Monday, October 8, 2018

Escape of the Living Dead Annual 1

Halloween 2018 Post-A-Day: Day 8
Escape of the Living Dead Annual 1

We had a Sharknado, now we have a Zomflood

Writer – Mike Wolfer
Penciler – Mike Wolfer
Inker – Mike Wolfer
Colors – Andrew Dalhouse
Letterer –unknown
Editor – William A. Christensen
March 2007

I had hoped to follow George A. Romero doing zombies with the treat of showing you a book written by the person who shared scripting duties on Night of the Living Dead. 

The guy I’m speaking of is the great John A. Russo. Russo is a writer/actor/director, but not in that bad Tommy Wiseau way. He and Romero cooked up Night of the Living Dead from a short idea Russo had of a man stumbling upon ghouls eating a body and then being pursued by them. Russo even put on makeup to star in the finished “Night of the Living Dead” film as “Zombie who breaks through door and gets stabbed in the face #1”. 

Later on Russo would find more fame by writing the novel “Return of the Living Dead” after parting ways with Romero, introducing concepts such as talking, thinking zombies that only desired the brains of the person they killed. “Living Dead” was developed into a film with an extensive rewrite by Director Dan O’Bannon. Russo still retained a writing credit for his original story idea even though it bears little resemblance to the novel he produced.

Escape of the Living Dead was a comic book series set in the more Romero type “Dead”-verse and co-written by Russo and Mike Wolfer. The first issue was released in September 2005 with 13 different covers (ugh, what a stupid trend) and became a modest seller for publisher Avatar Press, leading to a pair of three-issue limited series in 2006 and this annual in 2007.

Somewhere along this train ride of flesh eating ("somewhere" looks to be the last issue of Escape of the Living Dead: Airborne #3, the issue right before this one) John Russo jumped off, leaving artist and co-writer Mike Wolfer to go it alone. It’s sad we don’t have a Russo issue from the Crapbox to cover, but he did put in at least ten issues developing this particular version of a undead universe, so I say we give the book a chance to wow us. Since it’s a bit long, let’s jump in now, shall we?

This book picks up where the prior three issue Airborne series finished off…and I say that with absolutely zero knowledge of any of the prior comics. We are in Jamestown, Pensylvania circa 1971 ahead of the landfall of a massive hurricane and the arrival of these three hippies. They are dropped off by a driver who exits the story before we find out where he’s from or where he’s going or why he dropped off these three strangers in the middle of town that’s about to get the sky opening up on them. 

The three new arrivals try the church doors looking for a safe haven from the storm, but the doors are locked tight. Meet EC, the token black guy; Scorpio, the one who looks like that dude from The Warriors; and Moon, the blonde who I hope is not some tribute to Rob Zombie’s wife. The trio were attacked by zombies recently, and I’ll go into how I know that in just a bit.

But first, I need to state that I’m not feeling Wolfer’s art so much. It isn’t horrid, but there are some panels that would have been better had he given it another go or two. For most of the book though I have to look past the flat faced characters or the odd lack of depth in one corner or the other of his panels. Meh…at least Toe Tags had amazing art to go with its crazy story. This is a bit of the reverse.

In the panel on the next page we learn that Moon is pregnant and -no surprise here- Scorpio is the father-to-be. We also learn that thing I said above: the group faced zombies before. Specifically in the Airborne book because…

…that would be how the virus would travel by air in "Airborn". Mosquitos. Not that I understand how all of this really works. I mean I’ve long thought that a zombie malaria would make perfect sense, even if it would also make the prospect of surviving it impossible. The planet would be doomed much quicker than usual. Scorpio’s flame application Skeeter Stick medical approach notwithstanding.

They should be dead. Everyone should be dead. Or undead. Whichever.

But the aren’t. They are just wet. And about to get wetter. They see people trucking it down the street, but they won’t stop when the trio call out to them. So they watch them move on from the front porch of the church and discuss how unfriendly the town seems.

Meanwhile upriver…the damn bursts…and that means the entire valley will be underwater and under attack soon as a flood of zombies and water is coming its way.

But first a sex scene in a car.

Meet Brenda, who has lied to her boyfriend Peter and taken his car to pick up Derek, the guy she is cheating on him with. They’ve driven out in the woods for some backseat sex. However, the nutty pair have failed to pay attention to any of the weather reports (And they chose that station instead of an 8-track or tape or something. “Honey, can you put it on the Weather Channel? It makes me so horny”) And not listening is going to get Peter’s car washed into the forest where the pair will be trapped inside…

As it careens down the embankment, Brenda fails to realize they are in real danger here, instead worrying about Peter finding out about her infidelity. Lady, you’ve got more important things to think about now.

