Ever wonder why people in zombie movies never seem to have heard of zombies or seen a movie by George A. Romero in their life? You’d think, with all the media we consume, that someone would know how to deal with a zombie outbreak the second it happened. You’d think someone knew what a zombie is or used the “Z” word when the previously deceased started picking themselves up and chomping on your arm. But we all know that if people were actually aware of zombie flicks and television shows that any story involving zombies might be over quicker than we expected and with far fewer deaths with all that blood and gore we love so much. But what if the government decided, based on past experiences with film and television scenarios crossing over into the real world, to create a department with the sole purpose of putting contingency plans together in case any and all genre-related simulations occurred? Then you’d have The Mocking Dead.
Written by Fred Van Lente, one of the scribes behind Marvel Zombies, The Mocking Dead delivers on every level. This is a world where we’re very aware of genre films and their influence on the populace. In this case, the American government, in the wake of two film-influenced events surrounding President Ronald Reagan, created the Entertainment Emulation Threat Assessment (codename “Tinseltown”) as a subdivision of the Department of Defense. Their purpose? To create contingency plans to counteract any and all known film-related scenarios should they occur. Unfortunately, due to budget cuts and a surly senator on a subcommittee, their funding was cut. But when a zombie outbreak actually occurs in Pennsylvania, it’s up to the reactivated members of “Tinseltown”, Aaron Bunch and Vanessa Malik, to save us all.
Of course, we all know that shit has to get real bad real quick in order for the heroic save to happen, and Van Lente plays with the zombie tropes expertly by starting somewhere in the thick of the zombie apocalypse. He tells us Bunch and Malik are the key, but he does so through an unknown narrator who begins with first contact, though it’s not exactly the first contact you were expecting. Even the narrator thinks it wasn’t the best place to start and that’s where Van Lente really hooks you with this book. The Mocking Dead is a purposefully meta-commentary on the zombie genre while still telling a zombie story. Van Lente wants you to see how and why zombie outbreaks begin and spiral out of control, but he also wants you to know that there’s a means of avoiding the zombie apocalypse. As a first issue, Van Lente does a wonderful job of setting the tone and pace of the book. There’s just enough zombie shenanigans to suitably freak you out or disturb you, but the rest of the book is devoted to introducing us to Bunch and Malik. As comically mismatched partners go, it doesn’t get any better than these two and Van Lente makes great use of getting exposition across through their interactions with each other and with members of the Pentagon. Bunch in particular gets a lot of meaty dialogue and a fantastic monologue listing just about every genre monster you can think of that ends with my favorite line of the book. It sums up what they’re up against and shows the reader what they can look forward to in a book like this.
The art by Max Dunbar is fantastic as well. The characters have wonderfully expressive faces and there are plenty of little in-jokes and references to keep the nerd in all of us pouring over the art more than a few times. I personally loved the book Bunch was reading that advertised it was “The Comic That’s Only Variant Covers!” The zombies, even if they are your generic, run-of-the-mill type zombies, are still creepy with their vacant eyes and almost Joker-esque grins. I don’t know if the art is supposed to be similar to Tony Moore’s style from the first volume of The Walking Dead, but it’s definitely reminiscent of the art from the first arc of Robert Kirkman’s power house. Though I’m pretty sure Aikau Olivia’s coloring and grey overtones are purposefully aping the color scheme of The Walking Dead in tribute or parody, whichever you prefer.
Final Thoughts: Fire bad, but The Mocking Dead good!