October 26, 2011

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10 Days of Halloween Horror Day 5: FUBAR 2 Empire of the Rising Dead

 Welcome to day five of the 10 Days of Halloween Horror 2011!  We'll be featuring horror-related reviews right up until the big day!  You can find the Halloween Horror posts for Panel Patter here, and don't forget to check out the Book Stew for book-book horror, too!

Written by Various Authors including Rafer Roberts
Illustrated by Various Artists including Rafer Roberts
Self-Published

The walking dead invade the Pacific Theatre of World War II in this anthology that is primarily the brainchild of Jeff McComsey.  Watch as the zombies attack both the Allies and the Axis, depending on the tale.  There's stories of heroism mixed with tales of cowardice.  Some zombies are just there, while others are created as a weapon of war.  War itself is hell, but when zombies are added, it's a whole new level of desperation.  Can either side win when time and numbers are on the side of the undead?  It's very much an open-ended question that might leave you with a slack jaw.

I'll be honest--if this collection didn't have my friend Rafer in it, I might have ignored it entirely.  I'm pretty much zombied out at this point, having not even returned to Walking Dead, a series I enjoy quite a bit, since I read up to the most recent trade back in 2009.  There's just so many zombie stories out there that it's hard to find quality stories among the crap, and I don't have a lot of inclination to try.

Had I missed out on FUBAR 2, however, I'd have been poorer for my loss.  This is a quality anthology, with most of the stories being at least enjoyable and several of them being quite good.  One thing that I think helps is that there is a solid theme involved.  All of the stories involve a war setting, which is a very different spin on the zombie story.  We're used to seeing it at a house or a neighborhood or something, not on a field of battle.  I love the way that the writers opted to use this idea and run with it.  Two turn the atomic bomb into a zombie bomb, which was absolutely brilliant.  Another writer posits the idea that the Japanese, who used real American soliders as experimental dummies, might have created zombies in one of their unholy laboratories.

It's the clever touches that put this anthology above other zombie books.  These writers know their World War Two history, and use it to give their stories a historical backing that really drew me into the narrative.  I easily fell into the trenches or foxhole or ships and planes of these poor men who not only faced death from a military bent on domination but also from an ungodly plague.

I think my favorite from the collection was a set of fighter pilots who have no way to refuel because their aircraft carrier is infested with zombies.  They make a decision to die for their country, unknown, and unheralded.  Dominic Vivonia's story is less about horror than heroism, and it actually really got to me in a way that a comic rarely does.  Simply brilliant.

The key to this anthology's quality, though, is the variety.  While I loved the stories involving larger armies and fighting forces, there's also the twist on the "trapped in the house with a zombie" trope, using a submarine as the venue.  Another tale is about a man who fights hard to preserve...life?  In still another, a GI goes to save the woman he loves, for one last dance.  There are tales of the individual mixed with those of the group.

I only have two small issues with this collection, both minor.  One is that I think the stories could have been longer in a few cases.  I appreciate their desire to cram as many stories as possible into the book, but I think a little more length might have helped a few of the weaker stories breathe more easily, and solidify the best works.  My other issue is that the art has a very similar feel from piece to piece.  It gives a consistency of style, but I'm not looking for that in an anthology.  I like seeing variety.

Neither of those issues are deal-breakers, however.  I really enjoyed FUBAR 2 and I'm definitely going to look for the first collection at a future show.  I'm not sure where you can get this commercially, but if you are at all interested in zombies or military stories, find this one as soon as you can.  That's an order, solider!