Chances are, we’ve all heard our fair share of apocryphal tales regarding American history. Arguably, the most famous of these stories is that of a young George Washington not only possessing the prepubescent balls to take a hatchet to the arboreal elements of his father’s estate, but also the brazen wherewithal to own up to the whole affair. “I must confess, father; I did it for the lulz,” lil’ Georgie apparently said.

However, I’d like to turn your attention to a slightly lesser known event, the last words of American Nathan Hale, spoken moments before the British Army strung him up for being a spy. “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country,” is the fourteen-word sentence that effectively immortalized Hale, and is now found on plaques and in textbooks alike. While the historicity of this quote being spoken verbatim is doubtful (not unlike the abovementioned event surrounding Washington), it has certainly has inspired generations of Americans, and I would wager, might have had something to do with the creation of one of DC Comics’ latest titles, Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie.

While this cover by Howard Porter was the first art I came across promoting the series, I still think Cooke's covers come closer to the feel of the series.

While this cover by Howard Porter was the first art I came across promoting the series, I still think Cooke’s covers are a closer fit to the feel of the book.

See, G.I. Zombie (I’ve got a thing against the repeated use of clunky titles) is hinged on the question, “What if you had more than one life to give for your country?” Or, more appropriately, “What if you were incapable of giving up your life for your country, because you just so conveniently happened to be undead?” But before we get into that, allow me to briefly discuss why this book sports such an unwieldy title.

Star Spangled War Stories is an old series from DC that ran from 1952 to 1977, with The Unknown Soldier taking on the lead feature role from 1970 on. In 1977, the book was simply renamed The Unknown Soldier, and ran until 1982. And, for those unaware, The Unknown Soldier first appeared in the “New 52” in 2012, courtesy of another one of DC’s other war series, G.I. Combat. The two men responsible for this modern take? Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, the very same duo bringing you 2014’s G.I. Zombie. You just got “full-circled.”

This is what Star-Spangled War Stories looked like, circa 1976.

This is what Star-Spangled War Stories looked like, circa 1976.

Point being, if anybody was to be trusted with pulpy and weird tales that aren’t interested in towing the line on DC’s narrative mantra of “Dark, gritty, violent, serious” or their house art style, it’d be Gray and Palmiotti. And, given that the three series they’ve written since the “New 52” started (G.I. Combat, Batwing, and All-Star Western) have all been canceled, they’re fairly familiar with what happens to DC titles that don’t play well with others.

Cancellation track record aside, the premise of G.I. Zombie is certainly not an obtuse one; in fact, the book’s title more or less covers it: it’s about an undead soldier who’s understandably very good at killing things, while not ending up dead himself. Two issues in, we don’t know how, when, or how long Agent Jared Kabe has been without a pulse, but we’re given the impression that he’s certainly been at this a while; all over the world, to boot.

Who here remembers the New 52's take on G.I. Combat?  Anybody?  Anybody?  That's right, NOBODY.

Who here remembers the New 52’s take on G.I. Combat? Anybody? Anybody? That’s right, NOBODY.

However, for the first half of the first issue, you’ll be left wondering if some printing error put the G.I. Zombie cover on something else entirely. The book opens on a woman named Tiff navigating a Mississippi biker bar, the sort of place where trucker caps, unironic goatees, and the Stars and Bars are par for the course. And just what brings a beautiful woman like Tiff to a place straight out of Roadhouse? Well, it turns out she’s just fresh out of prison, “looking for new friends and a new place to hang [her] panties.” Umm…duly noted.

That is, up until its leader Duke is alerted to the fact that they’ve got their hands on a Fed…and Tiff, who looks like she must have done time as Martha Stewart’s bunkmate, if at all, tells Duke that if it was up to her, she be “riverdancing on [the Fed’s] balls.”

What book are we reading again?

Over the course of the next few pages we have Tiff asking for a machete and a raincoat, chopping off both of the Fed’s hands, shooting him in the head, and riding off to bury the body after promising to meet with Duke again the following morning.

This would be that classy line I was talking about.

This would be that classy line I was talking about.

Finally, we watch Tiff drive back to her hotel, and observe her quite literally giving a hand (his, to be specific) to our “thought dead” Fed, who is none other than Jared Kabe, aka,G.I. Zombie. And Tiff? Well, she’s actually Carmen King, recently assigned as Kabe’s partner, and coming off of several tours of duty. Perhaps I’m denser than I give myself credit for, but this is very clever in media res introduction on the part of Palmiotti and Gray, and a risky gambit to only reveal the titular character halfway through the premiere issue. As I already touched on, we only need the series title to have some understanding of what Kabe’s about, so Palmiotti and Gray instead dedicate these early pages to showcasing the seductive, resourceful, and driven individual that is Carmen King.

After the first issue closes with King and Kabe discovering that “Duke and friends” happen to be housing something that makes them a fair deal more malicious than your standard anti-authoritarian biker gang, the follow-up issue is more than likely what one was expecting from this series. While Carmen/Tiff is shown around the estate, G.I. stealthily approaches the grounds through the woods. Without giving too much away, the issue delivers the over-the-top action (not to mention a downright zany closing sequence that arguably borrows a page from the playbook of Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) that readers have come to expect from Palmiotti and Gray’s books (All-Star Western especially).

In case you didn't get my comparison to one of the greatest films of all time, you should probably steer clear of Howard Porter's spoilery variant cover.  Oh wait...

