One of the most unusual differences between American and British comic book creators is that the latter typically have a shared origin. It's almost mandatory today that any writer who wants to work for Marvel or DC has to start as a writer in a different medium. In contrast, seemingly every British creator (with the exception of Kieron Gillen) got their start at 2000 AD, typically on a Judge Dredd story. From there they set up their own features in either the titular 2000 AD magazine or one of its spinoffs before leaving to work for other, larger publishers. Often, these features only reach a wider audience if their creators move on to bigger successes at other publishers.
Such is the origin of the madcap Zombo Vol. 1: Can I Eat You, Please? by Al Ewing and Henry Flint. Ewing is currently one of the All-New All-Different Marvel initiative's guiding lights, and after mentioning on a message board that I felt Ewing was the best writer of 2015, I was guided to Zombo. It's true that zombies are an overplayed trope in all media, even though we seemingly hit "peak zombie" several years ago. But aside from the name and some of his backstory, Zombo has little to nothing to do with most zombie stories, feeling more like a twisted Doctor Who spinoff instead.
Since it was initially published in eight-page installments, Zombo had to keep the audience's attention immediately lest it be forgotten amongst the rest of the "prog" (what an individual issue of 2000 AD is called). Ewing hooks the audience by starting with a ship getting stranded on a hostile jungle planet, taking a strange container with them as they embark upon a river journey. In fact, Zombo doesn't appear until the second part of the initial story, leaving the first part to demonstrate just how deadly this strange world is. Henry Flint's fantastic attention to detail makes the increasing levels of horror a vital part of the story.
Even after he's introduced, Zombo doesn't immediately become the main character. That role is taken up primarily by an unnamed female lawyer who is one of the only passengers of the wrecked ship with an ounce of common sense. The other leads are a pair of "Government" agents who are seemingly identical twins (I won't spoil their subplot) transporting Zombo as a secret weapon. Instead of typical aliens, Ewing posits a universe with a number of sentient planets, many of which despise humans. These so-called "deathworlds" are spreading a zombie plague across the universe but have problems destroying dead flesh on their own, so the oppressive Government crossed human and zombie DNA to create their champion.
One of the reasons Zombo reminds me of Doctor Who is because of his personality. He has the same manic energy and penchant for theatrics as the Eleventh Doctor ... which is fitting since Ewing also co-writes Titan's Eleventh Doctor series. This similarity comes to a head in the climax of the first story, when Zombo fights the omnicidal "death shadow" at the heart of the deathworld; much of the work is done by talking the creature into submission. There are also ravens repeating the last words of the deceased, reminiscent of any number of Steven Moffat Doctor Who stories and possibly a nod to Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. Another potential nod to Moore is Zombo's costume, or rather his lack thereof: much like Doctor Manhattan, he's only in a thong.
In between the two main stories collected here is the short "Merry Christmas Mr. Zombo" from the 2010 2000 AD holiday special. This actually does link the plots of the two stories and also brings back a recurring element of the series: people breaking out in song. Despite his role as a super-soldier, Zombo's real dream is to be a pop idol, leading to numerous shenanigans in the titular "Can I Eat You, Please?" story in the second half. There's seemingly a song in every eight-page section; in the case of the Christmas special, it's part of a thorough parody of "Dick Clark's Rockin' New Year's Eve." I should also mention that "Can I eat you, please?" is one of Zombo's catchphrases. He's unfailingly polite even when he's surrounded by potential food; one panel has a brilliant spoof of "Terminator-vision" where we find out that Zombo sees every person simply as muscles to chew on.
Zombo's fame-seeking ways eventually intersect with a group of death-obsessed social media users who bring him to a Las Vegas/Walt Disney World hybrid in an attempt to get higher ratings for their death videos on Deathtube. I'd be doing you a disservice if I tried to explain what happens from here on out, but Ewing and Flint take the basic elements from the first story and run with them. I'll just say that there's a lot of violence, a fun heist story, and the birth of the greatest bee-based villain since Swarm.
The over-the-top nature of Zombo Vol. 1: Can I Eat You, Please? prevents the violence from overriding the comedy, akin to the rules for a good Deadpool story. The trade ends with a one-page Hostess ad parody introducing Ozmob, Zombo's replacement and evil twin who is the concern of the second trade, You Smell of Crime and I'm the Deodorant. For now, Zombo is on hiatus, but the publishing model of 2000 AD means that it can return very quickly once Al Ewing gets a moment away from Marvel and Titan. Until then, I think the BBC might want to look at an adaptation of Zombo as their answer to the popularity of The Walking Dead.
Next week: Walter Simonson returns to Thor -- just not the Thor he's usually identified with -- in the outstanding Ragnarok.
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