Written by: JD Arnold
Art by: Tony Guaraldi-Brown
Lettered by: Chris Fenoglio
Published by: Action Lab Danger Zone
Reviewed by: Kristian Horn
So let me start by saying that The Final Plague is the best horror comic I’ve read in years.
There, now that that is out of the way let’s get into the nitty gritty of it all.
It’s no secret to anyone that’s listened to this podcast that I love zombies. Zombies freak me the heck out. Zombies are my favorite monsters in all of horror. Ever since I first saw George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead the concept of the zombie has been a fascinating one to me. The idea of the dead just getting up out of their graves, off of their dissection tables, or shambling out of the Emergency Room and seeking live, juicy, human flesh is one that has always freaked me out beyond belief. This probably has a lot to do with losing a parent at a young age and wondering if said parent could ever possibly return from the grave to revisit his family…but for whatever reason…zombies are the bee’s knee’s to me when it comes to the horror genre.
It’s also no secret that zombies have pretty much over saturated the pop culture landscape in the last several years. Zombies are everywhere. …there’s no denying it…zombies have become mainstream entertainment. I know that there’s a faction of horror fans that are just tired of zombies. That are sick of their rotting, shambling, corpses trudging across the national zeitgeist and becoming just as prevalent in modern day society as Pokemon once was. But not me. I love zombies. Sure there’s always going to be some bad zombie entertainment (I’m looking at you Fear the Walking Dead) but, for the most part, if there’s a zombie in it, I’m pretty much sold. It’s a special thing, however, when a new and interesting spin is put on the zombie genre. When a somewhat new take is done on the zombie concept and takes it to a place that is completely unexpected. The Final Plague, my friends, is that special thing. It is that wedge of zombie cream that rises to the top. A zombie tale that takes the already familiar tropes of the undead rising out of their graves and adds a dash of uniqueness that pushes the horror to another level.
And what is that bit of unique flavor that separates The Final Plague from its over exposed undead brethren? Wait for it…zombie animals.
Yep, that’s it. The Final Plague posits a zombie apocalypse that begins with animals, specifically mammals, being the first to become infected with a zombie virus. When I first heard the idea I thought that it might be interesting but when I actually picked up the book and saw the idea play out…well, all I have to say is that I’m damned surprised no one else thought of this earlier. Maybe they have and I just have never heard about it but the animal zombie plague presented here plays out on a scale that I’ve never really seen put forth in any medium and it is gloriously horrifying in every way.
And I know what you’re thinking…you’re thinking that zombie animals wouldn’t be such a big deal. That’s what I thought too but JD Arnold spools out his concept in such a way that it will remind anyone who has mistakenly thought that man is the most dangerous creature on Earth how small our place in the ecosystem would really be if every single animal just rose up and turned against us. Think about it: dogs, cats, horses…rats. What The Final Plague does, and does brilliantly, is that it uses what many of us may consider mundane or normal in our everyday lives and turns it into a threat. A really, really horrifying threat. Just imagine a New York City where the rats just came out of the woodwork and started chasing everyone down like a giant piece of cheese? Or if every dog in your neighborhood just went Ol’ Yeller on every human within sight? See what I mean? Yeah, the concept alone doesn’t seem like a big deal at first but when you think about it, really think about it, it becomes a prospect that most people wouldn’t even want to ponder.
JD Arnold and Tony Guarauldi-Brown take their brilliant idea and maximize it to full effect. Arnold takes the various tropes that we’ve seen in so many zombie movies and transforms them into something new and exciting. He fleshes out his characters well and places them on a continuing climb of despair as swarms of rats, dog, and, yes, even lions begin to foam at the mouth and crave human flesh. If you thought that rotting humans were something to be creeped out by then you haven’t seen anything yet. Arnold comes up with some truly disturbing situations that involve zombie animals which will make you cringe with how horrifyingly good they are.
I do have to admit that when I first saw the book’s art I was a little put off. Guarauldi-Brown’s style seemed a bit sloppy at first glance and the visual style of The Final Plague didn’t necessarily seem to fit my personal tastes. But as I began to read the book I realized that the artist’s work perfectly fit the tone of the comic and made the tale being told even more disturbing because of it’s ability to somehow ground the book in its own gritty reality. There are a lot of horror books out there that employ a grisly method of artistry to attempt to bring a somber tone to their comic and with many of them the technique doesn’t really add all that much to the story’s quality. Guarauldi-Brown’s art on this book is a big reason that The Final Plague pays off as well as it does. I found myself profoundly immersed within the world Guarauldi-Brown established as I leafed through the pages of The Final Plague. Guarauldi-Brown’s technique in this book reminds me of the famous painting “The Scream” and it captures the exact same sense of loss and despair within the pages of a comic that “The Scream” does on canvas. The art in this book ended up being the biggest reason I found myself so sucked into the story.
As far as I’m concerned if you’re planning to curl up with a horror comic this Halloween season The Final Plague should be the one you choose to read. I’m actually surprised that this book hasn’t gotten more notoriety than it already has. It’s a horror book that’s worth seeking out with the same rabid intensity that a zombie horde seeks human brains. A must read for horror fans everywhere.
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