ROTTEN 10-11

ROTTEN #10-11
Written by Mark Rahner & Robert Horton and Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics


Reviewed by Avril Brown

In ROTTEN’s latest issues #10-11, which are found exclusively in the ROTTEN VOLUME 2: REVIVAL OF THE FITTEST trade paperback (on sale now), the plot most certainly thickens. Agents William Wade and J.J. Flynn are summoned to their latest assignment in yet another small, religiously fanatical town called Ezekiel. They are confronted with another incarnation of the “revenant” disease, as the partners have been calling the dead arising affliction, and this latest version is a doozy.

Father Von Becker has taken the town of Ezekiel under his self-serving wing and has been attempting ‘cleansing ceremonies’ for the sick. Needless to say, they have not been going well, especially judging by the infected gentleman who escaped from the church and immediately ripped the jaw off of Wade’s horse. Only a few of the townsfolk have fallen ill despite them all sharing the same water supply, so Flynn and Wade set to work on unraveling the mystery, and as with every situation they have come into contact recently, there is more going on in this town (specifically in Von Becker’s house) than meets the eye. Flynn runs into an old colleague from medical school who appears to have fallen under the thrall of Von Becker, while Wade manages to inspire a member of the younger generation to step up and start taking matters into his own hands…just before Wade finds himself in a heap of trouble, of course.

The gore factor in ROTTEN has taken an enthusiastic leap forward, not only with the mere appearance of the infected but also the new freaky factor of what happens to these poor souls following their final death. Rahner and Horton’s ’s scripts maintain his trademark razor-sharp wit with Wade still on his game as the foul-mouthed, understandably bitter ex-patriot, and Flynn as the steady, sarcastic rock. The look of the book seems to have gotten a couple of shades darker, which suits as one of the themes touched on in these issues is somewhat somber, and the enigma of the white-haired man continues with a new, unexpected twist. Issues #10 and 11 are chock full of what readers have come to love and expect from ROTTEN: action, intelligent writing with slightly unsubtle social and political jabs, and a couple of badass heroes kicking ass and taking names. Essentially, this two-part story gives you every reason to pick up ROTTEN VOLUME 2 and crossed your fingers Wade will continue to knuckle-bolt another day.


MARK RAHNER

Mark Rahner, along with Robert Horton, is the creator of ROTTEN, a zombie western comic that has received acclaim from comics fans and horror fans alike. He is also a friend, and as is usual, when we get together, the douchebaggery flows like wine. Our interview, conducted at Emerald City Comic Con this past March, is no exception. Special thanks to Chelsea Freund for transcription assistance.


Marc Mason: This is Marc Mason of the Comics Waiting Room. I am here with Mark Rahner, the writer of “Rotten,” a zombie western, from Moonstone Books. Mark, you just released trade paperback 1. Tell me about that.

Mark Rahner: Well, it’s 5 months late. What do you want to know, apart from that?

MM: Does that mean we got extra stuff in it, or you were just lazy?

MR: Naw, it wasn’t my doing. The publisher had some sort of speed bump. But thank God it’s finally out. Please, everyone go buy it. It’s the first 6 issues; the 9th issue is about to come out, and what I can tell you is that it keeps getting worse.

MM: That is an incentive to buy if I have ever heard one.

MR: That should be our motto. Like, “Rotten: It just keeps getting worse.”

MM: Why that isn’t on the t-shirts, I don’t know. And I see you are selling t-shirts; tell me about that.

MR: Well, they’re very absorbent.

MM: That’s excellent, because I don’t want the sweat staying on my skin, and I want a shirt that will do that for me.

MR: I think it would bring out…um, it would suit you. It would suit your figure, it would emphasize all the curves in the right way, and – –

MM: What about my complexion? Will it go with my complexion?

MR: Um, if I slap you.

MM: I’ll think about that, and I’ll get back to you.

MR: You put on one of those “Rotten” shirts, you’re not walking outta here alone.

