I’d like to start this article honestly. I don’t love zombie stories. However, I do love Elseworlds-type alternate reality stories. And when it comes to alternate reality comics, there are few that I feel are better than the Injustice comics. Whether you’ve played the game they’re based on or not, the Injustice titles offer compelling, superhero drama with the highest stakes since you know just about anything can happen in them. People can live or die, and in the Injustice universe, death sticks.
In fact, I love the Injustice comics so much, I’ve even written about them.
So, why am I talking about Injustice, a series that ended over a year ago? Well, both Injustice and DCeased, DC’s new alternate reality zombie graphic novel, are written by Tom Taylor! It seems I’m all-in on the alternate views Taylor presents of the DC Universe. If you are too, then I suspect DCeased is going to be something you’ll very much like.
Allegory is heavy from the first page of DCeased. In the literary tradition, allegory tends to be in service of a larger morality tale. In DCeased the device is actually much the same. Through the use of Cyborg, readers and in-universe characters are confronted with the conundrum of the internet. No, not with a lesson about the proper way to comport oneself in the comments section, but rather with the dangers of our modern-day accessibility, and the ease with which information can be disseminated. Cyborg finds himself taken to Apokolips and infected with a new, mutated version of the Anti-Life Equation. This version is so frightening to the infected, it turns them mad. They become relentlessly violent and out of control…and they’re also contagious, capable of spreading the virus with a bite or scratch.
You can see where I’m going with this, I’m sure. Zombie stories aren’t exactly new. Heck, even shared comic book universe zombie apocalypse tales seem to have become a thing, so why shouldn’t Taylor and DC get in on the fun? Especially when Taylor’s come up with such a clever spin on the zombie outbreak. Since the root is Darkseid’s famous Anti-Life Equation, it’s not strictly a biological outbreak, allowing the virus to spread through the internet. (It doesn’t help one bit that Cyborg—a hero who’s always connected to the web—is patient zero.) It spreads through social media, apps, livestreams…you name it. If you’re online or in front of a screen, you’re going to get it eventually. And who doesn’t live their lives in front of screens these days?
As symbolism goes, it’s not exactly subtle. Taylor is clearly saying things about the dangers of our always plugged in existence. It’s a powerful metaphor for how quickly toxicity can spread online, and the destruction it can cause. As any zombie fan knows, the best zombie stories always have an undercurrent of social commentary, and DCeased’s is particularly strong.
Also strong is Taylor’s understanding of the DC Universe and its many heroes and villains. Fans who have read Injustice will likely find DCeased’s versions of Ollie and Dinah fun and familiar. They’re full of jokes in the opening pages, which quickly fade away with all speed and don’t seem too likely to come back anytime soon.
One thing that’s likely to stand out is the appearance of Jonathan Kent and Damian Wayne. The friendship they share in this issue seems evocative of their Super Sons series, but more mature. It seems more earnest and open. When they’re first seen, Damian is playing videogames with Jon at the Kents’ home. It’s a refreshingly familiar and normal take on a relationship that is often played for laughs in its in-continuity series.
Stories of pandemics like this one are rife in genre storytelling. DC has even found remarkable success with one before in Geoff Johns’ Blackest Night. So, what makes DCeased special? Well, other than the fact that it’s just a solid, fun story, you don’t really need to know anything about the DC Universe to dive in. It’s also genuinely shocking. There’s one early demise that’s startling in how quickly it happens, and…there’s a real spoiler coming…brace yourself and turn back now if you haven’t yet read DCeased and want to go in unsullied…
Let's talk Batman for a moment, shall we?
Batman is our pillar in the DC Universe. Like Superman, he is infallible in most of our eyes. He’s supposed to be prepared for anything. This is even alluded to in the series when it’s suggested that Batman has been secretly tracking all of his partners and teammates. However, Taylor isn’t going to make it that easy on any of us. By the end of the issue, it turns out Batman doesn’t have a plan in place for a zombie apocalypse. And by the end of the first chapter, we are left with a surprising, uncomfortable question: Holy smokes, Batman! Did you just die?
If Batman's dead, is anyone going to make it out alive? Well, some do, but it's entirely possible your favorite may wind up among the undead. Mine did!
After reading it, I think DCeased deserves to be held up alongside DC's best alt-universe books for laying a strong foundation for a possibly franchise without ever getting bogged down with too much exposition. It gets to the good stuff pretty quickly. Plus, it is genuinely creepy, which is the best you can ask for from a horror comic. This non-zombie fan will be back for the sequel!
Ashley V. Robinson writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and is a regular contributor to the Couch Club, our television column. You can find her on Twitter at @AshleyVRobinson and on the Jawiin YouTube channel.