Review: “Undead Border: Year Zero” (656 Comics, Festival of Dread Special)

Welcome back to the Festival of Dread, The Splintering‘s month-long celebration of all things deadly and disturbing!

My attitude towards zombie stories resembles Indiana Jones’ attitude toward snakes.  With that bias in mind, reviewing an anthology of zombie stories like Undead Border: Year Zero seems antithetical, but good storytelling surpasses inherent biases. Please keep that in mind as you review my review.

Undead Border: Year Zero is a 76-page anthology issued by 656 Comics captures six short stories loosely related by proximity and causation in the border town of Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The first story titled Patient Zero establishes the cause of the “outbreak,” and is the best read of the six. Writer Javier Valencia really shows a talent for sequential storytelling and delivering a tale with compelling characters. Valencia’s writing – along with some surprisingly sharp and interesting art by Dario Rodriguez – sets up a thoughtful human story beyond mere chomping and head bashing.  Don’t worry though, both zombie story staples show up.

Major kudos to both Valencia and Rodriguez on presenting mature content in a mature way with only 20 pages to work with. Too often, comic creators mistake grotesque images and gratuitously foul language as mature. Don’t mistake my comment for prudishness – it’s more of a statement that “mature” in the comics industry is often limited to a 15-year old’s vocabulary while missing nuance that can tickle the adult palate. I’m intentionally avoiding fine details, as explaining what makes the story good would truly spoil the experience.

The rest of the book doesn’t match Patient Zero’s depth of storytelling. Unsurprisingly, my second favorite story titled Seven Days involves Valencia’s participating in the writing. Unfortunately, the art falls short of the bar set by Rodriguez, and the dialogue is a bit stale. The biggest disappointment to me is failing to deliver on what made Patient Zero interesting and unique, as the characters are more caricatures in the last five stories. Could it be that I just don’t understand what the audience expects in a zombie apocalypse book?

The remaining four stories are by a different team (no involvement from writer Javier Valencia), and all are pretty much standard “Zombie B Movie” fare. If you like your zombie stories old-school, hardcore action style, you’ll probably enjoy the other four stories. I don’t, and I didn’t.  It’s just “not my bag baby.”

Overall, Undead Border: Year Zero accomplishes what’s expected and exceeds expectations in the first 20 pages. Zombie fans ought to give it a try. Javier Valencia certainly shows that there’s more to the genre than Robert Kirkman’s modern interpretation. That’s a win for the Z-nation in my book.

If Undead Border does sound like a book that you would be interested in, the team is currently prepping a crowdfunding campaign for Escape or Die, the next book in the Undead Border series. You can sign up for email updates (and lock in a chance to get a free trading card) via the Undead Border: Escape or Die Indiegogo pre-launch page here.

Thanks for reading! You can check out more of our Festival of Dread content here!


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