Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Knights of the Living Dead: A Graphic Novel Review

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Creators: Ron Wolfe and Dustin Higgins

Not since Army of Darkness has there been another memorable medieval zombie movie. Fans may have to turn to other mediums to get their kicks. Paul Finch's book "Stronghold" is filling, but for graphic arts aficionados, Slave Labor Comic's "Knights of the Living Dead" gives love of a subgenre a new focus: do not piss off Queen Guinevere or her ladies in waiting!

In an age where the women of the court were sometimes seen as a demure and doting, their transformation in Ron Wolfe and Dustin Higgin's product is worth noting. His approach to retelling medieval legends with powerful female protagonists is welcomed. Although few may nitpick at certain historical inaccuracies, like the fact the plate mail was not used until the Late Middle Ages—and the real Arthur ruled in the 5th/6th century—that can be forgiven for the mix of storytelling approaches this collection offers.

The three stories in this graphic novel certainly deliver a great mix of artistic and literary styles. They invoke a sense of high adventure and Gothic decay. The first tale, "Knights of the Living Dead," is loosely based on the final chapter of Sir Thomas Mallory's work. Both the chapter and book are titled Le Morte D'Arthur.

Guinevere's infidelity is revealed and she is about to the burned for her crimes. In the original tale, Merlin is nowhere to be seen. Gawain wants to take no part and Mordred goads his liege to unleash the dogs of war by first burning his wife at the stake. People from Lancelot's estate plead to their lord help her and this knight plots a rescue mission. Because the Knights of the Round Table are conflicted over loyalties, a civil war soon erupts.

But in the zombie version, Merlin is the narrator. He knows that Lancelot is the trophy leader of the plague that befell the land. The story is well groomed to portray this once glorious knight to lead a dissolute path that is reminiscent of Mallory's work.

Sadly, Arthur cannot bring himself to kill his former right hand man. Merlin's advice to close the gates is never heeded and Mordred's one-sidedness is blind to the terrors that lies beyond Camelot's walls; he seems to be serving a different master that is not altogether representative of the Saxons he's allied with. He's on his own here.

In the next short, "Clearing the Land," Guinevere's honour guard is told in mythic terms. The Queen is like Freya leading a valkyrie charge and the stylistic and artistic change make for a curious read. The chapter reads more like a mix of a prologue and epilogue than a self-contained story. Had SLG actually commissioned a longer comic book run, then maybe this work could have been rewritten to provide a few stories of each of the Queen's knights. Mallory spent his time detailing stories of each of Arthur's Knights. Here, they are merely introduced. The tale provided here was not all that filling.

Although a different story takes place anon in the last installment, it has a quality reminiscent of the movie Creepshow. "In the Deep, Deep Shallows," the story takes place by the shores of Loch Ness, which is quite unusual for Arthurian lore. This tale feels more Celtic and it has a quality which is reminiscent of how faeries can spirit a soul away. With this story, the bard Aneirin falls in love with the Lady of the Lake. His life turns immaterial, if not lovelorn, and all he can do is to sing a lament, "The Wyvern's Song," until she's ready to bring him back ....

Literary and zombie enthusiasts may do well to pick up this graphic novel collection. The stories are very respectful to its varied sources. While the first two tales are more medieval fantasy than terror, the last story makes up for it—the surprises may make the most hardened of zombieheads to grin.

Overall: 7 out of 10.

A free copy of issue #1 of Knights of the Living Dead is available here:

Knights of the Living Dead at SLG Comic

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