Last year I wrote a couple of articles for the Zombie Research Society. One discussed the two types of zombie fans (traditionalist vs. progressive) while the other opined on whether a true zombie expert can even exist. However, both premises’ have one major element which connects them; and that is George A Romero.
As creator of the modern day zombie, Romero has been the root cause of just about every zombie discussion since 1971, (the November issue of Time Magazine being the first time the word zombie was used nationally to describe the ghouls featured in Night of the Living Dead). Most dealing specifically with whether anything other than what is included in Romero’s dead series constitutes a modern day zombie. Many say that since Romero didn’t create it, that it cannot be a “real” zombie (i.e. fast zombies, smart zombies, zombies that can talk, etc.) However with the release of Romero’s newest project, Empire of the Dead, the master himself has upset the balance between the traditionalists and progressives by evolving his creations one more time.
– WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW –
In the very first issue of the collaboration with Marvel comics, Romero invites the reader to a post apocalyptic New York where the government captures zombies and pits them in battle against each other for pieces of rat meat. In this part of Romero’s continuing zombie saga, most of the dead have reach Big Daddy’s level of self recognition. (Big Daddy being the head zombie involve with the undead revolt in Land of the Dead). Zombies are coerced into fighting each other for scraps of meat, while humans bet on the outcome.
The implications of these changes to the Romero zombie are significant. He clearly develops the zombies’ connection to their former lives more clearly than he has ever done in any of his films. The evolutionary step from walking ghoul chasing after human flesh to willfully saving loved ones from other zombies can begin to blur the lines of how they are characterized, and how we as zombie fans receive them.
In Empire, we meet one character related to Barbra (yes, that Barbra), who survived the run in with Johnny. You see, in the comic, we are told the rest of the story; after Barbra was pulled out of the house by her undead brother. The comic has Johnny pulling Barbra to safety! That’s right; he was protecting her from other zombies. If zombies can perform acts of love like that, then how far away are they from becoming the zombies featured in films like Warm Bodies?
By providing zombies with enough cognitive ability that they can actively decide to refuse to eat a loved one, Romero has made a significant change to the zombie genre. And this is a change that can not be ignored since it comes from the creator himself. This legitimizes any and all changes to the zombie trope since they can now be explained away as a different form of evolution. It also challenges so-called “zombie experts” to rethink their knowledge about the zombie genre and subculture since all modern day zombie “experts” base their “expertise” on the Romero zombie.
The lines have been blurred forever and this is just with the first issue! I personally can’t wait to see what other changes Romero has in store for us fans, and how it will ultimately affect the zombie that I thought I’ve known for the last forty-five years.
So, what do you guys think? Has Romero changed the game by writing this new series or is the zombie landscape the same?
Contributing author Alfredo Torres is an adjunct professor of communications at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA where he wrote his master’s thesis on the metaphoric representation of zombies in the films of George Romero.