Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Review: Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers!

In a first for our fledgling site, we were lucky enough to be given the opportunity to review book one of new comic series Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers! This is an independent book produced by Z Studios, written by scribe and frequent Newsarama contributor Jeff Marsick, with art by the indubitably manly Kirk Manley.

What's it all about and how did I feel about it? Find out after the jump!

It's a high concept premise, so try to wrap your brain around this one:

Z-Girl is an affable "high-functioning" zombie, shrouded in mystery, who kicks supernatural ass for the Department of Irregular Warfare. Her team of four (although to begin with it's three) highly-skilled mercenaries are actually the human hosts for ancient warrior tiger spirits. It's a blend of history, mythology, spirituality, horror, and over-the-top grindhouse action. Think Hellboy meets Indiana Jones meets Dawn of the Dead meets S.H.I.E.L.D., but it's an original mix, and very much its own unique thing. Our hero might be dead but this still feels fresh.

Firstly, I love the design of this book. Manley creates a vivid, detailed world (although I confess that I much prefer the crisp inks of the cover, to the more sketchy pencilled outlines of the interiors), but I'm most in love with the outlandish design of the titular character. She strikes a great balance between fetish and combat (I really dig her boots and gloves) and why not put your milkless dead boobs to good use by strapping a ton of bullets to them? And I think be it Star Wars' Aayla Secura or Smurfette, I'm just conditioned to enjoy blue women. (Although the book fails to address what a leather clad corpse must smell like).

But there is far more interest to the character than her design, thanks to Marsick's well-considered writing. The zombie body affords our heroine an entertaining degree of recklessness, hurling herself into the firing line and being riddled with gaping holes in the process. As long as there's enough flesh left to regenerate, she can be packed in a tank and restored for the next mission. It's a great gimmick, but there is, of course, an inconvenient catch. While generally personable, Z-Girl still has to battle her ingrained flesh-eating desires which threaten to manifest if she drops her guard. It adds to the drama, and while we only get a glimpse of it here, I anticipate her inner turmoil finally bursting out. It's a clever use of a zombie protagonist and makes her more than just a fashion statement.

For me, at least, her team of mercs, while promising, have not yet seen their full potential. They're all intriguing and well designed but we're yet to see if they expand beyond our initial expectations (i.e. the cocky Tony Stark guy, the stoic black guy, the mysterious masked guy) but that's OK at this stage. This is part 1 of 5 and it's more important that we learn about our hero first. Marsick strikes me as a sharp enough guy to have a lot more up his sleeve as the story progresses. Their origins are also mostly mysterious and I think interest will grow as he pulls back the curtains. The idea of human bodies hosting ancient spirits is rife with story value. How did they each get inhabited? Who were the hosts before them? Are these human characters indispensable and will we see new hosts in the future? What do these ancient spirits even look like? One of the things I really admire about this story is that it lays the groundwork for a hundred stories.

My only real gripe (SPOILERS START HERE) is the scene that gives us an introduction to the newest Red Tiger who is selected  in this issue. The human host is a drunk redhead returning from a bar with a sleazy guy she just met who is intent on mauling her. She warns him against it, but then still lets him into the house, where he predictably attempts to rape her (a trope that I feel is relied upon too often as a way of creating peril for female characters). My problem is that it doesn't really tell us anything unique about this character (other than the fact that she's stupid for letting him in the first place. Did she think he would suddenly stop groping her once they got inside and start being a dapper gentlemen who would tell her about his charity work?). I would have a preferred a scene that put her in peril, but gave us more of an insight into who she is and what makes her special. (SPOILERS END).

The book's real success is when it separates itself from reality and engages in inventive, epic spectacle. I think it's here that the story really shines, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing an ancient temple overrun by machine-gun wielding apes and the summoning of an effectively daunting and all-consuming god. Overall, the scale of the book surprised and impressed me, and I really do think that Marsick and Manley have created a wonderful set of toys to play with. I look forward to seeing the fun that they have bashing them together, rearranging them, and exploring their possibilities as the series continues. They have a playground worth playing in.

One of my biggest problems with modern pamphlet-style comics is that they often feel substantial. They can be quick-reads with stories that are too decompressed to be satisfying. That's not how I felt here, though. Z-Girl packs a lot into its 32 pages. It's a solid introduction to what is really an incredibly expansive story, and leaves us with enough unanswered questions to pique our interest for more. Mysteries of the ancient past are eluded to, and it looks like the team might be bracing for an apocalyptic future. Oh! And here's a bonus! One of the Department of Irregular Warfare bigwigs refers to a zombie outbreak in Western Australia and says that they're getting close to Perth! I live in Perth! That's rare shout-out from an American comic. Guess I'd better buy a chainsaw!

Sadly you won't yet be able to walk into your local comic store and buy this, but you can pick up a copy from Indy Planet (which I only just realised existed and must spend some time browsing through) and I believe that the Jeff and Kirk will bringing the book to the New York Comic Con in October. You would also do well to check out their official site. Plus, did you know that they got interviewed by Naked News!? They have already fulfilled one of my life-long dreams:

So, yeah! Z-Girl and the 4 Tigers is definitely a lot more than a shamble of animated flesh, and thankfully won't leave you craving for brains. I wish them every success!

If you have anything you would like to share with us, remember that we can be reached at contact@fruitlesspursuits.com

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the terrific review, Luke!

    I just wanted to add that issues of Z-Girl are also digitally available at www.DriveThruComics.com and in about a week on www.Graphicly.com.