Five years after the events of Night of the Living Dead, the world is a very different place. Zombies aren't quite the menace they used to be, but the world is still trying to heal itself from the invasion of the undead. The issue focuses on Penny Jones, a doctor studying how zombies have been tamed and Paul Barnum, a guy who searches out zombies that show signs of remembering their past lives. Barnum grabs these special zombies and takes them to the arena, where they fight for the entertainment of mainly the rich.
If you're familiar with George Romero's work, this will feel like home to you. There's a good deal of time spent on setting up the world and the characters, so new readers will have no trouble jumping onto this book and feeling right at home.
This book primarily deals with the idea that there are different types of zombies, which was explored in Romero's Land of the Dead. It's not an idea I'm particularly fond of, but the way Romero explores it here works exceptionally well. The reader learns that aside from regular old zombies, and zombies who have remembered behavior, there also exists a type of undead with limited thought and full control over their extremities. One of these in-betweeners is the focal point for a good chunk of the book. We really get into the character's head, which is a mish-mash of broken sentences and phrases. This idea didn't work in the film very well, but it does here and it gives the zombie genre a bit of fresh air, especially because these types of zombies don't seem to be everywhere. The reader is led to believe there is only one or two running around, that they know of.
The best part of this issue is the art of Alex Maleev and the colors of Matt Hollingsworth. Hollingsworth's colors are a bit muted and dull, which gives the reader this sense of hopelessness and a very dark tone. Maleev does some great things here with his art, and his facial work is brilliant, especially with Penny. His pages are set up creatively, without losing focus on what's happening in the panels. Overall, this is a very pleasing piece. There's a nice scene that connects back to the movie Night of the Living dead where we see a woman get dragged out of the house by a zombie. I loved this scene because it gives the readers and fans of Romero's work a real connection to it.
While the idea of different types of zombies work well, at the end of the issue, it falls apart a bit as we see what seems to be a vampire feasting on a woman. The reader is lead to believe that it's not a vampire, but just a different type of living dead. It may be too soon to flip out over a vampire in this book because it could just be a dude who likes the idea of being a vampire, but this scene really took me out of the moment.
It's hard to read any book about zombies without comparing it to WALKING DEAD; however, EMPIRE OF THE DEAD is a great start to a new series that follows the earlier works of George Romero, but still keeping the book new reader friendly. It explores some areas of Romero's work that I'm not the biggest fan of, but it does so in a way that gets me on board. The final page was a bit weird, but overall, Romero and Maleev have the start of something extreme fun here. It's also nice to see Marvel do something a bit more out of the box as well.