Comic Review: Rotten, Volume 1: Reactivated


Rotten is a comic series created by Mark Rahner, written by Mark Rahner & Robert Horten, and illustrated by Dan Dougherty. The series is published through Moonstone. Volume One of the series is titled Reactivated, and consists of the first six issues of the ongoing series. The book was published on January 4th, 2011.

Here’s the jacket blurb:

Collecting the first six issues of Moonstone’s acclaimed zombie-Western epic with an edgy topical bite. An Army vet is stop-lossed back into service to investigate a terror crisis by a president in office w/o the popular vote. Meet William Wade, Civil War vet, reluctant secret agent answering to President Rutherford B. Hayes, and zombie-hunter! In Reactivated, Agent Wade begins his mission with partner J.J. Flynn in a mining town locked down in a labor dispute and a siege of the undead. Plus, the two agents go undercover in an isolated, snowbound, debauched Army fort under slow attack by the undead - uncovering a Donner-like party and the fact that the wretched things are arising in different species everywhere.

I picked up this book last month, during the always amazing Emerald City ComiCon. I was out at dinner with some friends, and the series’ creator Mark Rahner was there. he heard that I run a website, and asked if I’d like to check out his series. When he handed me a copy of the book, I looked at the jacket, and was suitably impressed with the rave reviews plastered on the back cover, from the likes of FHM, AiCN, Fangoria, and Newsarama, and it even had great pull-quotes from Mark Waid, Ed Brubaker, and John Layman. Everyone seems to love this book, and yet I’d never heard of it - what’s that all about?! However, I remained somewhat skeptical, because frankly it feels like every other comic is a zombie comic these days, and the industry is becoming over-saturated. To impress me, this series really had to bring something original to the table, and boy did it ever!

Rotten is part zombie horror, and part western, all set against a tense socio-poitical landscape. The story is set 12 years after the end of the American Civil War, shortly following the inauguration of the 19th president of the United States, Rutherford B Hayes - who was elected president in one of the most contentious and hotly disputed elections in American history (drawing an interesting parallel to the election of George W. Bush). The protagonist William Wade is a special agent of the president, who has been tasked with investigating a number of recent reports of the dead coming back to life and terrorizing the living. However, the fact that he’s acting on behalf of the President tends to be less of a help, and more of a hindrance, as most people didn’t vote for him, and also don’t agree with the congressional commission that awarded him the Presidency.

This first volume of the series contains three story arcs. In the first story, Wade is trapped in a small mining town, which is plagued by zombies that seem to originate in the local mine. In the second arc he is injured and is held captive by a crazed family, who intend to feed him to their recently reanimated daughter. Finally, in the third arc, he and his comrade J.J. Flynn take command of a remote Army fort, on a forgotten mountain pass, where the men have descended into an unruly rabble, who have no respect for the sanctity of life, and play games with captured zombies. Tying all of these seemingly separate stories together is the story thread of a mysterious stranger with ghost white hair, who always seems to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and appears knows a lot more about events than he is letting on. Wade and Flynn believe this man may know what is behind these recent outbreaks, and are desperate to track him down.

What I really liked about Rotten is that the series is much more interesting than it at first appears to be. The first story arc was a great opener, but it was the second story, “Tracy Shilo”, which really sank its teeth into me (sorry, I had to do it). This one was a really creepy story, and a unique take on zombies, with all the residents of a protestant small town coming out against the few who want to kill a girl who has come back from the dead. The reason for this being that they don’t believe she is dead, and it’s all part of God’s plan - it’s actually a really smart rift on the right to life and Euthanasia issue. The story is actually full of smart commentary like this, with an especially good one in the third arc, when the soldiers have rearranged the corpses of zombies into sexual positions, and Wade berates them, saying that his will never be acceptable behavior for a US Army soldier - bringing to mind those infamous photos from Abu Ghraib.

It’s a really smart script from Rahner & Horten, with great pacing, very little exposition, and some fantastic, sharp dialogue. It’s a heck of a read, and you’ll find that once you pick the book up, you won’t be able to put it down until you’re finished.

I find that the artwork on the series starts out a little weak around the edges, but as the story progresses, Dougherty’s art improves as he seems to become more acquainted with the subject matter. Particular improvements are seen in both his colouring, and the way he lays out the page, making the action much easier to follow. Overall it makes for a great looking book, with some fantastically gory moments. My favourite panel in the book would have to be the Night of the Living Dead reference that he drops in the “Tracy Shilo” arc. See if you can spot it, it’s a nice Easter Egg!

Rotten is a great new take on the zombie horror genre that is smart, grim, and gritty. It’s like The Walking Dead meets Deadwood! I would highly recommend picking up a copy of this first collection, and catching up with the monthly series. This series really took me by surprise and has now earned a permanent place on my pull list!

You can order the book for only $12.44 from - go on, you know you want to!

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