In the same way one can never truly leave a mob family, just when I thought I was done with the Zombie genre, Mark Rahner and his comic Rotten have pulled me back in. In an endless sea of George Romero wannabees and endless variations of Of The Dead rehashings, Rahner and co-writer Robert Horton manage to simultaneously reinvent and revitalize the genre. Rotten does begin from a “what if” type scenario by giving us zombies in late 1800s America, but by the end of the first issue distinguishes itself as something apart from previous zombie stories and gives us a newly addictive comic book series. One of the conceits that sets this series above the others is that we get zombies that aren’t just stereotypical shuffling flesh-eaters. As the series unfolds, we are presented with different types of monsters, each new version more unsettling than the last.
One of the most interesting aspects of the series is the two main characters. William Wade is a Civil War veteran who has spent the last decade and change as a Pinkerton Detective. Wade has been called back into service by new US President Rutherford B. Hayes, referred by many as a fraudulent President as he technically didn’t win the election, and partnered with J. J. Flynn. The two agents have been ordered to investigate outbreaks of the living dead and attempt to discover the cause of this growing plague. Wade and Flynn are a sort of a blending of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson with James West and Artemis Gordon, but are much more fleshed out characters than that. The situations they encounter and how they deal with the horror they purposefully submerge themselves in show us what kind of men and, ultimately, heroes that they are. The first six issues have shown the two encounter a town on the defense against the living dead and a corrupt mining foreman, a family in fatal denial about one of their own having become a mindless monster and an outpost under siege from the elements and a couple of horrifying secrets. All of that is just a warm-up for what’s next.
After a short hiatus, Rotten returns this week with issue seven and a new storyline. While Wade heads to the Pacific Northwest to check out a town possibly overrun with zombies, Flynn consults a colleague in Chicago about the possibility the the creatures are evolving. Both stories provide interesting information that take the story in cool directions. Wade is now armed smartly with a thick leather coat to prevent fatal bites from the creatures, lots of ammo for his six shooters and, when the bullets run out, brass knuckles modified with long pikes to punch through the brains. Buffy Summers wishes she had been as prepared. Meanwhile, Flynn begins to make inroads into discovering just how the recently deceased are reanimating as mindless monsters that are compelled to consume their fellow man. This scientific investigation might just be curtailed by a sultry restaurant owner and, more fatally, by anti-evolution protesters. Needless to say, the last three pages will have you cursing the wait until issue eight.
Dan Dougherty is the series artist and while I thought he was a bit rough and unrefined in the first couple of issues, he has quickly grown into one of the best storytellers in the business. He’s brought his best to each and every panel and it has been one of the treats of the series to see him improve and refine his art as quickly as he has. I hope he is on Rotten for the long haul because it would be too jarring for anyone else to be drawing this. Over the first few issues Dougherty has built a distinctive look to the characters, living and dead, and the world they inhabit and I look forward to seeing how both the art and story develop together. One day, I would love to see him on some other books, but not until Rotten reaches it’s own natural, hopefully far off, conclusion.
If you’ve yet to be captivated by Rotten, do yourself a favor and pick up the first six issues at your local comic shop or from the publisher, Moonstone Comics. Then pick up issue seven and add this to your pull list so you don’t miss future issues. The story is opening up and the word is growing so make sure you don’t get left out!