Under The Flesh

Creators: G. Delteres and J. L. Giles
Genre: Action/Horror
Schedule: Irregular
Rating: 2.5

Zombie Apocalypse stories are about as old as literature itself and have grown only more infectious, so to speak, over the years. It’s not hard to see why people are so intrigued by the concept. A world where zombies are a roaming threat is a world without rules and therefore infinite possibilities. Any amount of chaos and mayhem is admissible, especially if it looks cool. No moral or philosophical quandary is left untouched. Social structures suddenly collapse, leaving behind nothing but malleable clay for the author to mold at will. Even the science or magic that caused the disaster itself is essentially without limits. But for all those possibilities, it seems most of these stories follow the same basic formulas with little variation beyond figuring out the most creative and gory ways to kill zombies. Under The Flesh is much the same, relying on too many stereotypes to move the plot.

The website has decent navigation and a good archival system, but it’s inundated with Kickstarter ads everywhere, especially at the top of the page, where it takes up so much space that the webcomic itself is hidden below the fold. The creator is trying to go to print and it’s a laudable effort, but too much of the archives are taken up by old Kickstarter ads. Considering the deadline for the fundraiser has already expired, it would be a good idea to clean all that up, because it’s a distraction from the comic itself. Aside from that, though, the website is perfectly fine and the all-black background, which would normally be too stark, goes well with the look of the comic pages.

Artistically, this comic is most excellent and boasts a gritty, dynamic appeal.  Heavy shadows and hatching help to give it a dark and dramatic edge with no shortage of blood and gore, fire, splattering gunshots, and all manner of chaos in the visuals. This boldness of the art shines most during action scenes, but it works wonders for the less exciting moments too. Even something as mundane as somebody wrecking another person’s jigsaw puzzle is memorable and energetic in execution. The visuals help to bring a sense of tension befitting the situation, playing with a wide variety of angles and poses. It’s professional-level work and, in an amusing Easter Egg, the artist even pokes fun at himself showing a pose he had trouble with, which just goes to show the amount of patience and care that goes into every page. Those who read zombie stories purely for the spectacle alone would absolutely enjoy reading this comic, as the art is by far its best quality.

At the top of the webpage, a tagline says, “In a world ravaged by an unknown virus which infects only males, mankind’s last hope lies in a single soldier…”, and that’s somewhat of a problem . Women are immune to the virus, yet the story is following a male lead who, if the promotional art is any indication, will be fighting the zombies directly. That’s awfully counter-intuitive even if the man in question is a physically-modified soldier. One of the characters is a female police officer and she would seem the logical choice for dealing with zombies, but she hardly does anything at all. To be fair, the characters do acknowledge that “immune to the pathogen” does not equate to “won’t get messily devoured”, which means women are still very much in danger. Even so, with little exception, this female-heavy cast is being wasted on a story consisting mostly of stereotypes that really don’t make a lot of sense.

In a setting as survival-focused as a zombie story, it’s hard to take the writing seriously if the characters don’t act in a realistic way. Many B-list zombie flicks get away with being unrealistic because viewers enjoy them for their camp value, but this comic takes itself quite seriously, which is a problem when nearly every main character is a stereotype and half the cast is either ineffectual or makes completely irrational decisions. For example, the main character, ostensible super-soldier Ruben, seems more worried about testing his new physical limits than he is about his safety and finding better shelter than a library to hide out. Not only that, he’s abrasive, judgmental, and ungrateful towards those who attempt to protect him. His girlfriend is no better. She can’t get along in a crisis, picks petty fights with the other women, and puts herself in harm’s way, despite the fact that Ruben is the only person who would likely go after her, potentially exposing him to the pathogen. Half of the other characters bury themselves in idle tasks instead of dealing with the problem at hand. In a real-life disaster, most people would be frightened, exhausted, emotionally drained, and highly vigilant, not painting their toenails, playing music, or getting into jealous catfights.

Some of the characters do act in a more sensible way. The police officer doesn’t get to do a lot, but she is implied to be partly in charge, carefully watches what’s going on outside, and she kept everyone safe in the library before Ruben arrived. It would be a welcome change to see her take charge more. Another decent character is one found looking through scripture for answers, which hasn’t yielded any obvious results, but it denotes she’s keeping calm and thinking ahead. The best character, though, is Jewel, the lone woman in a gang of bikers who decisively blasts a zombie that infects one of their own. If more of the characters were like her, this would be a much better story. It isn’t that they all need to fight to be good characters; what she has that they lack is the ability to properly assess a problem and decisively, immediately respond. Of everyone in this comic, she has shown the most intelligence and her part in the story is the most satisfying to see.

While the art is absolutely fantastic, the writing hasn’t hit stride; however, at only one chapter in, it may be too early to judge Under the Flesh as a whole. Being cliché doesn’t necessarily ruin a zombie story since fans know and even revel in what they’ve come to expect. For some fans, that may be the case here as well, but for others, it might seem like a waste and the characters can be pretty grating for some of the stupid things they do. There is a fine line between hitting the right notes for the intended audience and just being strung along by stereotypes. Here’s hoping chapter two will play a different tune.

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