C2E2: Romero Directs "Empire of the Dead" into "Act Two"

The father of the zombie, George A. Romero, crossed over into comics earlier this year year in a big way with the release of Marvel's "Empire of the Dead: Act One." The five-issue miniseries served as an opening salvo to the world of New York after the zombie apocalypse, introducing the concept of vampires -- part of the ruling class in this brave new world -- to his traditional zombie mythology, exploring how the survivors cope with the ubiquitous undead, and the research of Dr. Penny Jones, who hopes to better understand the motivations behind the zombies. Plus, there's the question of Xavier, a zombie who seems to be learning and exhibiting qualities that are decidedly more human than she appears.

However, as the title of the first miniseries indicates, Romero isn't done with this world yet, as "Act Two" of "Empire of the Dead" is set to begin in September with Dalibor Talajic joining the series as artist. Announced Saturday at C2E2 2014 in Chicago, the series is set to continue the story inside New York City -- but with the outside force of a Southern Militia getting ready to knock down their doors.

To get a better idea of what's in store for "George A. Romero's Empire of the Dead: Act Two," CBR News spoke with Romero about the next chapter in the saga, how the status quo of both the living and the undead get shaken up, the interruption of the Southern Militia and the importance of both Penny Jones and Xavier, as "Empire of the Dead" approaches its sophomore miniseries.

CBR News: George, how does "Empire of the Dead: Act Two" further the story you've laid out in Act One?

George Romero: Well, hmm. How do I answer that without giving it all away? How about this. Everything you've read so far starts to shift, to escalate, in the next chapter. New York becomes a much more treacherous place to live. You're going to see some murder and mayhem, some twists you might not have expected, and the lives of some of our main characters turning in a darker direction.

Part of the big universe-building aspect of "Empire of the Dead: Act One" was establishing the hierarchy between vampires, humans, and zombies. How does this status quo get shaken up as readers head into Act Two?

Think of the heroes, the villains, the zombies, and the vampires in the story as each being part of different groups. Like families. They've lived in an uneasy balance with one another for a long time. But now the status quo is falling apart. The families are starting to have trouble getting along. That's pretty dangerous in a world inhabited by two different kinds of living dead. If the city splinters into chaos, everyone could end up dead. Really dead.

A huge new element for the book is the southern army coming in to the city. What will a new influx of humans mean for the vampires as well as the zombies?

The Southern Militia, like all the other humans in Empire, have their own ambitions. They're not interested in fitting in, or getting along, or trying to make the world a better place. They're what an old friend of mine used to call a "flaw in the ointment." None of them gives a damn about the status quo. They're experienced soldiers, they have their own tanks and artillery, and they're trained to use them to cause the most destruction possible.

The mindless zombies have been revealed to not be so mindless -- in fact, many of them are learning and becoming smarter. How big a role will Xavier play in the second act, considering her central role as one of the zombies that learn? What about Penny Jones? How integral is her research to "Act Two"?

Penny, and her research, are at the center of the story. What she learns shakes the assumptions that everyone in the city has been buying into for years. At the same time, her relationships with the men in her life, Barnum and Mayor Chandrake, start to move in and -- how should I put this? -- move in a new direction. Which isn't necessarily a safe thing for Dr. Penny Jones.

Xavier is just as important. It's not so much that she's getting smarter; more like her memories of who she was when she was alive are coming back to her. She's starting to be able to reason, to form relationships with the living, to tell right from wrong. And she's not the only zombie who's changing. So here's the question. If the living dead are becoming more evolved, is that a good or a bad thing for the rest of us humans? Are they going to be easier to get along with, or more violent and destructive than they've ever been?

"George A. Romero's Empire of the Dead: Act Two" is scheduled to start in September.

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