Dead Winter contains violence and occasional nudity. Reader discretion is advised.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a tremendous fan of the horror genre. Outside of the psychological horror often found in Lovecraftian literature, most horror leaves me disinterested. A good part of this lies with the fact that most victims in horror stories are either idiots who could have avoided their grisly fate if they’d had half a head, or victims of senseless violence that strikes them down without mercy. Needless to say, with 95% of the victims of the horror genre on my “do-not-call” list, they rarely attract any sympathy out of me, and even less reason to read of their fates.
So I was rather pleasantly surprised when I found myself rooting for the protagonists in the zombie apocalypse comic Dead Winter, a comic I first learned of through my comrade-in-arms Steve Anderson, and which I later rediscovered through a Project Wonderful link. And while DW has many of the traditional hijinks found in most zombie apocalypses (including the mindless nature of the endemic and the inability of the authorities to deal with the endemic), its handling of the human element quickly won me over.
Three characters in particular have won me over: Liz, a waitress and pacifist, Alice, a nurse, and Black Monday Blues, a contract killer. Liz and Black are actually the two primary protagonists, and of them, I find Liz to be the more interesting. In addition to her wonderful waitressing skills which are so in demand during zombie apocalypses, she’s also a poet and a bit of an optimist (even as the world conspires against her). Despite her lack of useful skills and her genre blindness (she goes through a good portion of the comic not realizing that people have become zombies, and even now just thinks they’re “really sick” and worries she hurt them when defending herself), she’s managed to survive not only the zombies, but a homicidal boss.
What’s more, she has a fantasy world in her mind, where she escapes from the doldrums of reality and writes poetry. But even that has succumbed to the plague around her, and her inner sanctum has been invaded by two aspects of herself: Flight and Fight (with Flight being an eight-year-old version of herself with a lisp, and Fight being a scarred warrior version of herself with a cockney accent and attitude to match). These two help Liz not only finally stand up for herself, but to help the woman who saved her life, the nurse Alice.
Alice is another of those genuinely likeable characters, and it seems inevitable that she’s going to end up infected by the zombies at some point. No doubt she’s going to try to help someone who ends up being infected and will in turn be bitten as well. And that’s a shame, because she not only gave Liz something to fight for (and put aside her pacifism, if for a time) but also seems to genuinely care. When a police officer stayed behind to fight the zombies and allow Liz and Alice to escape, she hesitated. She didn’t want to lose this cop who had saved her own life, and more than once. She did not want to let another person die. Besides, the dynamic between Alice and Liz helps make both characters more interesting, and that loss would damage Liz in turn.
Black Monday is the other primary protagonist of DW, and is a surprisingly likeable character. You don’t want to like him. He’s sardonic, caustic, and has a fairly low opinion of other people. He’s also a vicious psychopath and lives by his own rules. In addition, he’s a loner, and doesn’t like working with others. Yet he also has an inner nobility which led him to save the life of a young girl and return her to her family, and to also help save Liz and Alice from Liz’s homicidal boss. But for all of his badass nature (for when things go south, there’s no one you’d rather have at your back), he’s not perfect and has had his own bacon pulled from the fire a couple of times. This vulnerability in the face of extreme competence helps keep Black from becoming the Wolverine of the strip. It helps that we’ve not seen the female cast panting after him as well.
While Dead Winter is a comic set during a zombie apocalypse, it is not a comic about zombies. Rather, it is a comic about people fighting to survive, and banding together in the face of adversity. We also get to see stupid people get their comeuppance, such as looters stealing such essential things as televisions and electronics being taken down by zombies. But I get the feeling that the zombies aren’t going to be the primary antagonists in the comic; rather, it will be other survivors. Already, Black Monday has faced down two such bands, one who demanded a “toll” to go through their “territory” and the second a band of criminals who wanted to shoot him on sight. I get the feeling that the zombies will become more a force of nature; something that can be avoided with some caution, but which can kill you if you become careless.
That’s not to say Dead Winter is without flaws. Liz’s transformation from pacifist to mop-wielding badass was cool but a bit unrealistic (especially as she’s injured from a car crash). Another issue I have is that we’ve not seen any real justification for Liz’s fiancé Trevor and his buddy Rick to abandon Liz; the little we’ve seen of Trevor and Rick’s journey is driving a car out of the city. Liz obviously would be a threat to their safety in the back seat of their car. And Black himself raises a few flags with some of his psychotic outbreaks which left me wondering if Black was “seeing” what we were seeing, or if it was just an elaborate flashback. Fortunately the comic’s flaws don’t outweigh its pluses, and the comic is definitely worth reading.