Let me be frank: I am SICK of zombie-related comics. I am SICK of zombie-related film and television properties. I feel like the whole “living dead” shtick that has inundated entertainment media over the last five years or so is way beyond its 15 minutes of fame. It’s not that I hate zombies; when zombies are done intelligently they can be interesting. When the living dead are merged with other genres the results can be intriguing to say the least. But the ball is dropped way too often and we are left with uninspired drivel. I suppose what I’m saying is that there’s nothing new under the sun with zombies but someone could at least take a stab at adding a new twist or taking things into a weirder direction. That is exactly what Valen The Outcast, a new zombie fantasy adventure series from Boom! Studios, stands out. It is a twist on the zombie and sword and sorcery genres that surprisingly hasn’t been done a million times. Not even a dozen. And that is what makes it an adequate and promising first issue.
Valen The Outcast #1, created by publisher Ross Richie and written and drawn by Michael Alan Nelson and Matteo Scalera respectively, tells the story of King Valen Brand, a fellow who is the very picture of a warrior king. He is killed by a rather evil-looking necromancer (think Sauron from The Lord of The Rings Trilogy and you’ll get a decent visual) and resurrected as the undead. His new undead status, of course, leads to him not only losing his throne but being cast out of his own kingdom as well. The premise of the series? Valen wants his soul and his throne back. And the head of the necromancer who cursed him with his current existence.
Michael Alan Nelson, who also writes 28 Days Later for Boom!, does a decent job of adding the zombie element to sword-and-sorcery fantasy. For the most part the story itself is trope-heavy, meaning all of the usual fantasy elements are readily apparent from the get-go, but Nelson does a decent job of incorporating the little twists that come with Valen’s physical and mental state. These little twists add some spice and intrigue to what would easily be a Conan-esque approach to storytelling. All in all the story is nowhere near terrible – it’ actually reads well – but it doesn’t break a whole lot of new ground either. Then again that’s not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to the fantasy genre. The story has enough of a balance of plot and action to work well within the sword-and-sorcery realm.
Series artist Matteo Scalera, who has done some work for Boom! and Image in the past but is still a relative unknown to comic fans, does a decent job handling the art chores. His art is gritty, even sketch-like in places, yet feels right when being utilized to tell this kind of story. Scalera’s action sequences really stand out and show his ability to tell a story visually, especially when compared to some of the stiff conversation sequences that he draws throughout the first issue. I understand the difficulty that comes with drawing static panels so I do not say this in reference to this being one of the book’s weaknesses. I say this because the difference is obvious. Scalera is an action artist, and he is in his element for the vast majority of this book.
Valen The Outcast actually has some promise. I was pleasantly surprised. It isn’t groundbreaking but it is a fun read with some cool action and a decent zombie twist. If you like fantasy done well this Valen is worth checking out. And with a crazy $1 price tag it’s definitely worth the price of admission.