Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Crawlspace #1: XXXombies

"Our first arc, the four-issue, XXXombies, is a concept cooked up with special guest collaborator, Tony Moore, the original artist of The Walking Dead. It was actually born during a late night phone chat as Tony and I were discussing the state of the comics industry. I'm sure you won't be too surprised to learn the idea of zombies and porn starts started off as a joke. Then we started rolling around some ideas about how to make something like that work and within ten minutes we'd fallen in love with it." - Rick Remender, "The Crawl Space," Crawl Space #1, (Image Comics, Issue Date: October 2007).

That's right, it's come to this: zombies versus porn stars. Written by Rick Remender, with art by Kieron Dwyer, story by Remender, Tony Moore, and Dwyer, colors by Lee Loughridge, lettering by Rus Wooton and with a cover by Dwyer and Moore, Crawlspace #1 begs the question: is it possible for something of the exploitation genre simply to go too far in its efforts?

As this is but the first issue of a four part series, readers see only the initial outbreak of the zombification of California and the first reaction of the pornographer protagonists (who, having locked themselves in a large home for several days to shoot a number of films, are quite unaware of the apocalypse which has befallen their fair city/state/nation.). The central characters include: a sleazy/crazy porn director desperate to complete a number of films in order to meet the demands of some type of sinister criminal overlord, a young actor and actress (both of whom are new to the business and naive and not unlike a more sordid version of Martin Freeman and Joanna Page's characters in Love Actually), the father of said actress desperate to liberate her from the perils of pornography, an arrogant and obnoxious porn veteran who believes himself to be God's gift to everything, and a henchman of the aforementioned overlord dispatched to ensure that his employer's investment is protected and well served. With this lot, it is not difficult to predict which of these characters will be ultimately devoured by the advancing horde of walking corpses. Whatever narrative you have concocted in your head based upon these character descriptions is, alas, probably accurate.

Zombie comics (a form of deathsploitation, perhaps) have flooded the market in recent years, and each creative teams attempts to put its own spin on the premise. Unfortunately, in the wake of the genre's popularity, the creative spin has become a mere gimmick, giving rise to slight variations on a theme that should have been left unvaried. (In the 1990s, at the multiplexes, cinemagoers suffered through movie that began as pitches like "Die Hard on a Plane," "Die Hard on a Boat," and "Die Hard on a Bus," and now, comic readers confront "Zombies Doing This," "Zombies Doing That," and of course, "Zombies Doing The Other.").

The consequence is that zombie genre has devolved into a lengthy game of schlocky one-upsmanship. Creator A attempts to shock and awe with his zany idea, sending Creator B on a quest to find something more shocking and awing, and so on, ad infinitum, ad naseum. This leads to such things as Zombie King #0, in which a zombie copulates with a cow, and now Crawlspace #1, in which a porn star films a scene with a zombie who she mistakes for a colleague merely strung out on drugs. That's entertainment?

Shocking is not necessarily a synonym for bold. As a series, The Walking Dead is compelling because it explores not just the ravages of the zombie apocalypse but also the emotional toll on the men, women, and children who were (un)fortunate enough to survive its arrival. That series' protagonists are not stock characters or props waiting to be slain. They fear their new world, they long for the past, they fight, they flee, they suffer. Unfortunately, this existential human element is lacking from most of today's zombie comics, which typically eschew character development to show girls in tight t-shirts and jeans running from the dead and the violence and death that will ultimately ensue from such a chase.

This is not to say that zombie comics can't be fun and silly. But can there be no meaning in the exploitation genre? Is all gimmick and premise with no additional substance? If not, then the genre was already pornography, even without the presence of pornographers. Sigh.

Happy Halloween.

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