I hate zombies. Indie comics make me hate zombies more than George Romero's last two features. A also tend to dislike indie superhero comics, because they are shameless about aping their influences and rarely have anything interesting to say about a tired field. Apparently though, the secret formula is putting those two things together, because despite itself I don't hate 'Z-Girl and the Four Tigers'.
The story concerns a female zombie, first unearthed in ancient China by the legendary philosopher Lao Tzu. Over the millennia she has battled the forces of supernatural evil, forever partnered with her Four Tigers, soldiers reincarnated every generation to fight beside her.
The influences are clear, taking a lot of notes from Mike Mignola's library. Z-Girl works for a BRPDesque organization, is hated and feared by humans thanks to the recent 9-11 of zombie outbreaks, and actively resists her foretold destiny as the harbinger of a future apocalypse. She even has a catch-phrasey minced oath that is reminiscent of Hellboy's signature 'aw crap'. However, it isn't always a bad thing to wear your influences on your sleeve. I tend to only find it truly offensive when the author acts like they are reinventing the wheel, which Jeff Marsick doesn't pretend to. It's a breezy read, fluffy and unpretentious, with just enough seriousness to avoid the trap of recent books that aim for ironic cool by way of the LULZ Random. The Tigers all have a distinct personality gimmick, which makes them a bit more fun than faceless badasses, and exploring more of what it means to be in their situation could result in some fun fodder down the road. One of Marsick's best moves with the writing is breaking each issue into separate segments, telling a series of different stories that all contribute to our understanding of the main plot and characters, taking the pressure off of any one story and avoiding having to pad the script. Each issue unfolds much the same way in this respect, and it keeps things moving at a tidy clip.
The art is good too, though not uniformly. Kirk Manley is in his element showing pagan gods tearing apart monumental temples or reducing people and monsters to red pulp but suffers when things have to slow down to talk, featuring some wonky perspective and uncomfortably rendered faces. Fortunately, that never lasts too long before something has to be shot or blown up, and Manley's colors are often quite nice, complimenting the wackiness with saturated tones. It's not perfect, but it's more than acceptable and quite often damn cool.
The first five issues cover the first story arc, as good of an introduction to the character and the tone as one could expect. A zero issue is also available, telling a series of short stories of Z-Girl's adventures throughout history, but is less polished overall. If you end up liking what you read I'd suggest going back and picking it up, but avoid reading it first as an introduction like I did as the main comic does a much better job of pulling you into Z-Girl's world.
This is definitely among the better indie books I've read recently and if you are looking for a light campy read I could absolutely recommend dropping some cash on it at the con. When you are going to be overtly familiar, it pays to at least do it professionally like these guys do.
Writer: Jeff Marsick Artist: Kirk Manley Price: $6.00 - Print; $1.49 - Digital Website