The movie Night of the Living Dead came out in 1968 and through its creators John Russo and George Romero, the movie created the template that future zombie movies would be made and judged. While both would go on to do other zombie projects in their careers, and be the standard that their work would forever be judged by.
However, no matter where a story starts, all characters have their own backstory to them, most of which never ends up in the primary story. So it goes with "Night Of The Living Dead", and despite writing two novels in this universe (see Undead), it would take until 2009 and 2010 for John Russo to come back and do some major writing for his story. And that is to write an eight chapter, braided graphic novel that tells both the backstory of the initial plague days and the backstories behind the characters that populated the movie. Although it isn't clear as to how much input Russo actually had in this book's creation, and how much is from Mike Wolfer. Some editorial words on the matter would have been appreciated.
Starting off as series of comic books, this book collects the first series of books, and all of the variant covers, many of which are poster worthy. Chapter One has artwork by Sebastian Fiumara and tells the story of Tammy, her date Mike and their friend Alex, who was stood up by Christine (who we'll meet later), who are out drinking in the nearby woods when they have a run-in with the resurrected. It isn't pretty.
Chapter Two is where the stories start getting really interesting. It's the day after the first chapter and Christine is getting dressed for her job while waking up her grandmother. She leaves for her job with her boyfriend Don, while at the same time that a tour bus that is travelling through Willard goes off the road, killing all aboard, then the dead rise.
In a nearby cemetery two gravediggers are burying a dead man when he rises. This is the primary zombie that we see throughout the original movie (see customer images. The surviving gravedigger flees to a nearby house, where Christine's grandmother is. Some of the bus zombies will lay siege to the house, while some will end up at the Beekman's Diner where Don and Christine work, and where Ben has stopped for something to eat.
It's this, and the third chapter, in which we find out what happened in the diner that Ben will flee from, and the house where he will flee to, in the original movie. In Chapter Three we will also meet for the first time Sheriff McClellan who will leave a less than inspiring impression. The situation in the diner goes from bad to worse in Chapter Four, as Ben finally flees, and the sheriff shows up with his posse. Here we find out that Ben's later death wouldn't be the first time that the not-to-bright trigger happy sheriff shot first before he figured out what the hell he was doing.
Chapter Five tells the story of Karen Cooper and her family. Harry is abusive, his wife is passive and complacent, and Karen bares the brunt of it all. As we saw in the movie, all will suffer because of Harry's weak character and his stupidity. This is Karen's chapter, so the farmhouse's siege and her family's fate is told from her viewpoint, and stands up as an independent horror story, and the artwork here passes from Fiumara to Edison George.
In Chapter Six a whole new set of characters, independent from the movie are introduced. Here a local thug, and his crew, terrorize and rob a local drive-in. Their antics are interrupted when the dead come to feed. This is a solid zombie story that could have been written by Joe Lansdale. Unfortunately, the artwork by Ryan Waterhouse is less than inspired, and the characters are universally ugly.
In Chapter Seven we find out that Don and Christine have survived (how?) the siege and massacre at Beekman's Diner and they are on their way to WIIC, the home television station of the reporters that are seen in the movie, to rescue Christine's father, and it's here they pick up two new survivors. We also find out the fate of the scientist commentator who was seen on the television in the original movie. The art this time around is by Edison George and Luis Czerniawski, and seems to flux throughout the story, although, on the average it is top-notch. For the fans of the movie we also get cameos from zombies Karen, Barbra, and her brother Johnny in this story.
Chapter Eight takes place in New York City and Lisa and her date Eric are out on the town as the zombies invade. They are trapped in a diner with a trio of gun-toting maniacs as the city goes to hell. The story documents their fates as they escape the diner. The art is by Fabio Jansen, and is dramatic and well rendered, and its breathless telling would honor any zombie flick.
In the end all the stories are well told, with emphasis on the stories of the movie's characters as the world falls apart, and on independent stories chronicling the fall. There are also a lot of pages that are, or are near dialogueless, in which the authors allow the art to tell the story without cluttering up the pages with unnecessary verbiage. This isn't a kids comic though, there is VERY graphic nudity, gore, violence (a baby is feasted on), bad behavior, sexual situations; all the good stuff good violent exploitative fiction should have. This is coupled with mostly great art all around, with all of the characters well rendered, the action well staged, solid writing, sixties fashions well rendered, and the inclusion of all of the covers, variant and otherwise (see customer images for examples). The book is beautifully full-colored, and solidly bound; it should hold up to multiple readings, and is well worth the money that all horror fans will spend on it. There's even room for a sequel as Don and Christine survive the book.
For this site I have also reviewed the following graphic novels:
Batman: The Sunday Classics 1943-1946
The Complete Saga of the Victims
Creepy Creatures (Goosebumps Graphix)
Green Candles (1 of 3)
Green Candles Volume 2
Green Candles Volume 3: Don't Forget Me
Ju-On Volume 2
Kolchak The Night Stalker Volume 1
The Secret of the Swamp Thing