Thursday, February 15, 2007

Who Likes Zombies?

Although I'm a DC Comics fanboy at heart, comics have never been more batshit crazy than the stuff Marvel was putting out during the early-to-mid-1970s. It was a time of virtually unimpeded freedom, as Editor-in-Chief Roy Thomas (followed in quick succession by Marv Wolfman, Gerry Conway and Len Wein) stood aside and let his roster of wildly creative writers and artists do basically anything they wanted, as long as they hit their monthly deadlines (they didn't always, but much more often than comics creators do today).

Part of Marvel's output was a line of black-and-white magazine-sized comics, clearly based on the popular Comic Code-free magazines produced by Warren Publishing, such as EERIE, CREEPY and VAMPIRELLA. Since they were meant to appeal to a slightly older audience, these Marvel magazines mostly eschewed super-heroics in favor of pulp-style adventure and horror. One of the books was TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, which has recently been reproduced in a black-and-white trade paperback, ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, VOLUME 1.

Zombie, as he was usually billed, was Simon Garth, an asshole and coffee magnate who was kidnapped by a disgruntled ex-employee and turned over to a New Orleans voodoo cult, which used Garth as a human sacrifice. Coincidentally, Garth's secretary, Layla, was the cult's priestess and, for some reason, was also in love with him, even though he was a bastard who alienated everyone around him, including his adult daughter. Layla was forced to turn Garth into a zombie, a desiccated corpse with no thoughts, feelings or sensations, who nonetheless managed to get involved in several scrapes during the book's ten-issue run.

Although the lead character was based on a very obscure 1953 story written by Stan Lee and drawn by Bill Everett, the Simon Garth stories in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE were almost all written by Steve Gerber, one of Marvel's most creative talents who also worked on MAN-THING, THE DEFENDERS and, most famously, HOWARD THE DUCK, a brilliant book based on a character he created in an issue of GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING (don't ask). Gerber brought a wry humor and a macabre sense of humor to his Zombie stories, which were mostly drawn (extremely atmospherically) by Pablo Marcos.

Garth was killed off (again) in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE #9, but I understand he has resurfaced occasionally in Marvel books over the years, and has currently been given a (stupid) reboot in the Max series ZOMBIE.

In addition to the Simon Garth stories, ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE also offers the supporting stories in each issue, as well as various text articles, such as informative pieces on the voodoo culture and even reviews of then-current zombie movies like SUGAR HILL and LIVE AND LET DIE. Also appearing in two issues, including #10, the final issue, was Brother Voodoo, another of Marvel's long line of bizarre horror-themed characters. Brother Voodoo was not taken seriously in his initial run in STRANGE TALES, and probably not much more so in TALES OF THE ZOMBIE. A physician, Jericho Drumm sought to become a voodoo master after the death of his brother. After much training, Jericho was able to summon the spirit of his brother and join with it in order to fight evil using the power of voodoo.

Enjoy the Boris Vallejo cover to ESSENTIAL TALES OF THE ZOMBIE, and if you're curious about moody, well-written voodoo stories, you might want to try this trade paperback out for size.

1 comment:

Neil said...

Thanks.

Honestly, I pick this up most times I go into a comic shop, flip through and decide, "Maybe next time." I guess now I have less of an excuse.