MM: Am I walking out in cuffs? ‘Cause that’s usually how it works.

MR: Cuffs and a ball gag. The whole ensemble.

MM: Excellent, excellent. That’s my idea of a good time. That’s what I want out of a comic.

MR: All right. So, let’s get serious here. Good God. You are the Morley Safer of comic book interviewers, so let’s get down to business here.

MM: That is the highest praise I have ever received in my entire adult life.

MR. That’s sad. That’s the saddest thing I’ve heard all day, and we’re at a Comicon.

MM: It should’ve been. All right, so you’re saying issue 9 is coming soon?

MR: Issue 9 is coming soon (Ed. Note: It has now shipped), it’s a conclusion to a three-parter called “Revival of the Fittest,” and it’s really repugnant and offensive and filled with some really, we think, creative, hard core action and violence.

MM: How do you keep coming up with ideas that push the boundaries even further of bad taste?

MR: I like the way you put that, thank you. Well, there’s bad taste on a number of different levels. There’s action, which is kind of foul; like, for instance, in the 8th issue, the hero goes down a timber shoot chased by zombies that are torn to pieces while he is coasting down on his bite-proof leather coat, and that’s tasteless. But there’s also tastelessness in the sense that we have a zombie that looks like Sarah Palin that gets a spike through the forehead preceded by, “Shut the fuck up, you brain-dead bitch.” That is so tasteless, I felt like I should retire after that.

MM: I think I saw a bit of controversy online about that when you first released those pictures.

MR: It made Andrew Sullivan’s Atlantic blog and I just felt like that was the pinnacle of my career, and then after that I should just do an Elvis and die on the toilet.

MM: I think we’re all expecting that.

MR: It’s gonna happen sooner or later. I just hope that when they find me I was reading something that wasn’t too embarrassing, you know?

MM: Like an issue of Vogue, or something recommended by Oprah?

MR: Certainly not an issue of Plumpers, or anything that you would have found in Michael Jackson’s house, you know? You wanna start the interview over again?

MM: Oh, God, no.

MR: Are we doing okay?

MM: We’re doing all right.

MR: Okay.

MM: So, after issue 9, are you going to another arc? Do you have an ending in sight, or – –

MR: If there is an ending, it’s a little ways down the line, but numbers 10 and 11 – I’ve literally been cackling as I write them. There’re some great set pieces in them. There’s a figure who will look very familiar to you, who is a bad guy, an evil character. And – –

MM: Does he look like John Layman, by any chance?

MR: No…he’s…I don’t wanna get too offensive. I mean, I want people to still read the book, and I want it to be dry. Numbers 10 and 11 also have variant covers now. We have a great new cover artist who paints the covers, his name is Steve Bryant, and – –

MM: Steve Bryant is fantastic.

MR: Yeah, I think he’s every bit as good as Alex Ross, and cheaper to hire than Alex Ross by a great deal. No, I love the guy, and we’re happy to have him be part of the “Rotten” family…although that sounds kinda gross, doesn’t it?

MM: Only a smidge.

MR: Yeah, yeah. Yeah, there’s a lot of cool stuff coming up. We’re pretty excited about it, and it looks like we’re going to finally get some issues out one month after the next, and then this summer in June there is a prose book which is the lost diary of Agent Flynn, and Robert Horton wrote that. It’s sort of a really creepy but wryly humorous kind of prequel to what starts in the first issue, and it’s really good. Horton is an outstanding writer, although I try to keep him out of sight and completely eclipsed most of the time.

MM: Is that coming out through Moonstone as well?

MR: It is. It’s a little hardcover book and it’s substantial enough so that you can really club somebody with it. You can’t do much damage with these single issues, even if you roll one up and do it like in “Alien,” try and jam it down somebody’s throat.

MM: Sure.

MR: The trade you could do a little bit more damage with, but still, you can’t beat a hardcover for assaulting someone.

MM: I agree 100 percent. I think that’s effective thinking and good work on your part.

