Written by George Romero
Art by Alex Maleev
Published by Marvel Comics
Release Date: January 22nd, 2014

EMPDEADONE2014001_DC11_LRLegendary writer/director George Romero is joined by artist Alex Maleev to bring the next installment of the classic Living Dead film series to life to life on the printed page. Without Romero there would be no zombie genre as we know it today, and after one issue it is safe to say that Empire of the Dead features all of the components that have made Romero’s take on the living dead beloved the world over.

George Romero’s 1968 film Night of the Living Dead changed the horror genre forever by introducing the world to zombies as we know them today. Throughout the years Romero has made five subsequent with the most recent being 2009’s Survival of the Dead. The transition to the comic page is a no brainer after the success of The Walking Dead and Marvel Zombies, both of which owe a debt of gratitude to Romero’s work. Finding the right artist to bring the zombie world to life was important, and Marvel made a brilliant choice in Alex Maleev. Together Romero and Maleev take the series to the next level in ways that could only work in comic books while keeping much of the social commentary that was prevalent in the films.

Empire of the Dead begins five years after the initial zombie outbreak as we are introduced to Penny Jones, a doctor from Columbia University that has been sent to study the work of Paul Barnum to see how he has seemingly been able to get “The Stinkers” under control. Dr. Jones is looking to study zombie intelligence, and Barnum has a bunch of them, as he trains them to fight like gladiators in an arena for entertainment purposes. We are soon introduced to the Mayor of New York who takes a particular interest in these zombie fights, and his nephew Bill who there is something strange about. Continuing the idea of social commentary in his stories, Romero comments on politics, more specifically the political behavior of trading favors, and also on our society’s love of violence. Where there is a lot of walking and talking to setup the issue early on, the end of the issue picks up steam as we learn exactly why Dr. Jones is interested in zombie intelligence, in a scene that evokes Night of the Living Dead and will change the way a vital scene of the movie is viewed. Even as a moderate fan of the series, I thought the reveal was really cool and made me gasp a bit, but readers experiencing the moment for the first time don’t need to understand the connection to grasp the importance of it. By the end of the issue we are introduced to a whole new concept to the universe that has the potential to make this story bigger than any of the movies, and I have a feeling this twist will also serve as another way to comment on social issues in the story.

Marvel couldn’t have picked a more suitable artist to bring Romero’s vision to the page than Alex Maleev. Maleev is a dark and gritty artist with a unique style that fits the Romero Universe perfectly. He captures the darkness of a society that was on the verge of collapse and now rebuilding itself perfectly. Not to mention that he draws one hell of a zombie. In the wrong artistic hands this book could have ended up a mess, but Marvel realized that this book has crossover potential and made sure that not only one of their a-list artists was on the book, but an a-list artist whose style fits the tone of the work. In many ways the match of artist and project reminds me quite a bit of Jae Lee taking on the adaption of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower. It is hard to imagine another style taking on that book, and after only one issue the same can be said for Maleev bring the Living Dead series to the comic page. The highlights of the issue were Maleev adapting a classic scene from the original film, followed by a bloody zombie attack where Matt Hollingsworth’s colors really standout, if you are a fan of Maleev, but not of the film series you will quickly realize that this universe is perfect for him to stretch his artistic muscles in and if you are a fan of the series but don’t know much about Maleev you will quickly realize why he was the right choice to bring the next installment of the original zombie series to comics.

Empire of the Dead could have easily been a mess. The last few low budget films in Romero’s series were not received well, and with his advancing age, Romero could have easily let the series fade away. Fans are going to be glad that he didn’t, and even more glad that he decided to make the next installment an epic comic book series. There is no need to worry about a budget when writing a comic book. Then with an artist like Maleev on board, Romero can let his imagination run wild and think bigger than he has previously been able to. Considering where this issue ends off it is clear that thinking bigger was indeed the plan. The first issue of Empire of the Dead is a must read for fans that have been following the series from the beginning, but it also serves as a perfect introduction to what looks to be a contained story. I was worried heading into this issue, but Romero and Maleev make a great team, and this could very well end up being the best Living Dead story in years.

The Verdict: 9.0/10

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