Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: Video Games and Zombies

By Lyndsey Holder

Oeming, Michael Avon. Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Stories. Dark Horse, 2011.

Carlson, Bryce, ed. Zombie Tales Omnibus: Outbreak. Boom! Studios, 2011.

You know, no one should talk smack about soap operas. Ever. We all enjoy them in one format or another. If we’re not watching Days of Our Lives, then we’re avidly following the exploits of our favourite video game characters. It says something about the writers at Valve that the characters are dynamic enough that they can have believable, interesting lives outside of their video games. You actually want to know what’s going on with the Scout, with Bill, with Chell. What happened before you met them? What’s happening now? It’s like finding the Facebook profile of someone you used to be best friends with in elementary school. You want to know what’s going on, but you also feel vaguely creepy for being so interested.

The art is fantastic and, unsurprisingly, the writing is amazing. What were Louis, Bill, Zoey, and Francis doing when the zombie apocalypse hit? What happens when someone from the Red Team becomes BFFs with someone from the Blue Team? What happened in the time between the end of Portal 1 and the beginning of Portal 2? All of the questions you were asking yourself are answered, and now you have more questions and you want more answers!

In general, this is an awesome compilation. Having said that, let me hate on “Lab Rat”, the Portal story, for just a minute. Portal was a great game, not just because it was interesting and clever and fun and different, but because the protagonist was a strong, capable female. There are a handful of games that feature female protagonists. Most of those protagonists are more concerned with looking sexy than being clever because they are made for men to ogle, not for women to look up to. Chell is different. She’s smart, independent, tough, and looks like a normal person. Also, she’s adopted, like me, so I like her just a little bit more for that – despite what the news might try to make you think, adoptees think it’s awesome when a well-written character turns out to be adopted, especially when that character isn’t a homicidal maniac like pretty much every other famous fictional adoptee. It’s frustrating, then, to have the Portal story be about some dude and how he totally saved Chell. Look, guys, you have three quarters of Left For Dead1 and 2, you have the main protagonist of Half Life and 99% of Team Fortress 2. I think you have enough of Valve, okay? I only have this tiny little corner and I would appreciate you not peeing all over it in an effort to mark your territory.

I’m not done yet, either. I understand the idea of mimicking someone else’s style -it often leads to interesting ideas and concepts, and can make you see an artist in a different light – but if you’re going to imitate someone, do it properly. There’s a very half-assed David Mack feel to the art in “Lab Rat”. It has the different textures and stylistic juxtapositions, but lacks the depth and layers of Mack’s art. It’s as if the artist looked at David Mack’s work and thought it was neat, but didn’t really want to be bothered spending that much time working at it.

Are you tired of zombies, yet? I’m not, though I really don’t understand why I’m not. Zombies have become the Starbucks of the horror genre: They show up everywhere, even in places that seem completely absurd. Unlike Starbucks, though, there are still people who are making zombies interesting, and I’m always ready to read zombie stories, to see what new and exciting things people are doing with them.

Zombie Tales Omnibus: Outbreak has very little to offer that is interesting. Most of the things in it that are new are new because they’re ludicrously awful. Zombies help a man find out that a boy he called “retard” was actually clever! Animals from a zoo are working together, and not eating each other, to survive the zombie apocalypse – which is a neat idea, I suppose, until you remember that lions survive by eating meat, not by doing good deeds. A zombie story with Japanese mythology has random boobs and an upskirt panty shot, as if the author figured that the writing was crap and the only way to hold the reader’s interest was to appeal to our inner peeping tom. Comic Sans is used as a serious font, which is as ridiculous as writing a paper on Egyptian pharaohs using the Papyrus font.

There are some decent stories here, but they’re drowned out by the completely terrible ones. It’s like wading through a swamp full of skunk cabbage trying to find a rose.

You can buy Valve Presents: The Sacrifice and Other Steam-Powered Storiesand Zombie Tales Omnibus: Outbreak on Amazon.com.