Multiple dirty bombs are detonated around New York City, unleashing a plague unlike anything the world has seen before. The infected not only turn on the innocent, but they keep moving after they’re dead. As three survivors struggle from one supposed safe zone to the next, they’ll have to overcome each other, the living, and the dead to find any hope of escaping the city alive.
Dead Run mines familiar ground — zombies unleashed in the urban environment, disparate and desperate survivors banding together, frequent flashbacks to pre-zombie times for exposition — but manages to feel more bleak than the usual fare. Our scattered protagonists are already struggling by the time horror descends on the city — whether it’s PTSD, problems with authority, or a string of unfortunate relationships — adding another layer of despair on top of the despondent cake of a zombie apocalypse.
Dead Run goes further, though, by offering teasing snippets of optimism for both the characters and the reader, cutting to various safe zones and allowing our police officer the hope of a happy reunion with his wife. And as the story progresses and various safe zones prove to be anything but, the comic takes on a Grapes of Wrath feeling of inevitable doom.
The black-and-white art is a mixed bag. The visuals have their downside. The graphic novel is such a visual medium, and the computer-generated illustrations sometimes make for a confusing frame or action sequence. And in a medium so dependent on a harmonious marriage of deft writing and crisp, engaging, comprehensible illustration, those confusing or lackluster frames hurt the book’s overall star-ranking in my estimation.
But the art has its merits as well — adding to the grimness of the proceedings, and presenting stark, lifeless settings for our waxen-faced CGI characters to explore — and this is one instance where the Uncanny Valley of facial expression absolutely works for the story at hand. Everyone looks like a zombie, even before the dirty bombs go off, and every page, you search each character’s face for some trace of humanity, in the hopes that someone has made it out alive.
While Dead Run isn’t the most polished or original zombie comic, its staggering bleakness is something to behold.