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Rigor Mortis Vol. 3, © September 2010

Excerpts of Reviews from Rigor Mortis #3

Day by Day Armageddon: Beyond Exile
J.L. Bourne
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Gallery Books and Permuted Press (July 13, 2010)
ISBN-13: 978-1439177525

J.L. Bourne and Permuted Press are back with Beyond Exile, a sequel to Day by Day Armageddon. I originally reviewed Day By Day Armageddon in the first issue of Rigor Mortis . In going back and re-reading that review, it is evident that Bourne learned from his first book and has worked to polish this story further. I would have liked a little more recap to remind readers where the first book left off or to introduce new readers to the characters. Instead he jumps right in and continues the story.

The survivors of Hotel 23 have created a safe haven and are led by a military man who went AWOL when the dead first rose. At first the compound seemed to be under threat from a more organized military presence, but that was just the first in a series of plot twists. The protagonist assumes command of more than just his band of civilian survivors. On a sortie out into hostile territory his helicopter goes down, causing him to have to fight his way back to Hotel 23 on foot. It is like Man vs. Wild, only the Wild bit is filled with zombies instead of leeches.

Last year Permuted inked a deal with Simon and Schuster to co-publish titles. This was a boon for small press Permuted, but it also gave S&S a chance to tap into a genre with a publisher that already had a decent fan base. S&S’s involvement is felt in that the typos are no more and this had a much more edited feel. Initially I wasn’t sure how I felt about that – the writing and thinking of the character was much more organized, but it became evident that was also part of the plot.

I also appreciated that the character addressed why he was writing in his journal and what he hoped to capture in doing so. As a commissioned military officer, Bourne is able to describe the lifestyle, structure, weaponry, and vehicles in great detail, which lends credibility to the action. He also explains, with specifics, how someone would and could survive with the right supplies and skills. He brings it back to a simple lack of water will kill you even if zombies don’t.

There is an unknown ally assisting the protagonist on his trek back to Hotel 23 and some suspension of disbelief is necessary. Tying back to the first book, which described the start of the outbreak as a flu in China, the main character has been asked to infiltrate China to get to the source. At that, we are left with a fresh cliffhanger that hopefully doesn’t take another five years to resolve. [DeadVida]
As The World Dies (Trilogy)
By Rhiannon Frater
As The World Dies: The First Days
Paperback: 298 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (August 14, 2008)
ISBN-13: 978-1438250809
As The World Dies: Fighting To Survive
Paperback: 320 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (March 9, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1440424762
As The World Dies: Siege
Paperback: 398 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (August 14, 2009)
ISBN-13: 978-1441405173

I read about these books online and my curiosity was piqued – zombie novels written by a woman, with female main characters. This trilogy falls outside of conventional genre definitions, with horror mixed in with some romance and paranormal events. These were originally published via CreateSpace, Amazon’s self-publishing service.

The story starts on the morning of the main outbreak hitting. Jenny’s abusive husband and two sons have turned, and she is standing outside her house in a bathrobe when she is rescued by Katy. Katy’s wife, Lydia, was also lost that first morning and together they flee the city for the Texas hill country. During their journey they find a dog, Jenny’s step-son (who was at a remote camp), and a few friends who will become crucial as the plot progresses. Eventually they find their way to The Fort, a town turned compound, which over the course of the three books becomes a central character.

Overall, I think Rhiannon did a decent job with character development, allowing characters to grow, go crazy, find strength, love, hate, and become real. She imbued the new society with many of the same ills, but also created a utopia out of the apocalypse. I give her credit for creating not only a bisexual main character that wasn’t a nympho, but also gay characters that were shown as strong and brave. She also deals with religious issues even handedly and discusses what zombies mean in a spiritial context. There were small moments in the books between characters that were quite nicely interacted. The action sequences were also well-described and fast-paced. Rhiannon took a risk by having much of the action centralized in one spot (The Fort), but the sorties into the surrounding countryside keep up the menace, as did showing threats from all quarters. She also included some good in-jokes for her geekier readers.

Without a doubt the books could have used a stronger editor for typos and streamlining some of the dialog/pace, but overall these issues got better by the third book. At times the characters talked and emoted far, far too much, but I suppose I’ll take that over under-developed characters. My biggest complaint was the crying. The characters cried too fucking much and it made me crazy. I know I am not a crier by nature, but some of this could have been done “off-screen” or just implied. Also, as a reader, I didn’t need to be reminded that the main characters were BFFs every damned chapter. There were elements of paranormal romance, which really isn’t my thing. I got kinda irritated with all the emotional heartstrings the author was plucking, but then she actually got me a little misty with a scene in the third book involving Juan and the kids, the Bitch.
Congratulations to Rhiannon for getting these picked up by Tor. If you look for them and can’t find them, give Tor a few months to get the new releases out. There is an active online forum, and the author continues to add back stories for many of the characters: http://astheworlddies.com/forum. [DeadVida]
By Jacen Burrows and Garth Ennis
Avatar Press
Issues 1-10

Crossed started in 2008 and ran for 10 issues. There is a follow-up, Crossed: Family Values, which is currently being published, but I have not yet seen issues.

As a consumer of zombie literature and the like, I am accustomed to some rather nihilistic views of the end of the world. That said, Crossed is some messed up shit. It is the kind of comic that will invade your nightmares if you aren’t careful.

Where The Walking Dead shows the bleakness in stark black and white, Crossed is a four-color ride through the abattoir of the apocalypse. The zombies in Crossed have marks on their faces in the shape of a cross and are evil creatures with cognition bent on destroying live humans in the most brutal ways possible. These creatures are not just after brains, they want to rape, torture, and maim first. They also talk, usually spewing profanities. It is uncomfortable Torture Porn at times.

