Join the lone survivor of a tank crew, as he becomes a desperate effort to get a CDC scientist to safety in Canada with hope of a cure against the zombie hordes in a carnage-wracked America in Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1.
Writer: Jonathan Maberry
Artist: Drew Moss
Colorist: Jay Fotos
Letters: Robbie Robbins
Editor: David Hedgecock
Publisher: IDW Publishing
Release Date: November 7th, 2018
Cover Price: $4.99
Previously in Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell: Crewman in an M1 Abrams, Steve Hanson had just returned from a tour of duty in Afghanistan when he and his crew were deployed to help contain a zombie outbreak in Pennsylvania. The lone survivor of a zombie attack, Hanson soon teams up with fellow survivor Shawn, and Dr. Harriet Jayne, who has come close to finding a cure. The trio is soon in a race to reach the last CDC base set up in Canada, before the hordes, zombie and desperate humans, can claim them.
HAVEN’T WE BEEN HERE BEFORE?
Prolific and talented writer Jonathan Maberry (V-Wars, the Joe Ledger series of books) returns once again to the well of zombie fiction with this opening issue of Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell. Maberry has been here before with the Dead of Night series of zombie apocalypse thrillers, which are set in the same region as Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1. The series of two novels and one novella are a recommended read as they deal with much the same material as this issue – the outbreak of a zombie plague, and the frantic efforts to contain it before the President decides to nuke the area.
Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1 contains many of the tropes of zombie fiction to which we’ve long become accustomed. Desperate and plucky survivors, who have been forced to kill their zombie loved ones along the way, band together in a last ditch effort to survive and save the remnants of humanity from being cannibalized by their undead brethren. This being a visual medium, there’s a flood of violent body horror, with victims being munched on as they die screaming, heads exploding from gunshots and general mayhem along the highway to hell. Even the addition of a group of fellow survivors gunning for Dr. Jayne, which adds a wrinkle to the story, still has an overriding sense of ‘been there, done that.’
A recent Major Spoilers podcast touched on the state of zombie fiction, and came to the conclusion the sub-genre was staggering towards its end through over-familiarity. While Maberry is a solid storytelling, combining characterization and action in a well-paced opening issue, even a more gifted writer would struggle to bring something new to a tired field.
That said, there are enough little touches in Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1 to pique your interest, no matter how momentary it might be. The Monroeville Mall sign harks back to Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Shawn’s monologue about having to kill everyone he loves to survive speaks to where his character is now. The conspiracy-laden rant by one of their pursuers is pure alt-right nonsense, and even if it is torn from the pages of Reddit, it’s a hilarious concentration that all that is crazy in America today.
Probably the best feature of the issue is the first part of a short story called Chokepoint, written by Maberry, included at the end of the issue. Again, it features the same ideas as most zombie fiction, but with the extra space, Maberry is even more effective in setting up his premise and filling it with believable characters facing an unbelievable situation. If you’re on the fence about picking up this issue and future ones, then Chokepoint should be enough to put your hand in your pocket. It’s compelling and doom-laden, like all good horror fiction.
BLOOD AND GUTS RIGHT THERE ON THE PAGE
In a book like this, you don’t want your artwork to be an aesthetic exercise in the sparse and intangible. It has to drag the reader through the horror of the crowds of brain-hungry monsters, dripping in gore, with civilization crashing down around their ears. And artist Drew Moss does that ably in Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1. With Jay Fotos’s deep colors, Moss packs his panels with visceral detail and fast-paced action. Heads explode, limbs are lopped and the blood-dimmed tide rises higher and higher along with the body count. There’s a sense of scale as the group moves north, towards Canada, on a highway packed with the dead. High angled shots give a sense of that scale, while close up images of heads exploding will delight the dedicated gorehound. It’s extreme, it’s excessive, and it’s exactly what a book like this demands.
BOTTOM LINE – IT’S GOT A PULSE, BUT IT’S STILL DEAD
Zombie fiction is not dead, but it sure ain’t alive, either. There will always be a place for it within the horror canon, but as with anything, the wheel has begun to turn. It will come back, after the next iteration of the vampire, witch or Cthulhu-esque monster has had its turn on the stage. Until that moment, Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1 is a more than adequate placeholder.
Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1
Zombie fiction is not dead, but it sure aint alive, either. There will always be a place for it within the horror canon, but as with anything, the wheel has begun to turn. It will come back, after the next iteration of the vampire, witch or Cthulhu-esque monster has had its turn on the stage. Until that moment, Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell #1 is a more than adequate placeholder.