Publisher: BOOM Studios
Reviewed by: Joe Mossman
Like most SF/horror geeks, I have mixed feelings about zombies (or anything else, really) going mainstream. There are times when it sort of warms your heart, seeing the masses start to enjoy the things you used to think of as your own weird little niche. And then you see the market get bloated with copycats and cheap rip-offs, people trying to cash in on what’s “hot,” and you start to get a little jaded. Bottom line: if you’re going to do the zombie apocalypse story, you’d better have something fresh to add to it.
The Key of Z adds music. Which makes sense considering the writer, Claudio Sanchez, is the lead singer/guitarist of Coheed and Cambria
Picture this: Christmas Eve, 2011. A young boy, three, maybe four years-old, toddles over to his father and gives him the “most specialist” present that he picked out all by himself - a harmonica with “I Love You Daddy” engraved on it. Mom gets the cookies and milk ready. Dad, whose name is Nick Ewing, lifts his son up so the boy can put the angel on the tree. Inside this little New York apartment everything seems perfectly cozy, perfectly heart-warming.
Outside, a Salvation Army Santa is busy eating a dude.
The apocalypse has arrived. Merry Christmas.
From there we see Ewing and his city through seemingly random points in his life, from a bearded nomad wandering a desolate, zombie-gnawed world in 2016, to protecting survivors in a more hopeful spring of 2012. New York has been divided into three feudal societies based in its baseball stadiums, each with a very different philosophy on post-apocalyptic government. Claudio shares writing duties with Chandra Echert and they mix tight, realistic dialogue with bleak and poetic (though sometimes jarringly melodramatic) narration to tell a zombie story in the George Romero tradition. It's a story primarily about people struggling in a world gone crazy, where zombies are just another kind of natural disaster and the real threat to peace is human nature...greed, mistrust, and lust for power namely. And the zombies are mindlessly eager to take full advantage of our stupidity. Aaron Kuder’s art gives the people, the locations and the “sleepers” (as the zombies are called) an appropriately war-weary, grimey look, with instances of full-page gore infrequent but satisfyingly graphic.
Armed with the harmonica his son gave him on the last Christmas anyone ever had (the significance of which is hinted at by the book’s title), Ewing is why you’ll stick with the story, and why I’m looking forward to Key of Z #3. I badly want to see him get what he’s after.