As regards narrative structure, thematic approach, setting, characters and pretty much any other valid comparison you could think of, Stefano Cardoselli’s World War I zombie comic, Who Will Save the World, has very little in common with Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s film Where Do We Go Now. Didn’t see that coming, didja? I don’t often begin my comic book reviews with references to Middle East cinema, but when I do... To illustrate their most key differences, Where Do We Go Now tells the story of a small Lebanese town’s struggle with the fractious nature of religion in an area constantly besieged by ostensibly sectarian conflict, whereas Who Will Save the World follows the exploits of Nikola Tesla’s electric war against a turn-of-the-century undead menace controlled by “ze Germans” ... so yeah, apples and oranges, really.
What they do share, however, and what gives me (tenuous) license to talk about one in reference to the other, is really the obviousness of their shared facade; that is, the question that each poses at its respective outset. Both introduce an inquiry that teases in their ambiguity that which is answered depressingly in their exits, and each does so to revelatory great effect.
Cardoselli’s book does not, perhaps, do so as directly as the final scene in Labaki’s film (nor indeed in another famously-goading, yet less-directly interrogative title in Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream”), but I felt a similar deep chill as the nature of its title was finally addressed with the same answer: “We don’t know.” Hopelessness, as always, makes strange bedfellows.
When I first cracked open Cardoselli’s one shot and saw it was yet another book about warring zombies, I was instantly hesitant to continue. Not ironically, the entertainment industry has been inundated by the undead, and while I’m still not as (pardon the upcoming pun) fatalistic about the incursion, I do agree that a modern-day zombie story needs to be different to effectively impress - a feat that I admit is becoming increasingly more difficult.
Despite what you might think based on my longwinded intro, Who Will Save the World doesn’t bring anything especially new to the tried-and-true zombie dynamic, other than the fact that the aforementioned Tesla develops a series of weapons that can be used against them. What follows in the story, however, is basically a crack team of operatives put together by the Allied Forces to deliver Nikola’s electric boogaloo to the Kaiser’s doorstep, or at least to whomever is leading the unstoppable dead horde, thus negating the upper edge of the Germans who first weaponized the tumorous legion, and thus ending The Great War.
It all ends as you might expect - in calamity - with the objective being counted as a win, but at the possible loss of a global soul, and as much as I enjoyed the final answer to its titular question, the sick pleasure in Who Will Save the World is in its journey. Mostly told through the semi-resigned, if not completely defeatist inner monologue of the ill-fated American captain chosen to lead the strike at the heart of the German zombie empire, the writing here is mostly relegated to utilitarian storytelling, instead allowing most of its narrative elegance to be vetted through visual means. And that is what makes this book truly special.
Like Dustin said in his recent review of Cardoselli’s other book, WALK, the Italian storyteller’s style is not going to be for everyone. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Sam Kieth’s work at its most disconnected and frenzied, or maybe a more loose-knit version of Simon Bisley’s more grotesquely sinuous fare; and to me, it’s fuckingincredible.
Everything about the art perpetually implies movement in its jittery crack, splut and spill across the page - like a junkie’s dropped syringe - with angles that can only be described as excessive and an inventive re-imagining of physics that would be better discussed outside the earshot of polite company. This is a tapestry of teeth that stick through gums like spears, set to a soundtrack of sucking wounds and fragrant with spent shells and both meanings of the word discharge.
Who Will Save the World is gorily disgusting and absolutely beautiful at once, like a visceral stained glass depiction of the Passion that’s been shattered to bits and bled over, particularly in the watercolor wash with which Cardoselli bruises each cracked granite panel. The more whacky it is - the more infinitely unhinged - the more arresting it becomes. But is it new?
No, not really. This is the classic zombie story, perhaps in a somewhat different context, but it’s still monsters begetting monsters (both metaphorically-speaking and literal). It has solid, if not overly experimental writing, set beside some of the most captivatingly unorthodox art I’ve ever seen, rendering its chosen medium as a juicily dissected thing.
Its asking price of $7.99 may seem steep, but look past that for a minute. I guarantee that you, like me, have spent much more on much less. For double the page count of a regular book with all that great, grimy art, this thing is worth it.
Cardoselli’s Who Will Save the World may begin with a query that results in a disheartening answer, but one thing that is not in doubt is how great this book is as a whole. Unlike its name, I recommend you read it unquestionably.
Writer/Artist: Stefano Cardoselli Publisher: Darkslinger Comics, Azurek Studios Price: $7.99 - print, $3.00 - digital Webstore