The Last Zombie created and written by Brian Keene is a different take on the zombie apocalypse comic popularised by Robert Kirkman’s smash hit The Walking Dead.
Keene is better known as a best selling horror writer, with 2003’s “The Rising” often credited (alongside Kirkman’s The Walking Dead and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later) as being one of the factors leading to the modern pop culture fascination with the zombie apocalypse.
Published by small indie publisher Antarctic Press, The Last Zombie is the story of Doctor Ian Scott, a man on a desperate journey through a post-apocalyptic U.S.A. Scott is part of a team sent out from a secure FEMA bunker beneath the Colorado Rockies to try and re-establish contact with another secure bunker in West Virginia, the woman he loves, Jennifer, is also stationed in this bunker.
Given its indie nature there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of The Last Zombie. Whilst bigger publishers were churning out mountains of comics every month and recycling ideas whilst hoping no-one noticed Antarctic Press was producing one of the best horror oriented comics around.
Well known prose writers writing comics is becoming more and more common, although it’s often overlooked that there’s a big difference between writing prose and writing for comics, excelling at one does not necessarily mean excelling at the other, Keene makes the transition look easy though.
What’s so refreshing about Keene’s take on the zombie comic is the story is set just after the zombie apocalypse rather than during. There’s plenty of stories based around weary survivors having to avoid hordes of ravenous living dead, The Walking Dead is an example that even people that have never read a comic know, Keene’s story takes the concept of the zombie apocalypse and skips ahead to the post-zombie apocalypse – the zombies have been and gone mostly but that doesn’t mean it’s safe.
Dr Scott and his military escort lead by Sergeant Warner have to navigate their way through the ruins of the old world, disease is rampant, packs of feral animals rove the shattered landscape, raging fires burn and marauders lie in wait. Some of these might seem like familiar post apocalyptic tropes but it’s the execution that matters and there’s plenty of others that are less expected , an early one being a brilliant example of subverting expectations.
One of The Last Zombie’s best assets is its finite nature, it’s still a pretty lengthy tale running for 25 issues (collected together in 5 volumes) but there’s no “filler”, often a major problem for long running comics which are just open ended.
Alongside the on-going narrative there are often flashbacks to before the zombie outbreak which explain the back story of individual characters which make up the group. Not only does this help establish why these characters are the way they are but it also provides a contrast with the present the characters find themselves in.
What could have been a faceless group of military grunts actually become a group of memorable characters as the story progresses, with Planters aka Kowalczyk being one of the best. Keene’s years as a best selling writer definitely show as the characters here react and interact realistically and believably, with the soldiers having plenty of realistic banter.
Rather than going for a desensitizing gore fest which quickly becomes inane Keene’s story runs on ominous atmosphere and characterisation so when grisly events do happen they have far more impact, this isn’t for the faint of heart.
The art from Fred Perry, Joseph Wight, David Hutchison, Ben Dunn, Brian Denham and Chris Allen is perfectly pitched boasting a lo-fi indie quality eschewing colour for more apt grey tones and black and white and often packed with detail .
The Last Zombie was recently collected together and published in a “zomnibus” funded by a rather successful crowd funding campaign.
You can buy the zomnibus from the Antarctic Press website .