Thursday, February 01, 2007

Pieces for Mom: A Tale of the Undead

Pieces for Mom: A Tale of the Undead, January 2007, Image Comics
writer: Steve Niles
artist: Andrew Ritchie
letterer: Jason Hanley

(Blogger's Note: You can also find this review at Geek in the City, complete with images!)

How far would you go for your mother? Would you murder a man to protect her? Would you drag your victim's carcass home to your mother for dinner? This week's Pieces for Mom one-shot from Image tackles this unlikely predicament with a frighteningly macabre yet childishly charming tale of a future rife with flesh-hungry zombies, mob-mentality scavengers, and one boy that just wants to take care of his mom.

And some of us won't even take out the trash . . .

A Comic A Day has beheld the work of Steve Niles before, particularly during October's run of Halloween-oriented issues, and despite his penchant for violence and gore, each of his issues I've read seem infused with a poignancy that refutes any offense one might take with such blatant grotesqueness. Pieces for Mom is the epitome of this dichotomy. In a post-apocalyptic world where zombies and scavengers freely roam the streets to survive, a backdrop we geeks have seen in many different stories in just as many different media, Niles chooses to tell this story from the perspective of a strong-willed child whose father is presumed dead and whose undead mother is tied to a chair in the bedroom, lest her hunger for flesh consume her, and consequently her sons. When mom runs out of fresh flesh, Mike's bean-loving brutish older brother sends him out for a new supply, and without hesitation, Mike, no older than eleven I'd presume, takes to the streets, shotgun in hand. Niles drives the reader to wonder which is worse: the circumstances of this haunted world, or the desensitization of the children that must survive in it.

If you're planning on reading this issue, skip this paragraph, as I'm leaking a few spoilers to offer my opinion of this issue's unexpected conclusion. Actually, the term "spoiler" is a disclaimer, as much of this one-shot is spent merely exploring the innocence of a kid in contrast to this world's horror and brutality. Still, as I asserted, Niles is at his peak here, with much thanks to Andrew Ritchie's grossly detailed depictions of the undead, combining the zombie sub-genre with a charming character study of a child. Niles simply had an idea and he turned it into a comic book. However, in this issue's final pages, his concept shows signs of a plot when (here's the spoiler) the boys' father emerges with another family, one he presumably preferred when the going really got tough. Mike confronts his father, but Niles spares us the sympathies of our Dr. Phil generation; Mike kills the family, his father included, and provides his mother with three months' worth of flesh. "Explain it to mom," he says to Dad, like some action movie star. But Mike isn't saving the entire world. He's just preserving his. His mother.

I should also add, as a geek that scours department stores for the latest action figures every weekend, I was amused by Derek's demand that Mike "see if there are any games at Target" while he's out hunting for flesh. "The Target is wiped out of everything. And there's no way in hell I'm going all the way to Orange County to the other one," Mike retorts. Ha. I live in Orange County and I know of four Targets in my town alone. This future really is a terrible place.

Pieces for Mom: A Tale of the Undead is an excellent comic book for fans of horror in any medium, and for fans that believe in the human spirit in the face of intense (and bloody) adversity. In fact, as a self-contained issue with a reasonable $3.99 pricetag, Pieces is the perfect comic to hand to a friend that hasn't really read comics before -- well, perfect in the "strong stomach required" sense. Sure, rotting flesh, maggot-infested eyeball sockets, and exposed guts abound, but the real challenge is the aftertaste of this issue's concept. What would you do for mother?

I really should give her a call . . .

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