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Posthuman Throwdown: Zombies vs. Robots

Carol Borden
Posted October 17, 2007

Sometimes the human element just gets in the wayHumanity has long been interested in both zombies and robots, in looking at zombies and robots, and in seeing zombies and robots fight. Writer Chris Ryall and artist Ashley Wood know these basic truths to be self-evident. So am I being pandered to with their Zombies vs. Robots hardcover, collecting the 2007 IDW miniseries with some additional origin material?

Hell, yeah, I’m being pandered to — and I like it.

One of the things I like best about Zombies vs. Robots is something I would normally hate. The comic’s entirely idea driven. Story, characterization are unimportant. It’s all signifiers — 2 mad scientists without a conscience between them bring a zombie plague through a portal while a third happens to invent sentient robots at the same time. Why? For science? For money? For world domination? To silence those laughing fools? Who cares? Humanity wants see zombies, robots and a big ass throw down! Is there a sole surviving baby to give us hope for humanity — or just because everyone wants to see a zombie baby? Is the whole thing a set up for cool pictures of zombies and robots? I just don’t care.

Sometimes the human element just gets in the wayConventional wisdom dictates that the audience needs someone to relate to, some human character. But conventional wisdom has consistently failed us, or at least me, in throwdown comics and films. Don’t get me started on the damage done to Godzilla. And in the biggest, most versus title I think I’ve ever seen, Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator, Lois Lane just pains me. She clings. She listens to exposition. She shows she’s feisty by calling the predators, “gutless chauvinists.” And all I want is Superman and Batman to fight some aliens and predators while aliens and predators fight each other. Maybe even throw in a Superman vs. Batman fight too. Anyway, I’m not trying to make this Superman and Batman vs. Aliens and Predator vs. Zombies vs. Robots. That’d be too much. The most important part of a versus title is the throwdown. Zombies vs. Robots doesn’t offer only one little rumble after pages of anguished discussion of what we’re going to do. There’s no “we” most of the book. And the only remaining human being, a baby, smells like bait. See, sometimes the human element just gets in the way, especially when you’ve shelled out to see a posthuman throwdown.

Still, I don’t want to imply that the characters in Zombies vs. Robots are badly written. It’s not an easy task to write such thoroughly repugnant characters as the three scientists, Throckmorton, Winterbottom and Satterfield. But for me, one of the most jarring spots was when a new robot character, Skullface, was suddenly introduced. For some reason the pacing gets wonky around him. Luckily, his job is to “reboot” (his words) the comic and connect one scenario, Zombies vs. Robots, to the next, Zombies vs. Robots vs. Amazons. The story’s a connective tissue justifying a whole lot of zombie and robot action.

As a static medium, comics don’t allow for the visceral appreciation of fantasy fights in the same way that videogames and movies do. But with Zombies vs. Robots there are no lame cut scenes or alternating A and B plots with character development marks to hit. Because the art’s static, readers can have a good look at the zombies and robots without resorting to pause of screen captures.

So Chris Ryall plays it smart in setting up situations for some of the fanciest expressionist art you’ll see outside of MOMA. Wood’s robots are something to see. They remind me of robots in serials like, The Mysterious Doctor Satan, or even the non-serial wonder, Boilerplate. And even though I’m suffering from zombie fatigue, his zombies are nicely rendered. Wood’s art works with the medium rather than trying to recreate a cinematic feel. His sound effects look great and feel urgent slashed across the page in marker. I especially like the thought bubbles that contain little pictures of meat, brains or skulls, implying a direct access to zombie or robot thought. Enjoy the signification while you can.

The book’s format reminds me of the most serious and piously received graphic novels. In fact, the ratios remind me of fine art collections, but it’s all zombies and robots rendered on huge pages that reproduce Wood’s multimedia work down to smudges, paint glops and brush marks. With his art, the larger size is really helpful since the paint, washes, inks and halftones can get murky in standard page sizes.

Sure, Zombies vs. Robots is contrived, but that’s exactly why I like it. Why should we be sad that humanity has been wiped out when humans would just get in the way of the posthuman rumble?


Though suffering from zombie fatigue, Carol Borden never gets tired of old time robots.


4 Responses to “Posthuman Throwdown: Zombies vs. Robots”

  1. Carol Borden
    November 1st, 2007 @ 7:59 pm

    hey everybody–
    so as you might have noticed, we had some trouble here at the gutter. the site is all upgraded now, but we lost some comments. if you commented before, feel free to re-comment.
    i remember something here about: “‘Humanity has long been interested in both zombies and robots?’ What is this? An essay for freshman composition?”
    but much better.

  2. Anonymous
    December 4th, 2007 @ 9:43 pm

    Hi, like your site so much I’ll point out a typo in the top left:
    …and each month we feature a Guest Star writer on a gutter subject on their choosing…..
    should be .. of their choosing … non?

  3. Carol Borden
    December 5th, 2007 @ 2:30 pm

    nice catch, thanks.

  4. Mr.Dave
    December 9th, 2007 @ 11:06 pm

    I finally read this (almost two months later) and I have only one complaint: it is too short. Or rather, it is over too quickly.
    There were actually a lot of plot elements which could have been played out longer, and it would have been nice if they extended the whole thing by another 50% or so – maybe take more time to explore the world they so vividly created.
    But on the positive side, I guess we can look forward to Zombies vrs. Robots vrs. Amazons.

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