The main characters are morally ambiguous and whom they choose to save and kill among the remaining survivors is troublesome. This is not for the faint of heart, but stands out as a truly disturbing zombie comic. [DeadVida]
American Zombie (2007)

I started to watch this with extremely low expectations. I’ve been burned too many times by high hopes only to have them dashed by low budgets and high school drama club acting. Within minutes, I realized this wasn’t the run of the mill schlock I was expecting. American Zombie is a mockumentary set in Los Angeles about the resident zombie population. These “revenants”, as they are called, range from low-functioning to high-functioning. This film satirizes so many different sub-cultures in one broad sweep and even functions at the end as a creepy horror film. Managing to do both isn’t easy. An easy comparison is Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon, but American Zombie had more subtle moments.

The film opens with a well-known documentary maker, Grace Lee, agreeing to work on a project with John Solomon. They want to explore what it means to be dead and yet exist in modern Los Angeles. There is Ivan, a convenience store clerk who also publishes a zine. Judy works for a health food company and is a kitten loving, scrapbook making vegan who tries to pass as human. Lisa is a tightly-wound new agey artist who works at a florist. Last is Joel (who pronounces it Hoe-L), a community activist raging against the discrimination the zombie community receives from the living. Each of these characters could have been straight out of Waiting for Guffman and are portrayed with such earnestness that the satire really shines.

Overall, the production values, script, acting, and even minor background details were top notch. My usual hatred of the talking dead was set aside. The story and presentation were well-written and original. Recommended. [DeadVida]
#250 and #251

Deadvida was kind enough to gift me copies of the newest incarnation of FM for my birthday (cuz she be treatin’ her Bitches right) - so if I tell you, as an FM Fanboy, I nearly had an aneurism when the mailman handed me the package, it won’t surprise you. Of course, this then paves way for the mix of elation and bittersweetness. Which then paves the way for me to say this review won’t exactly be objective, but I do have one major gripe I am going to air to justify to the haters that I too can be a bitch (just like the grown folks). As a Mylar- bagged-condition-whore collector dork I write this in defense of my fellow geeks so no one else has a similar traumatic experience. I received the #251 PREDATOR 2010 FM CON COVER (and about busted a nut). Then, when I took it out of its plastic magazine bag (yes, they ship in bags so they know who they’re selling to) I saw there were deep scratches in the cover. Also, to add insult to injury the copy of #250 (in the same shipment) was absolutely pristine, which only emphasized the problem. They are a fledgling publisher (well, with IDW) picking up the oldschool brand with lotsa other establishing stuff going on so I do acknowledge there are growing pains to be expected, but when I saw the excellent work they did balancing the old with the new and then to have it undermined by shoddy product shipping. Hopefully there’s tighter product control going forward.

Now that I have unclutched my pearls, HOLY HELL! THESE ARE GORGEOUS. GLOSSY. COLOR. WOW. BIG. It’s like a Monster Vanity Fair. I never expected it to look this way. There was lots of speculation online about how publisher Phil Kim was going to resurrect the brand name of FM in this tech age, especially after the crazy legal battle to get the name secured. There were nostalgic oldschoolers who were niche market readers and fading, many wanting a time capsule, and then there was the issue of investing in the future generation of FM readers. Balance was necessary and it appears this has been skillfully handled. #250 is the “transition” issue which hails the old Ackermonster, FM editor-genre celeb Forrest J Ackerman. The contents are obviously geared towards the older readers who’d firsthand understand FJA’s importance, but it also gives a good overview to newbies. The issue’s entire focus was FJA’s “film career” which essentially consisted of cameos. Most zombie fans will remember him in BRAINDEAD and MJ’s “Thriller”. The look picks up the old layout and felt like the original Warren convention books, just glossier. I appreciated this nod to old FM and Forry immensely, though I admit, if there was a hook to reel in newer, younger readers, this wasn’t going to be it. It’s good then that they carried him into the next, more newschool version of FM (#251) to (re)introduce him there.

#251 is newer, tighter, and geared towards computers, bells and whistles and shit. For oldschool Warren Publishing fans, this may take some getting used to as the original was basically B&W newsprint with content aimed at kids and carried into adulthood by nostalgic collectors. Personally, I am ready to rock & roll with this look and feel. It coulda used a little more of the old flavor for the older sections but fuggit, that’ll do pig.

Leading off is a feature on PREDATORS, taking time to chat up the FX guys and stunt men in the suits (who even talk about how they use the bathroom). Following this is a piece on the original Schwarzenegger movie (as a Pred Nerd these were my favorites). Another highlight and surprise was Jessie Lilley’s piece on the RESIDENT EVIL franchise, which offered an overview of the series. It then delved into an informative segment on the 3D process of films in general - all to quell her fears about the possible screwups that can come from the 3D gimmick (the next RE will be in 3D). Also of interest is an overview of Karl Freund’s work which I loved, interviews with Ray Bradbury and William Stout and a continuation of the FJA homage. All in all, an excellent collection of content. For some the price may seem high, but really folks, this is high quality content. I enjoyed the writing and as a big fan of the original, it had awareness and respect to the old but also had a modern feel of its own. It shows that old and new can co-exist in the same magazine without being at odds. This is exactly what it is going to need if it is to survive and I hope it does.

Here at RM, we had originally intended a longer piece on FM’s re-introduction and interview with publisher Phil Kim. Alas, it is not to be… not this time, to quote Gollum. Maybe next issue we can explore what it took to get this off the ground. Having now seen the introductory issues, I certainly want to know.

Would you like to read more reviews about zombie-related materials? Sure you do. So you should fork over the $3.50. It's not like you'd read the whole article online anyway. Support the arts (and a couple of geeks) and just buy the issue. There a link to PayPal way up there on your left.

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