The latest “’68” storyline kicks off with a macabre twist in “’68: Rule of War” #1 by Mark Kidwell and Jeff Zornow, which is pretty grotesque indeed for this already typically grisly zombie comic. Kidwell continues the ongoing plot threads from the previous series, one involving U.S. troops trying to escape the overrun city of Saigon, and another featuring how Americans stateside are coping with the 1968 zombie apocalypse. The new story features the twisted machinations of a modern-day Dr. Frankenstein whose monstrous experimentations on both the undead and living yield some pretty bizarre results.
One of these bizarre creations makes for an excellent and attention-grabbing cover by Nat Jones. This new development is what kicks off the issue, and a brief two-page introductory sequence gives readers an indication of what they’re in for, but then Kidwell pulls back and focuses on the backstory, in the form of a narrative flashback that eventually makes sense of everything seen in the comic’s opening. It works, but doesn’t have much kick after that initial scene; showing in lieu of telling would have been welcomed, with an actual flashback to these events rather than a summation.
There are plenty of intriguing elements, though, among them the mention of this mad scientist’s name, Than Morneau, which is evocative of 19th century author H.G. Wells’ own classic literary character Dr. Moreau, another twisted scientist with a penchant for some pretty radical human experimentation. And without any real appearances from any of Morneau’s creations save for a couple of shock-inducing splash pages, Kidwell builds up some anticipation for some eventual full appearances, despite the lower-key approach he takes with this story thread.
The Saigon sequence typifies what “’68” has historically and entertainingly given its readers: plenty of blood, guts and gunfire, all part of the ongoing, three-way chaos between the U.S. Army, Viet Cong guerillas and the undead. Zornow knows how to deliver it, too; he doesn’t go for any kind of complexity in his layouts, and his facial likenesses are a little weak in spots, but he renders flying eyeballs, heads chopped in half, and dangling spinal cords like no other artist. In a modern-day pop culture world where exploding zombie skulls are seen just about everywhere, Zornow knows he has to step it up, and does. Sure, it’s over the top and sensationalist, but it gives readers the guilty pleasure they all crave from this series.
The brief sequence taking place on the Hudson River gives Zornow a chance to show off his talents in a less sensational but no less shocking manner, in the form of a haunting shot of civil workers piling up the bodies of hundreds of zombies on a giant floating barge. Colorist Jay Fotos successfully implements a tried but true trick: consistently subdued tones that make the frequent splashes of red everywhere look all the more vivid. The final page is an impressively pulpy piece of another of Morneau’s creatures, and is a great collaborative piece by Zornow and Fotos that’s enough to make any readers undecided about this series to give the next issue a look.
When “’68” first began eight years ago, it was among the first comics of the zombie genre to cross-pollenate with other genres come up with something at least a little different. With “’68: Rule of War” #1, the touch of science fiction continues to freshen the series, and it’s off to an appropriately and pleasingly grotesque start.