One of the most overdone elements of contemporary popular culture, being used almost to the level of cake jokes in the wake of Portal‘s unexpected popularity boom, and yet people are still bending over backwards to find ways of making zombie apocalypses current, fresh and innovative. While some fail in the effort more than others, we do occasionally get something that breaks the mould just a little. Sometimes we get a narrative that manages to eschew the bonds of conventional zombie storytelling and give us something profound, completely new and original in its narrative identity.
Revival is not that story.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a damn sight better than most other things you could read right now, and was a highlight of my indie summer circuit last year. You owe it to yourself now as you did then to check out Revival, as it’s one of the most thought-provoking and stimulating graphic stories out there at the moment. It stands proud as a solid Image series, and beside the OK of Marvel and the Crap of DC right now it’s practically the Ark of the Covenant.
Actually, come to think of it, it’s definitely the Ark of the Covenant; appears as one thing, and the face-melty death experience it provides is just something else entirely.
Ok, sorry, let me cut through it. Live Like You Mean It is good. Revival itself is good. Its capacity to innovate is…ish.
It’s difficult to provide new plot information without spoiling Volume 1’s twists (some of which are that damn good that you owe it to yourself to experience them without having a 23-year-old Australian ruin them), but suffice it to say that all the people forming the titular revival are still very much around, and some are beginning to show signs of psychological damage from the shock of being dead, then not, then being treated by the others in town as if they might as well be. Our massive cast of supporting characters (for there really aren’t any you could label as the “definitive” protagonist) are trying to get to the bottom of the mystery surrounding several dozen corpses rising and speaking perfect English once again, all the while dealing with their own interpersonal problems and foibles. Since Revival is heavily serialised, it’s mostly just a continuation of the tone set in Volume 1.
What concerns me is that Revival is being touted as a zombie story, and marketed towards those who are keen on The Walking Dead. Let me make something abundantly clear right now – Revival IS NOT a zombie story. There are undead characters, and that’s about it. There’s no apocalypse, no holing up in a supermarket or hardware store with appliances for weapons, no turning to the other side when bitten. The only other thing it has in common with the zombie genre is the psychological thread woven through the story beats, favouring a little character development, but apart from that it’s nothing at all like The Walking Dead. I guess you could also imagine the characters speaking in bad Wisconsin accents the same way the actors on Walking Dead‘s tv show attempt to sound Southern, but that’d be where the line is drawn.
The best description for Revival is found on the cover, offering it as a “Rural Noir Mystery”. Why can’t interviews and marketing material just say that instead? That’s a much better description. It’s actually got more in common with a paranormal cop show than a zombie narrative, like some weird mash-up of CSI and Supernatural. But I guess most mainstream readers find more appeal in what’s familiar and popular right now, and if someone touts a narrative as a zombie story then I guess it’ll raise the readership, if only for a little while.
Sorry, that got a little tangential. Once you get over the not-zombie aspect, Live Like You Mean It is decent. Characters are proceeding in much the same direction, plot and motivation-wise, as they were in Volume 1, we’re given a few answers to questions posed before whilst new ones bloom in the aftermath like mysterious and elusive flowers, and the ending is good enough to warrant adding Volume 3 to my Goodreads list. Solid stuff.
Where it falls down a little is in the characters – for the most part, they’re exceedingly one-note and quite stock. There’s the tough-as-nails yet soft and emotional when necessary lead cop Dana, geeky scientist with athlete’s body Ibrahaim, slightly crazy sister with a dark secret Martha, the gruff and seemingly-uncaring father Sheriff Cypress… They’re not bad to read about, but none of them are really standout. Very few of them even had memorable names; anyone who isn’t the two Cypress sisters kinda loses their name in my memory, which shows you just how breakout they aren’t. You’d get a similar experience reading their individual character motivations on TvTropes.
Connected to protagonists who are interesting but not entirely engaging is a plot that can’t decide if it wants to speed up and get everything out quickly, or is content for the slow-burn spooling of information that takes longer but overall builds a grander picture. Volume 1 suffered from this as well, but Live Like You Mean It can’t work out a consistent pace. Some mysteries are given additional information while others – most egregiously the long-running thing involving that big white creature who looks kinda like Slender Man’s bastard child – are given only scant mention despite their implied importance to the plot. Having a gradual story is all well and good, and going at a breakneck pace as the audience’s jaws become permanently lowered from rapid plot twist after rapid plot twist is all well and good, but you can’t really have it both ways. Well, I mean, you can, but it’d be pretty disjointed and throw your reader out of the experience.
Despite those gripes, it’s still a good story. I’m interested enough to see it through further – not necessarily to the end, but we’ll see how we go – and having an undead story that doesn’t rely on zombies is something a little refreshingly different. Satisfaction is felt when villains are beaten, the end provides plenty of questions while answering a few previous ones, and despite its slightly by-the-numbers feel in places there’s enough interest sparked to ensure my continued readership.
This latter point is aided by art that’s progressively getting better. Illustrator Mike Norton seems like he’s hit his stride, with faces and expressions looking better and more emotive, colours popping a lot more when needed, and horror elements beautifully distinct from the rest of the story. The gore’s needfully off-putting and the darker, tense environments – especially those going on at night – give this wonderful sense of slasher-movie-meets-claustrophobic-horror when poop prepares to hit the fan. I feel it’s following a similar pattern to books like Lazarus, where visuals and scripting are fashioned out of a we-might-make-a-movie-out-of-this-one-day methodology. I can almost hear the soundtrack from Psycho playing during some scenes, and it’s to Norton’s credit that he’s able to visually weave the tone around Tim Seeley’s scriptwork.
And connected to the characters, the scripting is fairly standard. There’s wit taken straight from the Joss Whedon playbook, police jargon and mysterious dialogue derived somewhat from CSI and LOST respectively, and there are quite a few moments that make me laugh out loud for the better – as has been stated in other reviews, laughing at a comic is an instant gold star. Like the characters, the writing is far from bad, but is also fairly standard. Few envelopes are pushed and no boundaries crossed, but it’s still a comfortable, enjoyable familiarity that makes the experience pleasant if not indulgent.
I sound like I’m griping a bunch, and I don’t mean it, but Revival is a good series. Live Like You Mean It is a great chapter in its ongoing mythos, and while it’s not going to go straight to the top of my reading list for the next instalment it’s good enough for me to be invested further. At its barest bones, the story’s fresh enough to stand apart from other undead luminaries like Walking Dead, and if you can’t see the appeal in a woman slicing baddies in a hoodie while wielding a scythe probably stolen from Death’s unholy arsenal, you might need to reconsider your standards.
PUBLISHER: IMAGE COMICS
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