The only thing I am more obsessed with than horror comics is Victorian literature, and when I first heard about the plans for Vertigo’s The New Deadwardians, I was more than eager for it to launch. Yes, it is another Vertigo title that features blood suckers and brain eaters, but if you’re thinking of passing this one just because it’s got zombies and vampires, you’d better think again. I’m just as sick of the zombie/vampire craze as the next dude, but The New Deadwardians raises the played out subgenre from the dead, and breathes new life into zombie literature. Not only does it offer hope for the undead subgenre, but it’s a fantastic book overall. Plus, any book that begins with a quote from Isaac Asimov is worthy in my books. Read on for the skinny…
The Victorian Gothic has been a passionate interest of mine for years, and it’s rare that you get to see a solid comic take place within that time period. For those that don’t know, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a huge divide among social classes, and the fear of the future was more ripe than ever before. Books released in that time period like Frankenstein, Dracula, or Jekyll and Hyde are testaments of the Victorian sensibilities.
Enter The New Deadwardians. Abnett sets up a brilliant social class commentary that places the vampires in the upper class and the rotting zombies in the lower class. This is sheer brilliance and it perfectly reflects ideals of Victorian society. What I like most about this is how it stays true to classic works of gothic literature in its social commentary, but it also brings something new that could not possibly have been done in the early 20th century by bringing in various forms of the undead.
I don’t believe any era of literature is more full of fear and terror than the Victorian era. It gave birth to some of the most famous works of Gothic literature and in many ways is responsible for the progression toward what horror is now. Though I am talking a lot about Gothic literature, it’s important to note that the book doesn’t force it down your throat at all. My point is that The New Deadwardians doesn’t include vampires and zombies just for the sake of it. They are not just following the fad, but Abnett is doing something meaningful and novel with the classic monsters that we have come to love (or maybe hate by now).
In the series the vampires are referred to as The Young, while the zombies are referred to as The Restless. The Young and the Restless…Get it? It is these subtle touches that make this book stand out. The central character, Chief Inspector Suttle, a vampire himself, is introduced by blowing off the head of a zombie eating his housemaid, but from thereon out the action slows and delves into a wicked murder mystery plotline full of little details to keep you reading.
The concept of having a vampire as one of the last homicide detectives in town works on so many levels. In a world where most beings are either immortal or undead, people just don’t get murdered like they used to, and the need for detectives is becoming obsolete. As the story continues, it just pulls you in more and more. There are a lot of little facts that will undoubtedly pop up again throughout the series. The final few pages are just breathtakingly executed and they represent the high caliber I have come to expect from Vertigo titles over the years. Without spoiling too much, let’s just say Chief Inspector Suttle is about to get a lot busier as homicide detective.
The team also does a helluva job introducing a large cast of characters in this issue, giving you just enough information to keep you coming back for the characters alone. Aside from Suttle, the supporting cast will have a big role throughout the run, and I’m excited to see how Abnett develops them along with the plotline.
The artwork is simple yet gorgeous, and it works perfectly with the Vicrotian/British feel of the book. The line work is super clean, and the color tones work well with the tight lines. What I love most about the art is how it’s not in your face like a lot of DC books right now. It doesn’t try to fly off the page to hit you with a KAPOW in the face, but it flows beautifully and matches the tone of the writing impeccably. It’s really tough to find art like this in mainstream comics but I’m glad I.N.J. Culbard is on board for this Gothic throwback.
As the series develops, I hope to see Abnett play around a bit more with social class satires and go further into Victorian society commentary, which in turn is a reflection of modern society. Of the four new Vertigo titles, The New Deadwardians is the winner by a knockout. Abnett and Culbard have once again instilled faith into the zombie/vampire world for what looks to be my new favorite series.