Having grown up an avid reader, many of my best memories are wandering among the stacks, picking out a sweet science-fiction book to take home and read over the course of a night. It’s not a far stretch to assume that a lot of these early experiences helped shape much of my life path, from a desire to write to my eventual decision to go back to school for my Master’s degree in English (with a sub-focus on Realism and Naturalism, but that’s neither here nor there). And, considering that such a passion for reading blesses (or curses, depending on your perspective) its owner with the eternal titles of “nerd” and “geek,” it’s not hard to see how one such as myself might grow accustomed to other hobbies whose users share such titles, like the aforementioned science-fiction and the comic books we’re talking about today. I’m sure, among comic book fans, I’m not unique in this experience. In fact, most of my comic book loving friends are also avid readers, even to this day.
Where I might be unique in this experience is that my love for libraries often finds its way into my personal life, specifically during vacations. I often find myself taking at least a little time out of one of my days to make my way to the local library and just check things out. What is the library’s layout? What does the library emphasize? Fiction? Non-fiction? How are all of the books organized? I don’t necessarily learn anything from my visits to these libraries, but I enjoy them anyway. A good library is like a good friend’s house. When you visit, you immediately feel at home.
Which brings us to today. I am currently writing this review from a hotel lobby in Kearney, Nebraska. My wife had a work conference at this hotel today, and thanks to the flexibility of being a temporary employee, I was able to round up a couple of days off and tag along. Since I am not working today, however, I decided to take the opportunity to check out the Kearney Public Library.
On the whole, Kearney’s library is very similar to many other small-town libraries you might find across the country. They have Internet computers, conference rooms, drinking fountains, and of course, books. The books themselves are divided into fairly standard sections, like Fiction, Non-Fiction, Juvenile, and Young Adult. Within those sections, though, Kearney’s public library manages to do some fairly interesting things.
As I walked through the fiction section, I was surprised to find no differentiation of genre. Normally, in libraries, you find that the main “Fiction” section is more akin to what they would call Literary Fiction, while genre fictions, such as science-fiction, western, fantasy, mystery, or romance, usually each receive their own different section apart from the main fiction. Some genre authors, like Tolkien and King have broken out of their respective genres (usually by helping to define it) to find their way to the main shelves. This, to me, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if you’re a fan of these genres, it makes it really easy to find these books, if they are given their own section. On the other hand, though, this type of thinking breeds exclusivity, with the possible results being wide-spread: at worst is the idea that genre fiction is somehow “lacking,” compared to literary fiction — an idea that has been in place for decades, and one I don’t particularly agree with.
At best, this sort of exclusivity ultimately results in fans of literary fiction never reading genre fiction and vice-versa, which I would argue is equally as bad.
At Kearney, though, I was pleasantly surprised to find no genre sections among their Fiction section. While this could be because I’m in a smaller library with a smaller supply of books, I really liked seeing the variety of genres mashed together. Science-fiction was next to fantasy was next to mystery was next to romance was next to classic literature. Sure, there were little stickers identifying the genre, but there were no barriers — literal or metaphorical — dividing them. It was refreshing.
As is usually the case when I visit a library, I decided to look at their comic selection, just to see what was available. As with many libraries, Kearney splits their graphic novels/comic books into three separate sections. The lighter stuff is in the Children’s section, the middle and high school stuff finds its way into the Young Adult section, while you’ll find the denser and darker stuff — the independent books, the Vertigo books, and the older classic comic book stuff — in the Adult Non-Fiction section. Since I still needed to write my column for this week, I decided to use this as an opportunity to randomly choose a book and review it, something I thought would be both fun for me and an opportunity to try out a new book. Because, if nothing else, libraries are a great opportunity to try out new books.
If you were to ask my partners-in-crime, Rhys and Barry, they would most likely tell you that one of my favorite forms of humor is a good, old-fashioned pun. So, as I was looking through the titles available to me, one jumped out at me, primarily due to the hilarious pun within the title. For this week’s review, I chose The New Deadwardians, published by Vertigo Comics in 2012.
As the name might imply, The New Deadwardians features zombies and vampires — the dead — set in Edwardian London during the early 20th century. While zombies and vampires are certainly overdone in a lot of ways, the setting of 1910 makes the concept remarkably fresh, though a lot of that might also be helped along by the fantastic writing by Dan Abnett.
The story follows Chief Inspector George Suttle, the last detective in Scotland Yard to investigate murders. See, in this version of Edwardian England, the upper class has become vampires, and therefore, they never die. Because of this, Suttle’s role as detective is rarely utilized. The upper class took the “cure” (more on that later) of vampirism to escape the curse of the “restless,” zombies that prey on humanity. Fifty years before the events of the story, the restless first appeared and changed the world. This version of London is surrounded by large walls and fences, where the restless gather mindlessly, hoping to force their way inside to the warm-blooded feast within the city. By becoming the vampires, the ruling class become invisible to the restless — the working class, from whom the cure is withheld, are not so lucky. While Suttle’s job as homicide detective is fairly boring and uneventful, that all changes one day when one of the “Young,” the ruling class vampires, is found dead outside of Parliament. While the Young can certainly die, this corpse is unique in that it shows none of the three traditional methods of death — impalement of the heart, decapitation or incineration. What follows is an eight-issue story that takes Suttle throughout London, from the upper class to the lower class in an attempt to unravel a mystery that appears to have much deeper implications. And I can say that when I finished the story, I was very satisfied with the outcome. It all felt very, very fitting.
The writing on this book is remarkably tight. The pacing is fantastic, and the dialogue is all strong and believable. Even the explanations of how this world is different from ours never felt forced or inorganic. One of my favorite parts of the writing had to be the euphemisms that are strung throughout this world. In this world, zombies are “restless,” and vampires are “cured.” And vampires don’t drink blood, they have “tendencies.” It’s a nice touch that feels very Edwardian, especially if you’ve read a lot of literature from this era.
Throughout this fairly simple story runs some very complex themes that left me with a lot of thought-provoking questions. The most obvious theme is one of class: there is a clear division between the ruling and working class, and that division is represented by the fact that the ruling class is allowed to live freely and forever, while the working class — in addition to poor living and working environments — has to contend with the idea that, at any moment, a zombie could pop out of the darkness and eat their flesh. One of the main ideas that runs throughout the scene is the animosity the lower class feels toward the upper class due to what they perceive as human rights violations. This, of course, parallels many union protests within our world during the early 1900s — a nice touch, I would say. Gender issues are present as well, as women are not allowed to determine for themselves when they receive the cure. In this case, the suffragette movement is less about a desire to vote, and more about a desire to become vampires on their own terms. British Imperialism is even touched upon, as characters question if the plague of the restless is a form of revenge for actions in India or another country. Like the events of the story, none of this ever feels forced. In fact, it all feels very natural for the story that Abnett is trying to tell.
The art by I.N.J. Culbard is very good, providing a stylistic, simplistic appearance to the story. It works best during the talking heads pages, which make up the bulk of the book. His art during the action sequences feels a little stiff, and there’s not a lot of sense of movement or urgency within the art. Overall, though, it does an excellent job at conveying the story. His colors are especially engaging, using a dull palette to an almost sepia tone across the pages.
As cliche as it sounds, I left the Kearney Public Library with a spring in my step. While I had originally picked up the book because of a pun, I walked away from my reading more than a little happy at my choice. While vampires and zombies have been done to death in recent years, The New Deadwardians remarkably fresh, and it brings a perspective on the genres that comic book fans should be more than happy to have on their comic book shelf.