Writer: Tom Taylor
Artists: Karl Mostert, Trevor Scott, Neil Edwards, John Livesay
DC Comics, 2021
American publisher DC Comics continues to explore its alternative continuity universe, in which a zombie epidemic has engulfed the Earth. In this collection, DCeased: Unkillables, we see the fates of those who have survived but been left behind as the world’s surviving superheroes have taken off in enormous arks into deep space. Those left behind include DC Comics’ supervillains and anti-heroes, and this title explores their varied fates.
We approached this title with trepidation. The first DCeased title we reviewed – see https://worldcomicbookreview.com/2020/10/26/revisiting-dceased-hardcover-one-year-later-review-doomscrolling-by-another-name/ – was truly awful. It was a technicolour yawn of gore amidst a fan fiction of the deaths of many of DC Comics’ vast panoply of characters.
This new collection, however, offers something different. DC Comics’ villains have often been more interesting than its altruistic heroes, a state of affairs first recognised by John Ostrander with his seminal work Suicide Squad in the mid-1980s. DC Comics’ villains are motivated by money, power, revenge, the sheer joy of sowing discord, even environmentalism, and not a desire to help people. Many of those unsavoury drivers rely upon a landscape of civilisation. When the infrastructure for such desires is taken away, what is left for the villains?
The survivors which gather together in this collected volume are lead by the power-hungry. Vandal Savage, a villain first created in the 1940s and who is 50000 years old, recognises the destruction of humanity is merely one of many extinction-level events he has lived through, and he intends to capitalise upon the chaos. Others, such as the lead protagonists Red Hood (a protege of the Batman) and Deathstroke (an assassin) are much more lost. Red Hood discovers his mentor Batman and his arch-enemy the Joker are both dead, and as a consequence he is more-or-less without purpose. Deathstroke cannot now need to kill for money, because money has no meaning. “You’ve brought a volatile group of killers under the same roof. We’re tense, and worse, we’re bored. Best not piss each other off,” notes Deathstroke to Vandal Savage.
The cast make their way to a barricaded orphanage in the fictional city of Bludhaven. And there, bereft of any other purpose, they become survivalists, and train the surviving children in martial arts.
Other characters in this story are a scattering of villains and supporting characters: Batman’s adversary Bane, Wonder Woman’s foe the Cheetah, oddball The Creeper, the world’s greatest martial artist Lady Shiva and her daughter Cassandra Cain, old Justice Society foe Solomon Grundy, marksman Deadshot, Deathstroke’s daughter Rose, Commissioner Jim Gordon of Gotham City, and Flash villains Captain Cold and Mirror Master. Some of these characters are imbued with human and caring traits not seen before, particularly the Cheetah and Solomon Grundy. Crisis has brought out the best in them.
Inevitably, some of the bad guys receive heroic and cliched deaths. But there is some genuine horror in this title. Readers should experience a visceral reaction when Mirror Master succumbs to the zombie virus and starts randomly kidnapping children through the reflective windows of an armoured school bus.
Because this is a zombie title, there are elements of schlock humour. When Rose believes her father (endowed with super-healing abilities) has been zombified, she stabs him through the chest with a sword. “Ow. @#$%” says Deathstroke as he is skewered. “I don’t think the undead say “Ow”. Or “@#$%”,” says Rose. “No,” says Deathstroke. “Could you take the sword out of me, please?” And when Vandal Savage decides to cut open The Creeper to work out how he is immune to the zombie virus, The Creeper points to his own goblin visage and grins with pointed teeth. “Something about this face just invites vivisection.” Shards of dark comedy are scattered throughout the title.
A word on the art. South African artist Karl Mostert in an interview with fan website Comics the Gather in May 2020 https://comicsthegathering.com/blogs/wes-greer/13987/interview-dceased-unkillables-artist-karl-mostert is asked a question:
WG – Is there any kind of style or method you prefer to use when doing your art?
KM – Nope not really, just my style, whatever that is.
But there cannot be any doubt that Mr Mostert’s drawing style mimics that of Scotsman Frank Quitely. Given Mr Quitely’s commercial success and problems in making deadlines, it is perhaps a clever niche to fill. For people such as your reviewer who love Mr Quitely’s work, Mr Mostert’s art on this title is visual excellence.
And there you have it. With great reluctance, we have to say that DCeased: Unkillables was nothing but enjoyable.