of the sequel to the highly popular Dead Space game, so perhaps the publisher was attempting to rip off some of that as well.
But hitching your beat-up, three-wheeled wagon to a star (or possibly two stars) in this case only served to make a horrific jolting ride that no thinking person would want a part of.
The book has decent art, but beyond that it is bottom of the barrel. My hopes for an Alien-meets-Romero story fell flat. The plot never moves above a teenage level of sophistication, and perhaps a stoned teenager at that. It is exactly what you would expect to see from someone who tossed the script off in one afternoon to meet a deadline, full of empty holes that have you saying “Is that really all?” by the time it’s finished.
I’m going to sink my teeth into this one, but be warned: it is all stringy strips of fat with no meat clinging to its tiny, frail skeleton. We begin with a ship called the U.S.S. Archon in orbit around a planet that has gone dead silent. The planet is called Jensen’s Planet and it has a colony of transplanted humans.
Given the title of the book, we the audience knows what happened to the folks on Jensen’s planet or at least we can guess. They were eaten or turned into zombies somehow. It’s a given from the title of the book. We also know that the members of this spaceship will encounter said zombies and probably some of them will get eaten/infected. Otherwise there is no conflict in the book and books without conflict are not stories so much as instruction manuals or recipe collections.
Things we don’t know? What caused the zombie outbreak. That’s a pretty good mystery the audience would like to see unfold. Might even lead to some corporate intrigue as the did in Alien.
Or we could go small scale and deal with two characters dealing with the stress of trying to survive. How they feel about each other might change, the stresses of the conflict altering their common interactions. Do they work together or sell each other out?
There are literally dozens of things that can be done with this story as it stands. What we get is this vanilla by-the-numbers borefest where you know what’s coming before it happens. As for characters? They have names with no personalities.
The Captain (who doesn’t have a first or last name) says he is sending down Major Cooper in the “LR,” which ends up being a kind of mech landing vehicle. His second-in-command, Jim whose big personality trait is that he wears a hat, has something against sending Usher down. Why we should care about any of this is not explained.
The blonde guy is the Major. He goes in the LR. The brunette guy is Lieutenant Usher. He is on standby to help. He asks why he doesn’t get to go in the LR as it’s his turn. The Captain says because I said so. It is never explained why the Captain changed the duty roster. So why are we being shown this as if it was some point of conflict between the two officers, because it isn’t.
Gordo Usher and the Major walk to the LR and we almost get a hint that something happened when Usher was on shift but not quite.
Then Major Gordo gets in the mech, says “come save me if it gets bad” and prepares for re-entry.
Two wasted pages of flying to the planet gets us one bit of atmosphere building where the Major says the automated wheat harvesting equipment appears to be shutdown.
Then he finds a farmhouse with wrecked vehicles.
Inside is the body of a guy who killed himself with a shotgun.
So he proceeds to the city center called Node One. He finds no life readings and more wrecked vehicles, which seems to indicate the zombies are superstrong to the reader, meaning he’s going to get his shit tore up when he finally encounters them.
Major starts finding bodies as he flies closer and is told to check out a faint life reading inside Node One.
But of course, it isn’t a survivor, just a buttload of zombies. They proceed to spill out in an unending wave after the Major in his LR.
Predictably he thinks they are just diseased and tries to reason with them, finally calling for help when they start trying to get in his suit.
The Captain sends down Usher and his marines to rescue the Major.
The major uses a laser that, had he taken the time to aim it properly, would have saved his ass.
Instead is shears off the top of the structure and sends him falling to his death.
The building looks like cheese cut with piano wire by the time Usher appears.
Usher goes to save the Major, while his men take heavy casualties from the undead leaving lots of wounded soldiers. In a real situation, they probably would not have attempted a rescue after seeing the number of enemies they faced. Because that would be logical and a sign of leadership.
And when Usher finds him, he’s already turned into a zombie. Usher looks to be in no position to escape either.
Yet somehow, off-panel, he does and makes it back to his ship with some casualties. He radios that he has heavy casualties on his way back.
And when they open the door…
…everyone inside is a zombie and the entire ship is overtaken.
The final two pages are pictures of space saying the central command now can’t reach the U.S.S. Archon or the planet and then the Archon is shown firing up its engines and leaving orbit for parts unknown.
What a letdown.
First, let me say that a couple of the panels where the building is cut in two are decent. Everything around those are kind of boring, however. There is little excitement in seeing pictures of planets from space when you could have used those page counts to give us more time showing what we came here for: zombies fighting space marines. In fact the entire third act deserved its own issue. No excuses.
The story is completely awful. It is predictable, an ultimate downfall of horror tales. “Everybody dies” is a stale and trite ending. It’s better to leave someone alive and haunted by their losses in some way as an emotional connection for the audience than to kill everyone off.
Plus, the execution happens with very little style or flair. Guy goes to planet, fights zombies, and dies. Troops go to save guy, fight the same zombies, and die. Zombies fly to carrier, fight rest of crew, and the crew all die. There’s no pizzazz in that plotline. Nothing we haven’t seen before. If the biggest part of the plot is a two-page image of a building falling down, you need to rethink your plot.
I don’t care about any character in this book. None of them have real personalities, motivations, nor do they have real emotional connections with each other or the audience. Two panels of interaction don’t make me care about Cooper and Usher’s “friendship”. It is just as likely that Usher would shoot him as it was he would attempt to save him, based on their conversation.
In all, the book is a waste of a concept and a title.
As for AP, they are on my watchlist as of this moment.