In case you didn’t get my comparison to one of the greatest films of all time, you should probably steer clear of Howard Porter’s semi-spoilery variant cover. Oh wait…

Yet, in delivering an issue chock-full of explosions and the alluring staccato pulse of automatic gunfire, our writers somehow forgot the age-old “show, don’t tell” adage. Clunky, overwrought exposition on Duke’s part has the light trappings of “Bond Villain Monologuing.” And not the fun “superlasers and creation of a master race on the Moon” sort of monologue. It’s more along the lines of a text-laden page or two dedicated to the evils of government regulation. I get that someone’s trying to be topical and modern here, but that’s not why I pulled G.I. Zombie in the first place.

Overall, the writing in the first issue plays to this writing duo’s strengths, while the second pulls off one or two excellent action sequences, at the cost of several exposition-heavy “info dumps.” And while a cursory flipping through the pages of one of their issues of All-Star Western might lead someone to conclude that their comics are a shooting gallery of gunsmoke and viscera spread across thirty-two pages, Jimmy and Justin aren’t a “one-trick pony.” Or, rather, aren’t limited to a man with gruesome facial scars, six-shootin’ bandits from atop said one-trick pony. These two also possess a fantastic sense of macabre humor and timing, to boot…even if it does tend to be buried under the average issue’s double-digit body count.

The dialogue here is what I'd like to see more of in the upcoming issues.

The dialogue here is what I’d like to see more of in the upcoming issues.

With that in mind, I’d love to see more of the moments of downtime between G.I. Zombie and Carmen, bantering about whether or not zombies sleep, G.I. slyly showing his age by asking her if the hotel’s cable carries TMC, or his assertion that if reconnecting his hands has her rearin’ to spew chunks, she ought to “wait until my head comes off.” It was moments like these that reminded me how gifted this pair of writers is at conveying story simply through dialogue and interaction…and for that reason, I felt let down with the inconsistent pacing of the second issue.

For most comic book teams, they’re satisfied putting everyday people into extraordinary situations. For Palmiotti and Gray, they opt for placing the weird and bizarre outliers of society into some of the most laughably mundane scenarios…that is, when they aren’t busy killing people. The characters, not the authors. I hope. Case in point: never before had I seen a zombie agent for the D.O.D. plead to take the wheel en route to a mission, because his partner was struggling to drive and simultaneously scarf down breakfast. And I probably won’t again. That’s Palmiotti and Gray for you.

Darwyn Cooke worked as a storyboard artist on Batman: The Animated Series.  That's just one of the many amazing facts about one of my favorite artists.

Darwyn Cooke worked as a storyboard artist on Batman: The Animated Series. That’s just one of the many amazing facts about one of my favorite artists.

As for the art, well…to be blunt, it’s guaranteed to polarize readers. Sure, the gorgeous Darwyn Cooke covers (may he remain on cover art duties for the duration of the book) foreshadow the book’s pulpy-retro inspirations, but Scott Hampton’s art is a “zombie of a different color.” His is actually a lot paler than Cooke’s, in case you were wondering. In addition, the artist is known for his painted style of art, and because of such, has no such need of a separate individual to handle colors or inks.

When I first gazed upon Hampton’s art, I remarked to myself that it didn’t look like anything DC had to offer these days, and that the closest thing it resembled was something out of a Vertigo book from the 1990s. Perhaps it comes as no surprise then, that Hampton’s best known (at least in my mind) for his work on the second chapter of Neil Gaiman’s The Books of Magic (that’s the one in which John Constantine takes over the chaperoning duties of Timothy Hunter, guiding him through the present world of magic).

Put the limbs in close proximity, and they reattach, sinews and everything...apparently.

Put the limbs in close proximity to the body, and they re-attach, sinews and everything…apparently.

It’s true that Hampton’s art adds a real sense of texture to the backdrops, and an ineffably eerie tone to the book at large. However, the level of detail in facial features (as impressively expressive as they are) is all over the place, though it does bear mention that this is less of a problem in the second issue. Beyond that, despite bearing an aesthetic resemblance to something out of a more conversation-centric book like Hellblazer or Sandman, Hampton is more than up to the task of delivering the goods on G.I. Zombie’s action sequences.

Overall, the first two issues of G.I. Zombie possess all of the elements that had me snatching up Palmiotti and Gray’s All-Star Western in both single and trade format alike: a dark sense of humor, a love for the lost characters and series of the Silver Age of comics, as well as an eye for well-paced action, fantastic dialogue, and a unique art style tailored to the subject matter. It’s just a pity that these happen to be spread out amongst the two issues, instead of finding their way into both. And while I don’t have any doubt that Palmiotti and Gray will hit that sweet spot soon enough, one has to wonder just how many issues DC Comics is going to give them to get there. Given that there isn’t a “bat” or a “super” or a “lantern” in the title, all signs point to “eight.”

Star-Spangled War Stories Featuring G.I. Zombie can be purchased at your local comic shop, through DC Comics, or Comixology.

Overall Score
93 %

While the first pair of issues of G.I. Zombie have the signature trappings of Palmiotti and Gray's fantastic past series, they're split between the issues, and the art certainly isn't for everybody (but I'm okay with it).

Writing 94%
Art 92%

About The Author

Growing up, Nick White dreamed of a career with the Chicago Bulls. This is because he was young and stupid, and his parents were of the "you can do ANYTHING" mentality.

When he was older, and probably not a whole lot smarter, Nick purchased Alan Moore's From Hell on a whim (that in itself probably says a lot). He was astounded to find that comics were as bizarre and twisted as his beloved Twin Peaks. After that he bought Batman: The Black Mirror strictly on the cover's aesthetics (Who the hell is Scott Snyder?" he said) and hasn't looked back since. Except, of course, in situations that necessitate such.

When he's not "busy" playing Castlevania or harassing Zander about what he ought to be reading, Nick continues to work on his makeshift shrine to Jeff Lemire.

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