Sunday, October 29, 2006

Toe Tags featuring George A. Romero #3

Toe Tags featuring George A. Romero #3, February 2005, DC Comics
writer: George Romero
penciller: Tommy Castillo
inker: Rodney Ramos
letterer: Pat Brosseau
colorist: Lee Loughridge
associate editor: Michael Wright
editor: Bob Schreck

When a writer’s name is almost as large as the title on the cover of a comic book, as is the case in Toe Tags featuring George A. Romero, you can safely assume that the author’s reputation precedes him. Whereas others undoubtedly sought this series with the completist fervor that convicts niche collectors like horror fans, I did a quick Google search to remind myself of Romero’s rich cinematic reputation. His IMDb entry extensively lists Romero’s film credits as a director, screenplay writer, and an editor, but despite all of his recent achievements, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead is by far his most celebrated. (Although I would be interested in the 1974 O.J. Simpson: Juice on the Loose television movie he directed, as well.) Ironically, a few nights ago, I tuned in to an AMC late night showing of Night of the Living Dead, only to fall asleep before I could develop a real appreciation for Romero’s work. I hoped that Toe Tags would make up for the difference.

I didn’t. The first act of this book features a gory “the living versus the dead” sequence, during which a horde of zombies flood a town in search of, as they excitedly exclaim, “Food! Food!” Remember, zombies eat living flesh, so they certainly aren’t storming the local Burger King. If zombies have a mentality, one of the undead mutter their mission statement perfectly, “How can anyone stop us when we are already dead?” Therein lies the challenge, eh? The second act elaborates on this theme, by revisiting a dying Professor that has developed a serum to help mend a zombies’ intelligence. The Professor endears the serum to an undead confidant and kills himself, then soon after we’re introduced to the other parties in search of this zombie cure – the government, I assume, or some shadow agency that would really benefit from folks impervious to death. This issue is a good example of how dropping into the middle of a story isn’t always the best way to acquaint oneself with an author’s work.

To their credit, Castillo and Ramos balance their depictions of the living and the dead well, blanketing the whole world of Toe Tags with a shadow of desperation. In the zombies’ case, they want human flesh. In the livings’ case, they want freedom from this terror, either by killing the zombies completely (my natural reaction, I tell you what), or by smartening them up with that serum, which is an interesting premise that undoubtedly has mixed results. I think my problem with this book is the assumption that Romero wrote it with the nature of a screenplay in mind; the sheer propulsion of this issue, sans the usual backstory synopsis, left me at a loss. I remember having a similar bias with Bruce Campbell’s Man With the Screaming Brain, which was billed as a discarded screenplay, but Dark Horse retained the identity of a comic with that series enough to make me feel comfortable. Perhaps DC was so excited to score Romero, they forgot to maintain the essence of the publication on their end. Maybe, like the zombies with their penchant for brains, I’m just a needy reader.

Toe Tags was a definitely a lesson in pop culture that was long overdue for a narrow-minded geek like me. I like what I like, and that’s it, but exercises like A Comic A Day are intended to broaden my horizons as a comic book fanboy. This is my zombie serum, my attempt to enhance my intelligence a bit. With Halloween right around the corner, I feel like I’m getting closer to what this scary celebration is all about. Romero is a modern architect of Halloween’s renewed significance to pop culture, and he’s a decent teacher, too. I just need to do a little more homework.

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