If one hears the shambling of the risen dead close behind them this September, please do not be alarmed. It but marks the return of George A. Romero’s latest zombie saga in EMPIRE OF THE DEAD: ACT TWO #1.
Fans of the series already know the tale depicts a New York City ruled by vampires and besieged by zombies with very few human beings doing everything they can to survive. ACT TWO ratchets up the tension and complications as a human militia begins to march on the Big Apple with an agenda all its own.
“In my zombie ï¬lms I’ve always been at least as interested in what the living do as what the dead are doing,” Romero asserts. “We’re supposed to be superior to the zombies because we still have heartbeats, but most of the time it’s us who mess things up. Faced with any kind of crisis—like, for example, a bunch of slow-moving ï¬esh-eaters—our ability to communicate with each other always seems to break down and we end up ï¬ghting over all the usual human problems. Money. Food. Shelter. Power.
“The militia is just one part of that human breakdown,” he continues. “Instead of trying to ï¬gure out how to deal with the living dead, how to make the world a safer place, they only want to beneï¬t themselves. And, in case anyone disagrees with their point of view, they’ve got tanks!”
As humans devolve to their arguably more base selves, however, evidence that the zombies may be evolving mounts.
“Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you stop changing,” Romero argues. “It’s only logical to me that some zombies, the longer they survive, would sooner or later start to remember who they were when they were alive. And those memories could inï¬uence their behavior.”
“Xavier, one of the main zombie characters in EMPIRE, used to be a police ofï¬cer, and she’s begun to remember what that was like,” he elaborates. “How to use a gun. How to protect people. How to stand up for herself and her friends. So, yes, she’s changing, and other zombies are, too, because of remembered behavior. Which poses a question or two: If the living dead start to remember who they used to be, will that make more them less of a threat to the living? Or will it make them more dangerous than they’ve ever been?”
Artist Dalibor TalajiÄ comes on board for this chapter, an opportunity that thrills him even now.
“It's George Romero!” he enthuses. “I grew up with his movies! He is the father of the genre. ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is my personal favorite movie in the whole zombie genre. That future that Mr. Romero announced in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ is very much ours today. I mean, look at us today: people rambling through malls, watching dumbed down TV shows, living just because we are born.”
Excited or not, however, the artist recognizes the challenge of bringing this story to life.
“This is a very challenging situation for me as an artist,” he confesses. “I mean Alex Maleev did the first cycle. Those are pretty huge foot steps to follow.
“Horror is a rather difficult genre to capture in comics, mostly because comic books are a static medium. Every panel is frozen in time, so one can't say ‘boo,’ one can't use the element of surprise. What I do aim for is that eerie, creepy mood; that twisted reality of a horror world where things like zombies, vampires, werewolves and such would actually be probable.
“So if everything is just a bit twisted, a bit overshadowed, a bit elongated in anatomy, then you get a new reality; very similar to our own and yet very uncomfortable to inhabit. Very horrifying. And in this sort of reality zombies are just a mise-en-scene momentum that amplifies all this. They are a natural fit.”