Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Canadian Zombies are no Match for the Power of Love

When the zombie apocalypse hits, there will be more movies, books, and comics about the walking undead than there will be survivors. Despite claims of zombie fatigue from the media-consuming masses, everyone is looking for the next big thing in Z-entertainment -- zombies as feminist critique, zombie interventions, zombies who mix martinis and sweep the stairs, and brain-chomping adaptations of Jane Austen and William Shakespeare.

So what makes Raising Hell, Andy Belanger's webcomic set at the start of the zombie apocalypse, so special? As much fun as it is to see zombie shoved into new and unusual settings, Raising Hell instead finds an apt home for their decaying forms: a classic pulp horror story.

It's Halloween and Kitty and Aries are throwing a fun-filled, booze-fueled bash for all of their friends. But, after dating for six years, all is not right between the couple. Some unnamed tragedy befell Kitty earlier in the year, and her life has started to unravel just as Aries' is coming together. Now they hardly have sex, constantly bicker, and rarely an hour passes when Kitty doesn't smack Aries across the face. But when the dead rise from the grave, it may be just the thing to save their relationship.

Raising Hell pays homage to pulp comics without bashing us over the head with how pulpy his world is. Rather than doing backflips to assure us that Raising Hell shares a spiritual kinship with books like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror, Belanger lets the comic's style speak for itself and instead adds subtle touches to reinforce its retro feel. The zombie apocalypse may happen on Halloween, but there are no Joker nurses or Browncoats at Kitty and Aries' party. Instead, we get invisible men, barbarian warriors, sexy cops, and Kitty outfitted as a gunfighter in a polka dot bra. Although Aries' narration has a melodramatic edge to it, Belanger is actually fairly conservative in the level of pulp in his dialogue so that when he punches it up in heated moments (such as when one partygoer suddenly screams, "I don't want to die a virgin!") it's funny rather than wearisome.

Belanger also injects his own unique visual ideas into this traditional style, often adding a wonderfully gruesome humor. Sure to be one of the most memorable images from the comic is the fate of one of its first victims, a boy in a Robin costume whose spine is ripped from his body, transforming him from an eager trick-or-treater into a manic, snake-like creature who coils and pounces on his unsuspecting prey -- when he isn't spouting creepy speeches. And the inspired decision to zombify a French-speaking bartender dressed as Sweetums from the Muppets results in an action sequence that is all the more horrifying for being so visually absurd. And one of Belanger's choices has created a bit of mystery for those of us who like to tear apart literary symbolism. He always renders Kitty in a warm red hue, but Aries is always cold and blue, just like the zombies he battles. It's too early to tell what this means to larger story, but it's clear that Belanger has something very specific in mind for our heroes.

But the most important thing about Raising Hell is that it is exactly as advertised: a fun, slightly askew romp through undead armageddon that takes itself just seriously enough. Act I has closed and Act II updates Fridays.

[Raising Hell]


AndyB said...

Wow! I just had this forwarded to me
and I'm speechless. This is totally great. I'm not sure what else to say I think I'm blushing. Thank you very much! next time you see me I got the first round!

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