Graveyard of Empires is a new book from Image from Mark Sable and Paul Azaceta. It’s an Afghanistan war/zombie book. At a time when people seem to think the zombie genre is played out (even though it’s been delighting for decades), this book delivers a new hook and even more importantly it presents it brilliantly. You have to know a book is good if it gets me off my backside to review it here. Hit the jump to see why this book is so damn entertaining and probably why it just became yet another Image sell out.
Written by Mark Sable
Art by Paul Azaceta
The first thing you need to understand about this book is that it is extremely well made. It’s a smart book. It’s not out to just drop some gore and be a ‘zombie book’, in fact, the undead don’t appear until the very end of this debut issue. But you won’t be left feeling short-changed by the lack of brain eaters because everything else is so well written and drawn and you find yourself becoming invested in the human elements of this tale. These aren’t just walking appetisers for the main character, these men of the armed forces are intricate and deep and so very important.
Good horror fiction knows you always build up character. It’s why Stephen King became a master of the medium, and it’s what you’ll find at the centre of any of the classic horror flicks. This book posits its men right in the centre of the tale and we see war through their eyes and experience horror on their terms.
When a strange man approaches the perimeter of a compound, the soldiers really aren’t left with any option but to shoot him. He won’t answer their questions and he won’t stop, he’s a threat. This interaction alone shows us the difference in these soldiers; Dix won’t take the kill shot but Reddick will. The friction between the two bristles like whiskers on a cat stuck in a pipe. There’s the law of procedure and then there’s your gut. Reddick takes the shot and while it looks like he killed an unarmed man a closer inspection finds a stomach bulge that certainly isn’t normal. The man’s packing an artificial plastic explosive implant.
There’s a brilliant double plash of tiny three-panel stories that explore how men cope with war (and don’t be fooled by the zombie tag this book will gain, this is an exploration of the masculine response to aggressive action). Some turn to meticulous inspection of the tools of the trade while others meticulously work to improve their bodies, even though whatever you put in comes out be it muscle building or mind expanding. Tattoos are stripes you can earn but so are scars. Sable and Azaceta pack so much detail into this double page study and it’s an intriguing prospect to wonder if anything will change when the enemy does. Men have beat their chests and yawped to the skies during every war so will they continue such behaviour into the zombie apocalypse?
A quick firefight with the enemy shows the basic reason many of these men volunteer for combat; it makes them hard. That might be taking things to extreme but no longer do our soldiers get conscripted, they elect to walk onto the battlefield and risk their lives. They live off the danger and thrive on the hunt of the kill. Again, will this continue when the enemy changes?
Politics play a large role in this book and not well dressed men in high places but more the daily politics of man. These soldiers must work together, must follow command, but it’s fascinating to watch what the men truly honour. Do you protect the man who has earned the stripes or the man who will save your live? These are the truths we live by and those on the battlefield die by. Sable presents these situations with extreme tension and you’ll be gripping the pages until the crinkle.
The end of the book winds towards the inevitable conclusion you knew was coming but actually forgot about amidst the true grit of this book. You aren’t waiting for the zombies, you are immersed in the drama of the men. I hope that continues but only with new drama for new enemies. Being bunkered down against a human enemy and an inhuman enemy isn’t very different. How much will change?
The inhuman dead walk from their graves and when that happens you would feel pretty good being in a fortified base with plenty of food and arms by your side. The situation isn’t that different but it will play on the minds of these men. They were under pressure before but it was a pressure they understood, now the whole scenario boggles the mind. Men under pressure confronted with the unexplainable are liable to crack and that’s exactly what we want to see. This feels closest to George A Romero’s Day of the Dead with their survivor rednecks and alpha males.
Azaceta’s art is simple and expressive. He crafts his panels and the character acting with skill and doesn’t let the story lag at all, even in the slow and quiet moments. The colours are subdued and everyone looks tired. It’s a gorgeous looking book and just about what you expect from Image these days.
Verdict – Must Read. This is a strong debut issue but it’s opening up one of my favourite new books of this year. I am a fan of the zombie genre, I won’t lie, but this book could have done without them and still been magnificent as a story. However, by adding in the zombies we’re actually going to get a better study of masculinity and aggression and the book is smarter for their insertion. How many books can tout that? Pick up this book if you want something smart and expertly made. It’s 32 full pages of story and you get more than your money worth.