Zombies have taken over the United Kingdom and a group of Oxford fire fighters, led by Derek Wall, have banded together at the fire station while the undead shuffle and horse around outside. The survivors have to make supply runs for food and alcohol (of course) and for some reason they choose to do it at night. They run into trouble on the way but luckily being firemen they are pretty nifty with an axe.
I should add before going any further that the book is strictly for a mature audience. Some of the themes and particularly the language are of an adult nature.
In artist Simon Bisley’s words, Kingdom of Flies is a “…soap opera about some firemen…” with blood and zombies. That’s a fair assessment, at least for the first 3 issues but a soap opera should have characters we care about, something this book is mostly lacking. The characters are stock types, brutish and two dimensional thugs. The most interesting of the group, the lead female, Wendy, doesn’t get enough attention. Personally I think she should have been the lead character, she was clearly the most sympathetic and the most vulnerable; told from her perspective the story would have been more original, and the zombies could have been a metaphor for something other than what they are.
As it stands, it reads like the beginnings of a stripped down George Romero script. I know that’s the most painfully obvious and safe point of reference for something like this but it also happens to be the most apt; the story never really manages to escape that same over-used story element that is the crutch of so many tiresome zombie flicks. I feel The Dead is struggling to find its feet with this release. It would have benefited greatly from a little more time spent on fleshing out the characters.
As already mentioned, pencil duties are handled by the expert hand of Simon Bisley. I know people that dislike his work but personally I enjoy his sketchy pencil lines; I’ve been a fan of his work from his Judge Dredd days. The story gives him the opportunity to do those kinetically charged full page blood and body parts bursting out of the comic frame moments that he seems to enjoy. His imagery is visceral and full of dark humour, much of which may well go unnoticed by a non-UK reader. There are a number of British TV presenters that come to a satisfyingly sticky end - the sight of Richard & Judy with an axe was a particularly fun example.
At times Bisley seems to be having a blast drawing brains getting blown across the room, and at other times it seems to have been a chore for him. I’m guessing that because it wasn’t one of his major projects, he worked on it when time allowed and it either acted as a kind of release or a kind of irritation for him. As a result it has a kind of schizophrenic, hurried quality. Just a guess but it seems to fit.
The dark humour is mirrored in the dark palette used; the story takes place at night so it makes sense that it’s lit only marginally, with muted colours but it does get a little bland after a while.
The 4th and final part of this edition introduces a new dynamic that would have made for a more interesting read had it been included from the start, up to that point the story didn’t engage me as much as it could have. Remember if you were buying this on a monthly basis you’d have invested three months into it before something really interesting happened, so it’s fair to say there is a severe pacing problem. However, placed as it is in the final chapter, it’s enough to make me want to read the next release to see if that interesting element I spoke of is further developed. Hopefully we’ll get to see how the survivors cope with the problems that daylight brings. There are hints as to what is causing the epidemic of undead, but like any good writer knows it’s good practice to drag these things out a little.
If you love dead people (you really shouldn’t admit that in public) then The Dead will satisfy your zombie needs. Whether or not it has any appeal to an audience outside of that demographic is still an open case; I wouldn’t want to bet my underwear on it. In any event, I applaud such a new and independent publisher for getting such big names onboard, and similarly the big names for doing it.
As a bonus, there were a number of different covers variants, most of which are included throughout.
You can download a PDF of the first issue for FREE at the Berserker Comics homepage but like I said it’s not until much later that the story really takes off. If you’re a fan of Bisley then get right over there and check it out: http://www.thedeadcomic.com/issue-1/