If you’ll recall, the second issue is when the wheels fell off a bit in act one of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead Marvel Comics series, and it really took about another whole issue after that for the story to find its footing again. I’m pleased to say the pattern doesn’t repeat itself here in the second story arc, but truth be told this book does have some rather hefty problems, and we’ll get to those in just a minute.
First, though, I gotta say my hat is off to Alexander Lozano for that kick-ass cover shown above. Sure, the painting of a zombie wearing what appears to be a pretty expensive watch and hurling a molotov cocktail — with the fire not doing jack shit to him, by the look of it — has nothing to do with the interior contents whatsoever, but it sure is cool-looking. Maybe my favorite cover yet, which is just as well since it’s the only one, with this issue being the first in the series to go out without any variants.I was kinda hoping that Francesco Francavilla, who did the variant last month, would stick around for a bit, but I’m not surprised that Marvel has finally scaled back to just one cover for this title, since — let’s face it — sales aren’t all that great, and it would be pretty unusual for them to keep doing two covers month in and month out on any book, much less one like this where most folks seem to be waiting for the trades rather than picking it up in singles, anyway.
What can I say, though? I’m fully aware that it’s not the economical way to go, but when I know there’s a Romero fix to be had, I need it quick, and by and large this series has been one that reads pretty well in individual installments, so I’ll keep going like I have been with it — even though, as I said before, this particular issue does have some problems.
So, hey, let’s talk about those, shall we? It’s been hinted for some time that the vampires in the “Romeroverse” operate by a different set of rules (yes, folks, we’ve got “Romero Rules” for vampires) than we’re accustomed to, and with the main focus of the story this time around being on the patient being treated by Dr. Penny Jones who’s been bitten and, in equal portion, a young prostitute named Sarah who’s undergoing “the change” voluntarily, those rules are finally spelled out explicitly. It’s interesting reading and all, don’t get me wrong, but it’s more than a bit clunky, and doesn’t exactly flow with the rest of the proceedings. It’s more like an almost-overly-expository side-step than anything else, and there probably could — and should — have been a way to get all this information across by dint of actions taking place within the main body of the plot itself. This is stuff we need to know, without question, but we don’t need it to be spoon-fed to us this clumsily.
And speaking of clumsy — the aforementioned Dr. Jones and “zombie wrangler” Paul Barnum appear to finally be making some romantic headway this time out, but their not-quite-love scene is almost painfully awkward and clunky to read. Sorry, George, but people just don’t talk that way.
Those quibbles aside, though, there is definitely plenty to like in George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead : Act Two #2, including the further rapid “humanization” of SWAT-officer-turned-zombie Xavier, a more complete layout of the plan to sell out Billy Chandrake and still bring down his uncle’s reign as mayor at the same time (and yeah, this part admittedly gets pretty heavily expository as well, but at least it reads better), and the emergence of a new champion in the “slaughterbowl” ring at the expense of a character who’s been with us since the beginning. All in all, then, some fairly interesting and significant plot developments do take place here, but be prepared for some complete breaks in the action that send us down info-dump avenue along the way.
On the art front, Dalibor Talajic seems to be growing into the job and I like his work here a lot better than I did last month, but damn — I still miss Alex Maleev. Talajic’s style is just fine for the conversational, “wordy” scenes, but when it comes to the bloodier zombie carnage we all love, he’s still got a ways to go to even come close to the heights his distinguished predecessor achieved. Here’s hoping he gets there at some point.
As for the ending this time around, well — that confused me, I admit. Last issue got us all good and primed for the aerial blimp assault on New York from the forces formerly aligned with southern rebel-rouser Dixie Peach, and this time they go into action — but apparently they’ve decided to stage a trial raid on Secaucus, New Jersey first. Don’t ask me what that’s all about. Hopefully next issue will reveal the method behind this particular bout of madness, because right now it just plain doesn’t make any sense. This is a series that has rewarded its reader’s patience on a few occasions before, though, so I’m optimistic that trend will continue.