Xombie: Dead on Arrival (Mania.com)
Review Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2007
From its mystical origins in voodoo folklore to its staple rebirth as a subgenre of all modern horror-related media, the zombie has been a powerful and well-explored model of human otherness. The flesh-eating monsters conjure up such themes as the importance of the soul, the hellishness of dystopian societies, and the enigmatic nature of identity while usually being tied to an apocalyptic future and the breakdown of social order.
Having devoured the concepts laid down by George A. Romero, Danny Boyle, and countless others who have pioneered the subgenre, I was a little skeptical that anything truly new could be done with the zombie when a copy of James Farr’s heavily illustrated novel, Xombie: Dead on Arrival, graced my desk.
Based on an ongoing flash animation series at xombified.com, Farr’s zombie tale isn’t just differentiated by the word’s spelling. The story follows a young girl named Zoe who wakes up alone and afraid on a moonlit beach. A bout of amnesia has left the 6-year-old with no memory of how she got there, yet she hasn’t forgotten how dangerous it is to be outside. Without the protection of safe city walls, Zoe faces the mindless forces of the undead that have turned the world into a barren wasteland.
Heading inwards toward solid ground, the hapless Zoe gets her first bit of good luck. Inside a graveyard teaming with ghouls she meets the most unexpected of help: a sentient zombie. Dirge, a hulking mass of undead, cynicism-spewing flesh, smashes to the rescue with a very sinister (and quite appropriate) broad head shovel. Dirge has been a zombie as long as he can remember, and like his slowly decaying body the memories of his past life have all but sloughed off. What remains though is a reanimated man, albeit a bitter and tortured reanimated man, trying to unravel the mystery behind the zombie presence on Earth.
The young Zoe strikes a discordant note in Dirge’s disintegrating heart and reminds him that he’s a lot more human than he thinks. Taking pity on the girl he decides to risk his life (err, unlife?) by escorting her 60 miles to the nearest safe city, not an easy thing to do when the undead inhabitants can sense living flesh from hundreds of feet away. Together with the girl and Dirge’s stitched and formaldehyde-filled undead police dog, the trio make their way through fallen cities, an unnaturally frightening natural history museum, and even a clown-infested carnival park to get Zoe back to living kind.
After the first few pages I knew my initial skepticism was completely unfounded. James Farr can write as well as he can illustrate, imbuing his narrative with grotesque horror, action-packed spectacle, and genre humor all in equal measure. Dirge himself is a fully fleshed (pardon the pun) antihero with loads of personality and ass-kicking bravado to spare. When combined with Zoe the two make an unsuspecting, yet dynamic duo. What Farr does best though is construct a story with real legs. Xombie: Dead on Arrival sets the framework for an expansive story that has truly cut out its own niche in the zombie subgenre.
To find out more about the novel or to view some of the flash animated series visit www.xombified.com.
Mania Grade: A-
Author: James Farr
Illustrator: James Farr
Editor: Cindi Rice
Publisher: Xombie, Inc.