“Year One” isn’t the official title for the first twelve issues of this off-the-walls book from Sam Humphries and Jerry Gaylord (and friends), though if the inevitable omnibus were to receive such a Batman-referential name, it would be par for the course. Because that’s what Fanboys vs. Zombies (henceforth FvZ) really is, at its core: Referential. Homage. Send-up. Parody. Commentary. Satire.
It’s refreshingly rare to come across a book which is so sure and unashamed of itself. This isn’t about depth. It’s not about tugging on your heartstrings or turning you into a Zoloft addict. It’s about killing zombies and reveling in geekiness. It’s about brainless entertainment, with the occasional brains thrown in like a garnish. It’s about fun.
FvZ is the story of a group of friends who meet annually at San Diego Comic-Con (they call themselves “The Wrecking Crew”). They’ve had their ups and downs like any online friend circle, but they look forward to meeting up “IRL” each year and having a blast being themselves in a safe haven for the like-minded. There’s some serious drama going on, hormonally-driven among other things, but before the group can hug it out or duke it out, something happens.
You know. The zombie apocalypse.
It’s really that simple. A group of geeks go to Comic-Con and a zombie apocalypse breaks out and now they have to live out their favorite scenes from The Walking Dead and Zombieland and try not to die. The first arc deals with attempts to get out of the convention center. The following arc deals with attempts to get out of the city. Along the way friends are made, backs stabbed, lips locked, limbs severed, heads emancipated…the usual.
This book is absolutely not for everyone. There’s a decent amount of language tossed about, and some of the characters, particularly the perpetually-hyper Amanda (shown above) have an outright terrifying bloodlust. This is an apocalypse, and while some people are ready to off themselves or hide under a box and cry, The Wrecking Crew is the sort that grabs those lemons and makes the best darn lemonade they can. After all, it’s not every day you get license to raid a weapons store and have at ’em.
Not everything here is irreverent, however. Between all the laughs Humphries has woven a decently fun story with characters who aren’t quite as stereotypical as they initially appear. The relationships here feel real and relateable, and dialogue occasionally takes an opportunity to point out very real problems in the comics industry and in geek subcultures in general, like latent racism, credibility of female geeks, male pissing contests, and the abuse of celebrity within nerd circles.
FvZ straddles a line between commentary and parody pretty well, hopping between topical humor and in-jokes with alarming frequency. In fact, if oversaturation of zombie stories doesn’t keep you away from this book, the self-awareness might. What I considered amusing and endearing could to others seem to be trying too hard or downright obnoxious. And sure, there are eye-rolling moments to be had, but Jerry Gaylord’s art is so top-notch that it’s hard to care. This is one of those books where the characters and the visuals carry you through, and you don’t care so much about what happens as what people are going to have to say about it, and how it’s going to look. And if you’re buying digitally, you also have the benefit of some truly fantastic variant covers (all of them are included in the beginning of each issue) from talents like Humberto Ramos, Arthur Suydam, and Khary Randolph.
It’s worth noting that as the first year winds down, writing responsibilities are subtly shifted from Humphries to Shane Houghton, who is now the current writer of the book in its second year (Issue 14 came out last week). The shift is not immediately noticeable, but by the time I had finished Issue 12 I could tell something was different, even though I hadn’t noticed during the actual transition. I’d say Humphries, Houghton, and Gaylord ended their first year on a whimper rather than a bang, but that wouldn’t, strictly speaking, be true.
At $3.99 for new issues, this is a tough sell if you’re looking to add something to your pull list. I’d recommend picking up the first few issues (maybe even the first trade), or keeping tabs on this book in case it goes on sale again. The art alone is worth giving it a try. And if you’re a sucker for zombie stories — especially ones which winkingly reference other zombie stories — then this is, excuse the pun, a no-brainer.
I’ll leave you with a litmus test. If you find this page half as funny as I did (minor spoilers, obviously), then you owe it to yourself to give Fanboys vs. Zombies a try: