George Romero really likes to stack the deck.
Returning to his signature creation on September 10 with GEORGE ROMERO’S EMPIRE OF THE DEAD: ACT TWO #1, the writer and director of a thousand terrors offers up not only a plague of flesh-eating zombies, but a nest of wily vampires and a hell-bent human army to challenge them for the keys to the kingdom. We knocked lightly on Romero’s castle door for a few words about the new limited series, as well as first seeking sage advice from his editors on the new act.
Marvel.com: Let’s start with Marvel’s Editor-in-Chief: Axel, how does EMPIRE OF THE DEAD continue to be a good fit for Marvel?
Axel Alonso: Marvel Comics spans all genres—super heroes, science fiction, horror, war, western, romance and, of course, hybrids of all of the above—and George A. Romero invented the zombie apocalypse. Why wouldn't we relish the opportunity to tell the next chapter of his ongoing epic? And our unlimited special effects budget allows George to really cut loose and tell a story on an even larger scale than he's used to. It's a great marriage.
Marvel.com: Bill, you’re the series editor; how does Act Two advance the story? Where does #1 pick up?
William Rosemann: Act Two opens just a short time after the conclusion of Act One, but in that time all of our major players are advancing their interests. Zombie wrangler Paul Barnum has added fresh performers to his Circus Maximus, the zombies fighting there may be much more capable than even he imagined, Mayor Chandrake continues his seduction of medical scientist Penny Jones, Penny uncovers chilling discoveries about the dual threat to Manhattan’s civilians, the Mayor’s nephew Billy is making his own play for power, and the militia that we saw on the last page of our last issue make a huge discovery that will have everyone watching the skies.
Marvel.com: How would you describe the tension between the three adversarial parties in Act Two?
William Rosemann: The zombies want to eat the humans; the vampires want to rule the humans, while also draining their blood; and the humans just want cold beer and hot action in the Circus Maximus! Which group will get what they want? Something tells me that the Southern militia intent upon pillaging the city may play the spoilers!
Marvel.com: Who is your favorite from among the characters and why?
William Rosemann: I’ve grown rather fond of Xavier, the former NYPD police officer and current undead inhabitant of the arena. Her quest for independence and her relationship with street urchin Jo is touching stuff. I’d like to think that if I became a zombie I’d fight to retain my humanity, so I’m pulling for her.
Marvel.com: There’s a lot going on here; in your opinion could a new reader come in with Act Two and get up to speed?
William Rosemann: Absolutely. Accessibility for this—and every issue—is the name of the game. George and [artist] Dalibor [Talajic] are both master storytellers who know how to clearly introduce characters and situations while at the same time respect their audience’s intelligence, allowing readers to make deeper observations. Plus, our handy recap page will give you all the names and faces you need to jump in and enjoy the wild ride.
Marvel.com: Speaking of the new artist, what does Dalibor Talajic bring to the series?
William Rosemann: While working with Dalibor on the two recent DEXTER [series] I came to realize that he is one of the finest storytellers in the industry who can also deliver powerfully dark scenarios through his command of camera angles and shadow. Paired with colorist Rain Beredo, Dalibor continues the series’ gritty and gruesome look at the ultimate war between the Haves and Have Nots.
Marvel.com: And now the master of the Empire, Mr. George Romero. George, how did you approach Act Two, in terms of the overall story? What were your goals in its construction?
George Romero: One of the great things about working on a comic book is that you can write a really full story. The challenge is to keep the whole thing in your head all at the same time, and always to have a pretty clear idea of where you’re going. I try never to think of any one character, one scene, one section, on its own, but how every part of the book fits in with all the other parts.
Of course every good story needs an interesting beginning, an exciting middle, and an action-packed end. Act Two builds on the stories and characters that we’ve introduced and developed so far, and escalates them to a dramatic breaking point.
Marvel.com: What can readers expect from the escalation between those three major parties? Who might blink, if any of them?
George Romero: Well, if you’re up to date on your reading, you know that none of the main characters is the type to back off. They all want what they want, whether it’s right or wrong. So I don’t think you’re going to see a lot of blinking. There’s too much at stake for anyone to give up. Power. Greed. Co-existence. Survival. It’s going to be a fight to the finish.
Marvel.com: Do you have a single character you might admit to favoring? If so, what is it about them that you like in Act Two?
George Romero: I like all my characters; otherwise I wouldn’t be able to write them. But I do have a soft spot for the little girl in EMPIRE, Jo. She’s smart, and she’s got guts, and, maybe because she’s a child, she’s able to see the zombies for who they are: people. Dead people, but, still, people.
Marvel.com: What do you feel are Dalibor Talajic’s strengths here? What do you love about what he’s doing?
George Romero: As you’ll see, he’s created some really strong, evocative images. He has a great visual sense, a great dramatic sense, too. And he seems to understand the characters and the story very, very well. What’s his greatest strength? He’s not just illustrating words on a page. He’s a gifted storyteller.
Marvel.com: Finally, is there anything in particular in Act Two that you might not have done if it were a film?
George Romero: I might have thought twice about using a giant dirigible!
Return to post-zombie apocalypse New York City in GEORGE ROMERO’S EMPIRE OF THE DEAD: ACT TWO #1, on sale September 10!