SFcrowsnest

Zombo: You Smell Of Crime And I’m The Deodorant by Al Ewing and Henry Flint (graphic novel review).

Just before I started writing this review, I noticed on social media that it was the thirty-ninth birthday last week of the British comics institution that is ‘2000AD’. The galaxy’s greatest comic may be best known for the exploits of 22nd century lawman Judge Dredd but it has spawned a huge number of other characters over the years.

One of these more recent additions to ‘2000AD’s stable is Zombo, an excessively polite half-man, half-zombie hybrid whose only vice is his penchant for human flesh. ‘Zombo: You Smell Of Crime And I’m The Deodorant!’, published in late 2013, is the second graphic novel to reprint Zombo’s comedy horror adventures in ‘2000AD’, following on from ‘Zombo: Can I Eat You Please?’ in 2010. As with the previous outing, the script is supplied by Al Ewing while the artwork comes from the pen of Henry Flint.

There are two main stories in this collection, starting with ‘The Day The Zombo Died’. The first two pages of this story set the mood very clearly. On the first page, a psychopathic Morris Dancer carrying a magic red balloon which can ingest human organs uses it to murder an innocent passer-by. On the second, a megalomaniac ‘World President’ who looks suspiciously like Donald Trump (although remember this book was released in 2013) interrogates his staff on their ideas for cutting crime, fires most of them for saying the wrong thing and then informs them that he knew the answer all along. That answer is a new, improved version of Zombo, reversing all the things that went wrong with him and therefore called ‘Obmoz’! He quickly proves himself by catching the murdering Morris Dancer, ripping him to shreds and eating him. Since Obmoz seems initially, at least, to do exactly what the President wants, that makes Zombo surplus to requirements. An ‘unfortunate accident’ is planned for him but the President’s undercover agent is a moron, so Zombo survives. The President’s next brainwave is to call Zombo and Obmoz to his office at the same time, intending for the latter to deal with the former permanently. However, it turns out that Obmoz takes his mission extremely seriously, viewing both Zombo and the President as criminals in need of punishment. Zombo only just escapes with his life, though severely injured and strangely transformed by the experience. Can he take down Obmoz before anything else goes wrong?

The second main story in the graphic novel is ‘Planet Zombo’. This storyline follows on immediately after the dramatic ending of the previous tale. Zombo and his colleagues prepare for the arrival of the cyborg Hank Epsilon, who is riding in on Planet Chronos and is planning to crash it into the Earth in revenge for his defeat at Zombo’s hands in ‘Zombo: Can I Eat You Please?’. However, Zombo has been dramatically changed by his experiences and has been returned to his ‘factory settings’. Unfortunately, this allows his crazed creator, Doctor Emily Procoptus, to take control of his brain and body with disastrous results. Can Zombo’s tech team overcome Procoptus’s evil influence before Zombo murders them all? Even if they do, does anyone have a sensible idea for how to stop Epsilon from destroying the Earth?

To be honest, I was reluctant to write the previous two paragraphs of plot summary, as they completely fail to get across the pace, the humour and the absolute zaniness of Ewing and Flint’s creation. It veers from silly to serious, from subtle to obvious as hell, with a constant unpredictability that makes this graphic novel a delight to read. Just when you think you understand one of the characters, Ewing spins them a line that turns them on their head. Every time this happens, Flint’s artwork somehow manages to reflect the change in a facial expression or a pose that makes it seem entirely natural. These stories are the outcome of a brilliant partnership and you really have to read them, panel by panel and page by page, to understand why I’m so happy to rave about them here.

In addition to the two main stories, there are three extras. The first is a one shot that appeared in 2000AD’s Free Comic Book Day issue in 2013, the second is a slightly odd bonus story which suggests that writer Al Ewing has an egg fixation and the third is a gallery of covers and preparatory pencil sketches. The first two are somewhat slight but the gallery provides a very worthwhile conclusion to the volume.

I read much of this graphic novel on the train into London. It’s the first time in ages that I’ve found myself laughing out loud at something I’ve just read and got appropriately strange looks from the commuters sitting next to me. The reaction, however, was genuine. Al Ewing delivers a new gag every couple of frames with unerring comic timing. Henry Flint has brought his script to life beautifully with wonderfully over-the-top visuals that perfectly complement the surreal craziness of the storyline. I would love to have been in the meeting where the concept of Zombo was pitched to 2000AD’s editor. Not having been there, I’m just pleased that they said yes.

‘Zombo: You Smell Of Crime And I’m The Deodorant!’ is one of the funniest and most original graphic novels I’ve read in some time. If you think that the zom-com sub-genre was fully explored by ‘Shaun Of The Dead’, ‘Warm Bodies’ and the like, I’d urge you to read this graphic novel. You won’t regret it.

Patrick Mahon

February 2016

(pub: 2000AD. 128 page graphic novel, 2013. Price: £13.99 (UK), $17.99 (US), $21.00 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78108-034-4)

check out website: www.2000adonline.com