The Key of Z opens with yet another zombie apocalypse. Seems like we have one of these every week these days. When the Center for Disease Control responds to the popularity of the zombie trend by launching its own blog on zombie preparedness, not to mention a new comic of its own (the Atlanta office even saw fit to release a statement correcting The Walking Dead for featuring the CDC auto-destructing in amidst an epidemic) it is clear that this little trend may have gone too far.
Given the glut of zombie stories out there, it takes something special to rise above the horde. Needless to say I was concerned before I started reading Claudio Sanchez, of Coheed and Cambria fame, and ChondraEchert’s (Kill Audio) own contribution to the undead canon. Had they managed to deliver?
My colleague Michael Wirth has already introduced Comic Booked readers to the premise of The Key of Z, but to reiterate – it is Christmas Eve 2011 and family man Nick Ewing is unwittingly spending one last holiday season with his loving family. Right outside his window zombies are walking the streets and within a year all of New York is overwhelmed.
If God has a hit list, New York was at the top in bold letters —
highlighted in fluorescent yellow just so he didn’t forget
to completely dismantle our city.
Adapting to survive, the living congregate in fortified sports stadiums, with territories across the city emerging between opposing sides. Our narrator Nick is shown to be working to defend one of these fortresses in the spring of 2012, helping rescue potential victims from zombie attack. However, groups in Queens and the Bronx have ambitions beyond holing up beyond the reach of the monsters on the street. They’re looking to take back the city for themselves and anyone who stands in their way is just collateral damage.
When the action skips ahead to 2016, Nick Ewing is now broken and adrift in New York. What happened in the intervening years informs the central conflict of the book and the enigmatic final panel explains the significance of the book’s title.
On first glance The Key of Z with its skips backward and forward in time and wide assortment of characters adds up to a confusing piece. In a classic piece of George Romero inversion, the real danger facing the protagonists is not the zombies, but the greed of other humans. Matt Gagnon’s afterword in the book describes the book as “The Warriors, DMZ and The Walking Dead blended together into unabashed comics goodness.” That’s a very diverse selection of influences and initially I was bothered by the competing elements of the book. I enjoyed the art by Aaron Kuder and the sinister vibe of the sports stadiums surrounding by the hordes of rotting revenants reminded me of Joe Lansdale’s disturbing fable The Drive In. Still something was missing.
Then that final panel of Ewing raising the harmonica to his mouth brought to mind an iconic sequence from one of my favorite movies Once Upon A Time In The West. Everything slotted into place. Sanchez and Echert have produced a zombie western transplanted to an urban setting! Suddenly my interpretation of the book was completely altered and now I am very intrigued to see what the boys have in store for Ewing and this besieged New York. Sergio Leone’s classic Western also had a collapsing timeline that forces the viewer to take the time to think through what is being shown and The Key of Z demands just as much from the reader, promising a fitting reward in return.
Could this be my hoped for ‘something special’? Yes I really think so. Catch the next zombie epic from Boom! Studios.