For one, the car filling up with water.

For two, outside the car filling up with zombies.

So expect we will run into Peter later on in the story. I will say this, the book does setup events and then pay off those events. Unlike some stories that don’t understand how that works, Wolfer does have a rudimentary grasp of story structure. He really needs a longer format to make this work though, because one book every quarter doesn’t move the story ahead enough for anything to really resonate.

Like next where we have the doctor who originally was experimenting on the zombies now following them around in a van with his son. They are oddly unaffected by the flood and unconcerned with getting as far away as possible from the roaring wall of water. Just a little inconsistency in the story there.

And here is the other element of the prior books: this zombie that was front and center on the cover. Appears he is some kind of “leader” zombie and the pair are very interested in him. He doesn’t feed like the others (like that one holding the woman’s tit in the prior panel) but is directing them. If I had a guess, I’d say he has something to do with the three hitchhiking hippies. Possibly a friend or Moon’s ex-love interest or something.

Anyway, the scientists in the van are erased from the plot as soon as they enter it. The father who is so obsessed with the zombies he has failed to notice his son’s hand showing signs of infection…

…well, make that more like he is already a zombie. A flood comes along and washes them away in the next instant, so we never really see if the scientist gets his or if this is just a red herring. He died at the end of the first series only for the cops to find out it WASN’T REALLY HIM. So, there you go…

Meanwhile in town Peter runs into our happy hippy trio. Just in time for them to be faced with a rushing wall of water.

They climb a tree, which is not my first choice given what excess weight will do to a stout oak exposed to that much rushing water. Scorpio sees someone in the water, yet when he pulls them out they are already dead. And also NOT so dead…

…and there’s my confirmation. These three were running from the “stars and stripes zombie” last go around. Luckily he’s flushed far, far downstream…

…to just outside that church they couldn’t get into. Appears there were townfolk in it after all, but they all hate hippies. Now that the floodwater is here though, they see fellow townies bodies go floating past. Well, we can’t have that, can we?

So numbskull here opens the doors and lets all the water and zombies in. They start eating everyone…oh, and look Brenda made the party too.

The priest is left on the balcony watching his congregation get eaten and helpless to do anything to save them. But don’t worry folks, he won’t be alive for long. Stars and Stripes sees to that…

And we get one scene of him “controlling” the other zeds in the room. Not real sure how this is accomplished or why, we just know that it happens. Maybe all the zombies are super patriotic?

Our hippy friends are now in a boat with Peter and this nice man named…aww, does it really matter? He’s toast anyway.

Yeah, looks like this “wet Willis” is gonna be electrified in just a moment. Then zombies show up in the water and pull him under. The guy in the brown hat on the hardware store thinks they should stay on top of the building, but something tells me that isn’t a good idea.

And that thing would be lots of zombies swarming against the side of the building. The only way out of this mess would be…

…yup. But before they can hatch that wonderful plot, a pair of Peter’s friends drop in for a visit.

I’d be “No…No…”ing too. Derek looks to have been taking some liberties with Brenda AND he has a massive penis. At least this gives Peter good motivation to start smashing zombies.

So there was a resolution of one of our plot arcs. How about any of the others? First, we get the group to bring some supplies up to the roof, including some gas they find below. Then while Scopio and Brown Hat are downstairs, Stars and Stripes mounts an all out assault on the top of the hardware store.

You thinking that none of them will survive this? Because I was when they pull up half of Brown Hat. Seems Stars and Stripes only wants Moon’s little half-baked unit, holding out his hands to her. For what purpose, we won’t find out as Peter has a bone to pick with him…with an actual pick…and off the roof he goes.

In all this commotion the roof gets set on fire, Peter snags the church steeple with a grappling hook and rope, and Scorpio not only didn’t die, but he found the boat as well. So much for no way out of this… 

Pete swings over to the tower and drags himself to the top as our trio get the boat headed downstream with the floodwaters. The hardware store collapse in fire and flood at the same time. And our hippies decide against going back for Peter because…meh, he’ll be alright. 

Which come the next morning isn’t such a sure thing anymore.

And that is literally where the book comes to an end.

Lots to unpack here. The art I’ve stated didn’t thrill me and the story had elements that were a bit…off. I wouldn’t seek these out, but I do feel that this proto-Walking Dead type stuff has a huge audience. This just needed to be a little tighter and less…unlikely. Too many weird coincidences. So many unexplained story elements. It felt like they took characters from the prior books and just jammed them wherever they would fit. This would have made a fine one-shot with Peter as the tragic hero. Instead there are many parts of this that are just a mess and illogical.

I’d vote to escape this one.

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