MR: Now you’re the Piers Morgan of comic book interviewers. Throw me another softball.

MM: How was it shaving your testicles this morning?

MR: Well, it takes a long time, as you might imagine.

MM: A little gnarly? You might try some conditioner first.

MR: There’s a lot of area to cover. I mean, how far do you wanna take this? You’re not talking to Brandon Jerwa, okay?

MM: All right. So you said you had an ending in sight. How far away is it?

MR: Well, it depends on when I go bankrupt. No, there is an ending. We’re thinking kinda like in the Preacher range, in the Chew range, something like that, but if it must happen, we can truncate the thing. But we’ve got all the story lines completely plotted out, except the thing is, when we get together to fill things out and write the issues, we keep on coming up with other story lines. After “Revival of the Fittest,” the story line is called “Love the Sinner.” We’re writing that one, and there were a couple of people I was pissed at, and wanted to make caricatures out of, like an evil guy and his retarded sidekick. We thought of some great episodes that take place in an orphanage full of living dead children. So, we have a structured beginning, middle and end, but cool stuff keeps on coming up that we just, we have to do. Why wouldn’t you want to see an orphanage full of the living dead, for God’s sake?

MM: I want to adopt – –

MR: It sells itself, right there. Don’t you feel it?

MM: If Angelina Jolie hasn’t adopted them all by the time I get there, I will take one.

MR: Oh…I was trying to give you an opening for a Charlie Sheen joke, but you went for an Angelina.

MM: Sorry.

MR: Nah, it’s okay.

MM: And with the problems you had getting the first trade version, are those cleared up? Will we see trade 2 by the end of this year?

MR: Hope so. You know, I don’t want to get too insider baseball, but Moonstone sends things off to the printer in batches, and one of their titles was late, and it was really frustrating because I would like to have the story finished and out there before I’m in diapers. So, yeah, hopefully things will go smoother next time, and we’ll have some extras in it as well. The first trade is bare bones and as inexpensive as possible to get it into peoples’ hands, 16 bucks instead of 20 or more. The second will be issues 7-11 and will have a cover gallery and all sorts of other doo dads…maybe a centerfold. What do you think about a centerfold?

MM: I think it’s a great idea. It should be somebody from that orphanage of living dead children.

MR: Now you’re crossing a line that even I won’t cross, but – –

MM: Who knew that was possible?

MR: I’m going to take that bold move of not making pedophilia jokes. It’s a bold position to stake out, but I’m comfortable there.

MM: I’m shocked and amazed.

MR: Maybe that could be, like, a one-shot issue that Horton writes. Hey – can you rewrite that before you post it?

MM: Thanks to Mark Rahner. This is Marc Mason with the Comics Waiting Room, and we’ll see you next time.

MR: Forget you heard that.

ROTTEN 9

ROTTEN #9
Written by Mark Rahner and Mike Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics

Reviewed by Avril Brown

ROTTEN’s latest arc ‘Revival of the Fittest’ comes to its conclusion with the much-anticipated ninth issue of the book, neatly closing out this section of story. Rahner and Horton deliver an action-packed issue which will certainly satisfy ROTTEN’s patient fans.

Last we saw, William Wade was exhausted and stuck up a tree after attempting to outrun a pack of sprinting zombies, and John Flynn was elsewhere seeking knowledge and struggling to spread reason in a town rife with ignorance. Clearly, they both have their work cut out for them. Wade’s eternal flee from the maddeningly fit undead is amusing and impressive to behold, our hero becoming quite creative in how he dispatches of these excessively animated corpses. While Wade wages a physical war, Flynn is fighting the closed minds of the uneducated and though he makes little progress there, he also forges a valuable new friendship.

The writers continue producing scripts filled with a balance of slapstick and wry political humor, and Dougherty’s pencils keep up with the fast-paced portions of the book, making Wade look more badass than ever. The beehive scene is especially memorable and well-planned. This arc of ROTTEN has definitely rounded out nicely, leaving fans desperate for more and praying for a shorter wait between stories.

