Publisher: Red 5 Comics
Reviewed by: Joe Mossman
I’m a life-long zombie fan, and I don’t care how zombie-saturated pop culture is getting, I never get sick of ‘em. I’m also not too worried about the latest “cowboys vs. fill-in-the-monster” trend getting out of hand. Zombies and the Wild West are really the perfect fit…they must be, since I lost two entire months to Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Expansion Pack. The cowboy genre has an abundance of guns and hard men with itchy trigger fingers; the zombie genre has enough skulls to keep them scoring headshots indefinitely.
It also helps if you’ve got good writers. Dead or Alive is a nice little four-issue, self-contained series courtesy of Red 5 Comics (the good folks who gave us Atomic Robo). Two inept cowboys, the boyish Sam and fancy-talking (but slightly dimwitted) Jed, set out from the town of San Romero (ha!) on a harebrained mission to capture feared bandit El Muerto. Tagging along is the beautiful, freckle-faced Tess (who, if this were a movie, would need to be played by Karen Gillan, providing she could tame her Scottish accent) and the boys’ grizzled mentor Bill. Throw some ancient Comanche zombie-dust into the mix, and capturing the outlaw “dead or alive” takes on an entirely new meaning.
What sets a good zombie story apart, is what role the ghouls play. A good, Romero-style zombie yarn is about the human characters first, with the zombies being a springboard for conflict and character development…sort of a natural disaster they have to deal with. And thanks to writer Scott Chitwood, that’s what we have here. Chitwood sets a pace that’s somewhat slow but never dull (the actual zombie turkey-shoot doesn’t start until fairly late in the story, but that’s not a problem). You’ll be busy enjoying the dialogue, the characters and their naiveté about the whole situation. We know what zombies are, but they’re nineteenth-century country folk and so they don’t. It’s a refreshing perspective, one that, again, goes back to the old Romero classics.
Now, a few gripes. Just little ones, though. The title is a bit generic. In doing my usual background research on this one I found I had to dig through all the articles on other properties that share the title Dead or Alive, the biggest being the video game series. What I’m worried about mostly is the series getting lost in the shuffle when it definitely deserves some visibility. What really bothered me, though, was that throughout the entire series any curse word saltier than “damn” is bleeped with those annoying &*^% symbols. I mean, come on, this is a zombie comic. It’s not as violent or graphic as some, but it’s still full of guts and gore and flying chunks of brains…so, is anybody really going to be squeamish about a few naughty words? I don’t get it.
That’s small potatoes, though. The writing, characters, story and Alfonso Ruiz’ art outweigh any petty annoyances. It’s Red 5. They come through for me.