Do those title-page recaps that Marvel runs on the first page of all their books these days bug you? I have to admit that they usually work my nerves and that I see them as a less-than-clever way to shave a page off the actual story and art in any given issue while still enabling the publisher to cynically claim that their books offer “21 pages of editorial content.” In the case of George Romero’s Empire Of The Dead, however, I’ll make an exception, for one simple reason : as we all know, Romero uses his zombie tales as allegory for socio-political commentary here in the “real world” (think of Night Of The Living Dead‘s cautionary messages about racism and prejudice, Dawn Of The Dead‘s bleak examination of rampant consumerism, and Day Of The Dead‘s gleeful deconstruction of Cold War paranoia), and the intro page that’s currently running in Empire sums up the creator of the modern concept of the zombie’s primary political message for this series quite nicely indeed with the simple sentence “New York has become a fortress of isolation against the undead plague.”
Now, think about this : Donald Trump is proposing the absurd idea of building a wall along the entire length of the U.S./Mexican border, and doubling down on the crazy by suggesting that he’ll force Mexico to pay for it, while just yesterday, one of his rivals for the GOP nomination, the risible Scott Walker, one-upped Trump by suggesting that we should do the same thing along the Canadian border, as well — because apparently poutine smuggling is becoming a huge problem or something. Now, while this “Fortress America” idea may sound appealing to the genuinely paranoid out there, I would humbly suggest that before we all stand up and cheer for this new emphasis on “national security,” we should take a moment and consider the fact that walling the rest of the world out also necessarily means that we would be walling ourselves in —and as Romero has shown us both in Land Of The Dead and here in the pages of Empire, that’s a recipe for disaster.
Don’t get me wrong — the American populace has good reason to be angry and afraid these days : our home values have plummeted, the stock market is being exposed as the high-risk casino it is, our meager retirement savings are slipping away, the cost of living is going through the roof, wages are stagnant at best for most of us, and we’re staring at a heap of debt that will take centuries, probably even generations, to pay off. Obviously, those problems didn’t just create themselves — someone is to blame. But what Trump, Walker, and too many other demagogues looking to cash in on the wave of populist anger are looking to do is to misdirect that rage while keeping the party going for themselves and their billionaire buddies. Who’s fault is it that we’re in the mess we’re in? Are a few illegal immigrants the cause of our predicament, or is it the billionaire class?
Come on, you know the answer — the problem is that folks see the billionaire class as being untouchable, and don’t think that’s ever going to change. Those illegal immigrants, though — why, we see ’em just about every day. They’re scattered about here, there, and everywhere. They represent an easy target, while the rich are a tough one, and if there’s one thing Americans have become accustomed to, it’s taking on easy targets. Why, just look how well that worked out in Vietnam. Or Iraq. Or Afghanistan. Now it seems we’re being prepped to bring the war home and take on the Mexicans who are doing the menial labor that our economy needs to keep going. And, I guess, the Canadians, too. I expect this new “war” to be just as successful as all those others.
In Empire Of The Dead : Act Three #4, Romero’s vampire-run New York finally falls. The vampires, obviously, are a stand-in for the capitalist ruling class in this particular story, and while we don’t see a number of our key players (there’s no sign of Paul Barnum, Dr. Penny Jones, Mayor Chandrake, Xavier, or Detective Perez, for instance), it’s nevertheless a reasonably exciting issue in that we get to witness the Federal Reserve robbery go, as the Brits would charmingly put it, “tits-up,” the aerial war between the so-called “rebel” factions do the same, and everyone’s escape plans — most notably Dixie Peach and Runyon’s — come to a screeching halt. Once the shit hits the fan and the barbarians (or, in this case. zombies — who are, of course, Romero’s fictional equivalent for “the rabble,” i.e. those of us who aren’t part of the so-called “1%”) are inside the gates, all bets are off, and no amount of “security” can save you.
That being said, the decision to leave most of the principal cast out of the picture in this series’ penultimate issue is a curious one, to say the least, and I have to wonder how exactly Romero intends to wrap up all their various storylines in a scant 20 pages next month. My best guess is that we’ll probably be getting an extra-length issue with a $4.99 cover price.
Or will we? With sales on Empire hovering around the 8,000 mark (for an idea of just how bad that is, consider that my current favorite comic, Alan Moore and Jacen Burrows’ Providence, is selling over twice that despite the fact that it’s being published by Avatar Press, pretty much the smallest publishing outfit going, it hasn’t been optioned for television, and it’s barely being promoted by Diamond — oh, and it may also be worth noting that Providence is eschewing all current sales trends by actually selling better every month so far, while Empire is the poster child for the years-long trend of books dropping in circulation every month), it’s hard to imagine Marvel editorial “green-lighting” a higher page count for the finale. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.
In any case, it’s apparent that by the time Empire Of The Dead ends, there won’t be too many of us left paying attention, and that’s a shame. The third act has been a fun and exciting roller-coaster ride with unifrmly better scripting and characterization than the second, and the arrival of Andrea Mutti (aided by Roberto Poggi,who takes over as full inker on all pages with this issue) has really kicked the quality of the artwork up a notch. Throw in some fantastic covers from Francesco Mattina, and all in all this has been $3.99 (fairly) well-spent every month. I’m going to miss this book when it’s over — but I guess we’ve still got the TV series to look forward to, and hopefully if that’s a success people will pick the comics up in trade paperback format to see what they missed out on.