There are a lot of comic books out there. Sure, the only ones that sell are superhero comics from Marvel and DC, but there are a lot more comics out there than that. So the open-minded reader – or at least the reader who is trying to pry his mind out of the exclusivity of the cape cage – may not know where to begin when exploring the world beyond the tights. Sometimes, when confronted with all the stuff on the indy shelves, one might just gravitate towards a neat cover image or a catchy name. Vertigo's The New Deadwardians was the latter for me, and I tried it out on a whim once I saw that it was written by Dan Abnett, whose work with Andy Lanning I have generally liked, with some reservations. Even though it deals with the subjects of vampires and zombies, both concepts saturated in the market in this day and age, it's managed to keep me just hooked enough to press onward with it.
The New Deadwardians. It's neat. In my head, I can sing that title to the tune of "Kings of the Wild Frontier" by Adam Ant. It's set, naturally, in London's Edwardian era in 1910, in a world where a zombie plague has taken hold, and the only way to avoid their scavenging hunger is to take "The Cure" and transform yourself into a vampire. Although they don't really use those terms. The zombies are called "the Restless" and the vampires refer to themselves as "The Young." The first issue introduced us to Chief Inspector George Suttle, Murder Squad, one of the Young who is the last homicide detective in his precinct, considering that there are only three ways to kill one of The Young and thus killings are rather rare. Even though he no longer needs sleep, he spends every night lying in bed trying to do so anyway.
"It is not the sleep that I miss so much as the dreams. I do miss dreams very much," Suttle says. "I fail to recall now what my dreams used to be about specifically. I know they were generally about hope. Wishes for the future, that sort of thing. Now I have more future than I could possibly need. And there is nothing I wish to do with it."
That's an unsettling note upon which to open the series, made even moreso by Suttle's not-sleep being disturbed by one of the Restless breaking into his home and eating his housekeeper Mrs. Hedley, and managing to bite a frightened young maid named Louisa. Suttle then takes her to receive The Cure before she becomes one of the Restless and OH MY GOD, I JUST RIGHT NOW GOT "THE YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS" JOKE.
Ahem. Sometimes, the obvious eludes me. See Peter Panzerfaust.
Anyway, amidst a curious murder mystery wherein one of The Young has been found deader than undead ("Somehow, someone has managed to murder that which is not alive.") within sight of Parliament, a union protest is out in force as well. The Edwardian era was known for its rigid class structure in contrast with the gains in power by unionized blue-collar workers, and it seems Abnett will be examining these issues as well, as the people in Zone B are angry about something – likely being relegated to Zone B.
In Issue #2, we're given the apparently pejorative term "The Bright" to refer to still-normal humans, and it's revealed that the victim was Lord Hinchcliffe, Senior Advisor to the Crown, and thus the intrigue deepens. Not only does the social power of The Young apparently rely on the perception that they are immortal and superhuman (and why this case needs to be handled quietly), but now the victim is high society (requiring even more discretion). There's some interesting stuff at play here, and the next issue promises that we'll find out just what the deal is with Zone B.
Like Joshua Hale Fialkov does in I, Vampire, Abnett is quietly proving that vampires don't have to be annoying and lame all the time – if handled with some skill, they can be intriguing. The idea that they all have to file their teeth down and confer with their doctors if they're having "tendencies," and the notion that some of The Bright work in "thirsty houses" ostensibly as rentable victims for those WITH said tendencies, make for some curious social structures. Not to mention the quiet little things, like Louisa realizing that she will miss animals now that she's one of the Young, because pets and birds and the like don't take to vampires. On the face of it, it's a big whodunit so far, but there are potential depths to The New Deadwardians concept that poke at the mind's curiosity.
The art is from I.N.J. Culbard, and it's remarkably clean and crisp, and very spare, more often than not. The Restless look particularly creepy, and yet most of them are still very well dressed for being zombies – presumably, they were buried in their finest clothes. It's very solid work from Culbard that might not be vivid and eye-catching enough to draw anyone in on its own, but it isn't so stylized that it would turn anybody off on its own, either.
While it's a bit dry at times, that's pretty much what you'd have to expect from a tale set in the stuffy old London of this era. It helps set the mood and tone required for this story – it wouldn't be quite right if it wasn't so austere. However, it likely won't remain so for very long, once the class warfare kicks into gear and we start to get more of the history of the societal structure. The New Deadwardians is certainly worthy of your attention, should you choose to investigate further.