Independent comics are often labors of love as much as, if not more than, being labors of profit or merchandise. To this end, after a year and a half, Big Dog Ink's "Rex, Zombie Killer" is back after debuting last April with a mammoth one shot of the same name. Often times independent comics can be delayed due to a change in creative team, the need to secure funding as well as things such as the day jobs of the related creators. However, starting this week (just in time for Halloween), "Rex, Zombie Killer" returns with a fresh number one issue as well as a plan to tell a four issue arc in a bi-monthly fashion through spring 2014.
Last spring, creators Robert Anderson (writer) and DaFu Yu (artist) introduced readers to the titular Rex as well as the pack of animals he leads across a zombie apocalypse. Skillfully merging the premises of "Homeward Bound" with "Dawn of the Dead", the series offers two things which often capture the hearts of many geeks and mainstream audiences alike - talking animals and zombies. Rex, a super intelligent golden retriever, leads a pack which consists of the gruff pit bull Brutus, the playful corgi Buttercup, the snide house cat Snowflake, and the baseball bat carrying gorilla Kenji. In the previous 48-56 page adventure, the animals sought to travel from California to Nevada in search of Rex's master who he claims will take care of them all. Brutus wound up being captured by a violent biker gang who used caged dogs as bait for zombies (called "rotters" here) to kill for their own amusement as they ran a small survivor outpost. While they succeeded in rescuing Brutus and liberating the rest of the enslaved dogs (including another pit bull, the spotted Ringo), it was only one leg of a far longer voyage.
This is technically the second "Rex, Zombie Killer #1" released within a year and a half, even though for all intents and purposes it is a second issue. Considering that Marvel Comics has done similar things with "X-Men" lately, it is forgivable as this is the start of a four issue mini series rather than a bulky one-shot. It begins right after the rescue mission, with the cast still recovering from it. Kenji in particular is beginning to question Rex's leadership, especially his blunt execution and occasional willingness to risk or even sacrifice one of the pack for the greater goal. They manage to trick some following "rotters" into a trap, although they soon find themselves followed by a band of apes and monkeys escaped from a zoo as well as "rotters" who are in the form of fellow animals rather than people. Further flashbacks add to the back stories of both Rex and Kenji, as they both are products of scientist intervention. Kenji was taught sign language and struggled with identity issues long before the current crisis, while Rex was the subject of military experimentation which allowed him to read English, among other things. It is this knowledge which Rex uses as leader to read signs and maps and direct the others, for whom "reading" may as well be magic.
Much like the previous installment, while Rex is the star, Kenji comes close to upstaging him throughout the adventure. One can imagine having a gorilla with a baseball bat fighting zombies in one's story is something the creators know is crowd pleasing, and thus are not shy about offering more of. This issue offers more animals than the previous one did, with glimpses at apes, monkeys, and even squirrels; the rule being that animals here can talk and understand each other, but humans only hear growls, barks, chirps, and so on. Rex's origins seem to grow more ominous with every revelation, with a glimpse at his researcher in Nevada teasing that the military knows more about the cause of the "rotter" outbreak than is let on. All the while, Buttercup continues to be adorable and Snowflake a bit incorrigible.
The artwork by DaFu Yu is up to the high level of quality from last year, and if anything he has improved his craft since. In particular he's improved his ability to draw and depict gorillas, making Kenji and the others look more simian than in the last installment. The premise requires the animals to look "cartoony" enough that one can accept them talking to each other without it seeming out of place, yet detailed enough that their breeds are all defined. The "rotters" look as nasty and dangerous as zombies should, and this issue offers the chance at seeing new breeds of them as well. Landscapes from forests to laboratories all look lush and well designed as well. The overall story progresses the narrative quite a bit, including some light hearted moments with an overall tone of more secrets being revealed as the journey unfolds.
Zombies have captured the pop culture zeitgeist since the mid 1980's with a major resurgence within the past decade or less, appearing in countless films, TV shows and comics; "The Walking Dead" being the most notable example. As always, the tales tend to not be about the zombies themselves but about the crisis does to the survivors in general and society as a whole. Thus, any new work which seeks to mine that already rich field of walking cadavers has to find a unique spin on it, and "Rex, Zombie Killer" has accomplished that in spades. People grabbing the issue seeking to see talking animals kill zombies will be satisfied, but behind that is a tale with some distinct characters and more secrets than it lets on. Offering 22 pages for $3.50 with no ads within the core story, it is a cheaper and more fulfilling alternative than the typical "crossover du jour" offered by the big two lately. "Rex, Zombie Killer #1" goes on sale this Wednesday, October 30th at Midtown Comics and other retailers.
As Halloween approaches, "treat" yourself to this first installment of a zombie and animal tale unlike any other.