Director George A. Romero has turned his talents to the comic book field once again but this time it’s as a sequel (or continuation if that’s better for you) to his Night of The Living Dead (with some echoes of the other films in). Empire of the Dead: Act One is the collected first five issues of the ongoing series which depicts a future in which humanity survives in a world of the undead but there is something new brewing under the streets ready to burst out.
Penny Jones is a doctor looking to find a new way for the undead, or Stinkers, to exist. She thinks the key lies with Paul Barnum, a cop who also runs a gladiator style stinker vs. stinker entertainment for the rich and the poor. Barnum tells her a story about a former police officer by the name of Xavier who was bitten by a zombie and turned and next thing you know an undead Xavier shows up. The strange thing is Xavier doesn’t want to kill anyone; instead she has no appetite for the human flesh at all. Jones theorizes that Xavier may be a new step in the evolution of the undead and takes Xavier under her supervision to get to the bottom of this. Paul has his hands filled with the gladiator games and Mayor Chandrake, who has made their surviving the apocalypse possible. Chandrake is also the figure-head behind a cabal of a different kind of undead – vampires, that rule behind the scenes as the rich and privileged. Chandrake also has Jones under his thumb as he has a stake in seeing her succeed with her experiment with Xavier but everything changes when Xavier escapes her captors in order to help other stinkers realize their full potential, which may lead to some major conflicts for everyone and the future of humans, stinkers, and vampires.
Romero plays with many themes from his Dead films mainly the evolution of the zombie first seen in Day of the Dead (1985) with character of Bub and later with Big Daddy in Land of the Dead (2005). Xavier is the latest addition as she doesn’t eat flesh and she communicates with other zombies and at one point takes a human child as a friend. There are also a lot of parallels with Land of the Dead in that this story is also mostly confined in a “protected” city and there is a gladiator-style arena that entertains the masses. This story has more political themes flowing through the story to give it a more grandiose atmosphere and to expand the world (this is an ongoing series). Romero does an excellent job with pacing the story and implementing the vampire elements to the zombie themes he’s already a firm hand at. This is an excellent extension of his universe and to help fans to get even more invested in the characters Penny Jones is actually a relative of Barbra and Johnny from the original film and Romero goes into more detail on what happened to Barbra when she was dragged out of the farm house by her undead-Johnny.
This is an excellent series of which Romero is at home in this medium. The book is illustrated by Alex Maleev who makes the perfect companion for Romero’s style of writing and will not disappoint readers. Included in the graphic novel are a collection of alternate covers from the series to allow fans to be able to see the covers without having to pay for each of them.