*Review written by contributor Lido Giovacchini
No matter what you think of The Walking Dead there’s no denying it’s had a profound influence on comics and the geek fiction medium in general. The show is a major success, and one of the only occasions where TV/Movie success has translated into a major sales boost for the now mega-popular comic, both of which have gone a long way to preserve zombie popularity for god only knows how long. Personally I haven’t liked or been reading The Walking Dead for awhile, maybe I’ll review it in future to give my full thoughts on the series but not today, today I’m talking about Dynamite comic’s The Mocking Dead, a parody of it…kind of, if you squint.
The basic premise of The Mocking Dead is what if a zombie plague was crossed with Joker gas and fought by nerds. That’s where the whole “parody” element comes in, that in this becoming a zombie isn’t just shambling and flesh eating but also causes rectus smiles and uncontrollable laughter, oh and it’s drawn in a black and white style similar to Walking Dead. Despite the name The Mocking Dead really doesn’t have much to do with Walking Dead, the main focus of the book is on a consultant for the military who looks like Comic Book guy from The Simpsons and his obsession with an old movie called The Mocking Dead(which doesn’t exist) wherein a similar plague of laughing zombies occurred.
There’s a lot more to it then I’m making out here mainly having to do with really weird high concept espionage parody more then anything else. See the central conceit of The Mocking Dead is that before the zombie laugh attack the military maintained a special unit of geeks and nerds to run various simulations and war games for insane scenarios from fiction (there’s even a line about how all these different zombie movies were actually just made from possibility scenarios said unit ran.) It does strike me this nerd unit (codenamed Tinseltown because of reasons) would make far more interesting reading then the very stock feeling zombie apocalypse we’re seeing in the pages of The Mocking Dead.
That’s the problem with this kind of strait attempt at zombie parody, the idea is to take a ludicrous concept and play it absolutely strait but unless you smother the entire story in the idea you end up as just the thing you’re trying to parody but with some occasional sillier parts. Like if The Mocking Dead’s story really was just going to zero in on a secret government think tank of hardcore nerds coming up with and implementing the ultimate zombie fighting scenario that might’ve been an interesting idea but that’s dropped relatively quickly in exchange for old hand zombie clichés: bungled military assaults on the zombies, fire bombing cities and civilians, hidden bites leading to untimely zombification, quests through zombie wasteland with the only “twist” being that the zombies are grinning and that’s not really much of a differentiator.
That’s one of the other big risks you take when you decide to make a zombie story is that so much of the zombie genre has already been explored, it’s easily the most overexposed subgenre in all of geek fiction so you need a really good really innovative idea to help your book stand out and the pitch here of “zombies with smiles” just doesn’t hold the book together. I give The Mocking Dead credit for trying to do something new with the nerd plans and the lead character Bunch’s obsession with this forgotten film but it’s not present enough to the plot and feels more like background noise to a very bland zombie fiction, what few jokes there are far too few to make the proceedings a comedy so they come off a little out of place in the whole book. The artwork isn’t helping much either, Max Dunbar does a decent job copying the style of The Walking Dead but not the quality, a lot of times character faces will end up malformed and out of whack and he can’t quite draw scenes of destruction well with a lot of the smoke and rubble blending together to look more like wet cardboard then a ruined city.
As I said at the start The Walking Dead is easily one of the biggest and most popular names in comics right now so creating a whole comic based around spoofing it (along with the massively overdone zombie genre as a whole) was an ambitious move on Dynamite’s part but ambition can’t makeup for lack of quality and sadly The Mocking Dead seriously lacks that. It’s too noncommittal to be a parody, too unoriginal to really break the genre’s mold, and what few interesting ideas it has end up relegated to the background all of which is exacerbated by poor artwork and a general lack of flow and focus and of course there are no recap boxes for new readers. Give this one a miss, readers.