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E.C. McMullen Jr.
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A SIERRA NEVADA
(MICHAEL MADSEN & JOHN SAVAGE).
Taz Cockrum rides his motorcycle to a strip club called The Nude Stand. He finds the club owner, Dirk, who owes him money. Taz needs the money to participate in a desert bike race. One of those under-circuit races where the rules are, There Are no Rules. Not the kind of thing that would get MRAN approval but there you have it. Dirk doesn't have Taz's money, but promises the man that he'll get his cousin to pony up the $25,000 entry fee.
Come the day of the race, its a free for all, and despite some unethical (and illegal) moves from his worst competitor, Lumber, Taz wins. The race that is. Lumber gets the prize money because Dirk's cousin didn't come through with Taz's entry fee. Taz should have known that and checked up on it, but his problems are specifically due to some serious character flaws. And Taz's flaws are going to get him killed.
Mr. Newdavid, who runs the race, knew about Taz's problem in advance, but let him race anyway just to screw with him.
Beaten but not broken, Taz returns to his shop where his employees are waiting to hear the good news. They get the real news instead and it gets worse. The loan officer from the bank comes calling and gives Taz the same business that Taz gave Dirk. Only Taz doesn't have a "cousin" to call on. The loan officer let's Taz know that his three months of extensions are up and he'd best have his stuff moved out by midnight.
Instead of a moving mood, Taz is in a drinking mood and chases his loyal employees away to get shit-faced alone. Later that night, but before midnight, Taz wakes to the sound of someone breaking into his place. Merry Mishaps occur.
Taz is left for dead but in an unusual way. You see, Taz has this special fuel formula that Mr. Newdavid wants. Taz isn't about to sell it, especially not for the cheap price that Newdavid offered. So Newdavid's thugs drown Taz in his own formula. Then things go from bad to worse, and the whole furshlugginer mess blows up. No more Taz, right? Wrong! Taz's special sauce makes him a zombie.
Next thing he knows, Taz is happily murdering an innocent man who tried to help him. Then he goes on a revenge spree and here the comic really begins.
CHOPPER ZOMBIE was written by Todd Livingston and Thom Beers, based on a story by Philip D. Seagal, Thom Beers, and Todd Livingston, which in turn was inspired by the creation of Thom Beers. In case you don't know, Tom and Philip are the co-creators of such cable TV hits as Monster Garage, The Deadliest Catch (my personal favorite), and Ice Road Truckers.
Thom Beers' young son came up with the idea of a zombie that rode a chopper. Thom had the bucks to fund his own graphic novel and even a movie and so, like Director Robert Rodriguez before him, said to his boy, "Hey, look what your old man can do!" And not only had the graphic novel published, but had an actual chopper created to match the one Taz Zombie rides in the comic. To a male comic book geek, your feelings about this are based entirely on your age. Either you wish you had an old man like Thom Beers, or you wish you could be a Pop like Thom Beers.
So what about this comic? From the outset its made pretty clear that Taz has brought his problems on himself. Taz is an unlikable guy who wants to do business with scumbags like Newdavid. He already knows that Newdavid is an unethical, untrustworthy prick, yet he wants to do business with him. Taz's employees, the closest thing to friends that he has, try and steer him clear of such garbage people, but he ignores them. Even Taz's girlfriend is a rat. Once Taz becomes a zombie, he gets even worse.
There is a subset of Horror Thriller and that's the dead returning to life (or some type of existence) to get revenge. Ghosts, spirits, transplanted organs, and the dead themselves crawling out of their graves to wreak havoc are not uncommon and, in fact, I reviewed another zombie novel, JOHNNY GRUESOME, with the same theme earlier this year.
The tragedy of Taz's life goes deeper than him dying and fighting to get everything back. But along the path of his revenge he realizes that he was more to his employees than just their boss. They truly care about him, have faith in him, and would fight for him. Unfortunately, as a zombie, he must now keep them beyond arm's length. To even get any of his bodily fluids on them, would turn them into zombies as well. Once Taz understands this, he intentionally uses it against his enemies as part of his revenge.
Another issue is Taz's loss of humanity. He has truly become a monster and kills the innocent indiscriminately, even if they are doing him a favor, like the Trucker. When a couple of kids see him and recognize him for the monster he is, they attack him in a manner that is little more than merely annoying, but Taz responds by butchering them unmercifully.
When introducing a new comic character, there are usually two ways to go: One is to make the first issue way too wordy and loaded with exposition. The other is to make it action packed and have the story as simple as possible. Thom Beers and company went for the latter, but have provided enough dimension to give the CHOPPER ZOMBIE a long
And I must give kudos to Scott Keating's great art and colors. He did both the ink and color (rare for a comic artist). Scott's thick lines and color shifts (little to no gradation) with an eye toward warm earth tones, really empower the brutality of the tale.
Those are the good points.
CHOPPER ZOMBIE certainly has over the top gore reminiscent of the full on blood bath from the fabled 1980's zombie series, DEADWORLD. But for Horror Thriller fans in general, and zombie fans in particular, there is an awful lot of retread on this chopper and not a whole lot of custom.
Even within the realm of "any excuse is a good excuse" world of zombie origins, the special fuel that turns Taz into a zombie has no feasible explanation as to why it could possibly achieve this. Not that Taz needed a reasonable explanation, but since they go to the trouble of saying that Taz invented this special fuel and this special fuel has zombie making properties, the in-completion of the subject leaves me hanging.
What also leaves me hanging is the fact that, not only has Taz miraculously and accidentally created one thing that makes people into zombies, but he also accidentally and miraculously created this second thing that makes zombies invincible. Considering that he was only out to make a super motorcycle fuel and a paint sealant, those are fantastically amazing side-properties.
Okay, so that's two incredibly amazing things to swallow for a single story, right? But now that they've done this, they can go anywhere with the story, creating a whole new zombie mythos. And zombie fans are panting for that one, as we've only four.
Yet instead of going for what's new, CHOPPER ZOMBIE goes for what's tried and true.
For example, even though he required a good chemical drowning to become a zombie, Taz now spreads his zombie powers in the time honored Romero / Russo / O'Bannon tradition with just a bite or a drip. In fact, one character actually does the Wes Craven SCREAM thing and runs through a laundry list of all of the specific Romero zombie tropes that MUST apply to Taz, even though his zombie rebirth is nothing like Romero's or Voodoo zombies.
That lazy lack of creativity really hurts CHOPPER ZOMBIE. Though the story and graphics will certainly please the hard-core gorehound subculture of Horror Thrillers, that audience is so small I think I know most of the fans by name.
But the good points outweigh the bad points and I give CHOPPER ZOMBIE Three Fanboys.