By Jonathan Edwards
Apparently, this is based on a tabletop game. I mention this first because I didn't realize that when I initially signed up for Dead of Winter #1, and finally learning it is what made some things make more sense. Well, one thing made more sense: the title. Because, while the book does technically take place in Winter, it doesn't really drive home the whole "endless Winter" thing that's supposed to be accompanying the zombie apocalypse. In fact, I only know that that's supposed to be a thing because I read the plot synopsis inside the front cover. Seriously, I can't remember a single point where anyone even made a passing reference to it being anything other than a normal old Winter. Furthermore, there's not really anything showing why the Winter makes this scenario particularly more problematic than any other zombie apocalypse. Sure, we can infer that it's really cold, and that probably sucks. But, wouldn't reduced temperatures also negatively impact the zombies as well? For example, literally freezing them if and when it gets cold enough? That seems like a pretty even break to me in the grand scheme of things. Anyway, my point is, I presume the Winter setting plays a bigger part as a mechanic in the tabletop game, and since this is an adaptation, I have no further issues with the title. The issue itself on the other hand...
The biggest surprise for me reading this was that Kyle Starks wrote it. I'm admittedly not super familiar with his prior work, but I've enjoyed everything I read from his book Rock Candy Mountain over at Image. I can kind of see some of the same writing characteristics and style here, but I'm also infinitely less engaged with the world. Maybe it's just because I've never really liked zombies, at least not at face value. Although, at the same time, these are some pretty run-of-the-mill zombies, and the characters aren't much better. Sparky is the obvious standout simply by virtue of being a badass, zombie killing dog. But, he's also very clearly being written that way to become the "fan favorite" or whatever. And by the second time a character said "that dog hates zombies," I was pretty much done with the whole shtick.
There's also a weird tampon joke. I call it "weird" because I'm really not sure how I feel about it. I mean, I guess it's funny. Yet, it also draws attention to itself in a way that feels bad. It's like Starks is saying "haha, look at me! People never talk about women's periods during the zombie apocalypse, and here I am making a joke about it. Aren't I clever?" I doubt that's how he honestly felt when writing that line, but that's absolutely how it felt reading it, and the feeling obviously stuck with me long enough to make it into my review. Also, I find myself wondering if the "Santa" at the end is a legit cannibal or just really drunk.
As for the art... yeah, I don't like it. The backgrounds, zombies, and Sparky are all fine, but the other character designs don't work for me. Specifically, the problem is the faces. Some panels are better than others, but in general, they're overly simplistic, have weird expressions, and/or look misshapen. Diaz is the biggest offender, literally losing and gaining back stubble between scenes. And, all of the events of this issues take place back to back, so it's not like he had the time to shave and regrow it (not that that'd make much sense even if he did have the time). In a strange way, it kind of reminds me of Matt Kindt's art. Except, with Kindt, it's born from and part of his greater aesthetic. Whereas here, it frankly just feels out of place.
So, here's the thing: even though I personally had problems with Dead of Winter #1, I'm having trouble calling it outright bad. The story still functions fine enough, and I'd be willing to bet that the more zombie inclined would still a get a fair kick out of it. So yeah, if a standard fare plot is enough for you as long as zombies are present, or if you really like the tabletop game, maybe give this one a look. But as for me, I think I'm going to go ahead and leave it here.
Dead of Winter #1
Writer: Kyle Starks
Artist: Gabriel "Gabo" Bautista
Publisher: Oni Press