NEW MOONS

RECENT MOON LANDINGS
Written and Drawn by Various
Published by Moonstone

Reviewed by Marc Mason

Some recent releases from the folks at Moonstone…

SAVAGE BEAUTY #1 is written by Mike Bullock and drawn by Jose Massaroli. This book dives into the classic “jungle girl” genre, but with somewhat mixed results. The story, set in modern Africa, touches on some of the human rights abuses going on there, particularly with the rebel factions running around and murdering the populace of villages across the countryside (think Uganda). It also takes an interesting route with the titular heroine in that it’s a shared role. But the art here holds back the book from really taking off. The action sequences are static and lack life and movement, and there are some questionable choices in perspective at play. The rest of the cast isn’t quite up to snuff yet, either. The brutal would-be dictator is someone we’ve seen plenty of times before, and his child-molesting French ally also feels a bit tired. Not bad, but lots of room for improvement.

THE SPIDER #1 is a stronger debut issue, delivering two solid stories under one cover. The main piece, featuring The Spider, tells a decent little horror story, following the character up against a small army of the experimented upon undead. Martin Powell’s story has some nice atmosphere to it, though it ends abruptly, but the real star is comics veteran Pablo Marcos’ artwork. It’s dark, moody, and attractive, and his layouts are lovely to look at. The backup story, “Operator 5” also looks pretty snazzy, with artist Roberto Castro delivering some sweet-looking period art in a story about World War II era racial disharmony and the assorted nastiness that accompanies it. Writer Gary Phillips has a knack for the noir, and I was hooked in by the strange conspiracy building beneath the goings on. Solid stuff all around.

The book that really caught my eye, though, was KOLCHAK #2 from writer Christopher Mills and artist Jaime Martinez. Based on the character from the old NIGHT STALKER television show, this issue sets up a new status quo for monster hunter Carl Kolchak- he moves to Miami to write for a tabloid newspaper and finds himself once again on the trail of the supernatural as it begins mutilating and murdering the local populace. The story works great; this really reads like an issue #1, setting up who Kolchak is and his new situation, so I was curious about what happened in that actual issue. We get a great mystery, an interesting supporting cast, a sharp look at who the lead character really is… Mills really pulls it all together here. Martinez’ art is also quite pretty, though he’s a little in consistent on faces- Kolchak flits between Darren McGavin and Tommy Lee Jones. But overall, I was impressed with this one, and I’d read more without hesitation.

ROTTEN 7,8

ROTTEN #7-8
Written by Mark Rahner and Mike Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone

Reviewed by Avril Brown

ROTTEN, the comic world’s premier zombie/western/political satire series, is back in action with a new story arc and its lead kick-ass character at full capacity. There are more ongoing fight scenes, more poking fun at politicians, a touch of romance and a whole mess of bloody, evolving zombies.

Issues seven and eight are the first two books in a three-issue arc entitled ‘Revival of the Fittest,’ and our favorite pair of disgruntled yet extremely efficient government agents are separated on individual missions. William Wade is all healed up and taking on a zombie-infested town armed with a bite-proof leather jacket, a pair of Colts, a couple of ‘knucklebolts’ (brass knuckles affixed with a large spike) and mad skills. His action sequences are well-drawn and constantly in motion with plenty of blood, guts and creative stabbing. In addition, a zombie who rather resembles former governor Sarah Palin tries to attack Wade. She gets called a brain-dead bitch, receives a knucklebolt to the forehead, and as she hangs onto the weapon imbedded in her skull Wade tells her: “You just don’t know when to let go.” The entire sequence is hysterically unsubtle, and there are many for whom this comic could be considered a very therapeutic read.

Meanwhile, Wade’s partner Flynn is visiting the University of Chicago in an attempt to learn more about the potential evolution of the undead plague, and for personal reasons as well. He meets with other prominent scientists who support Darwin’s recently published theory of evolution and spends his nights with his lady friend, Minnie. We see Flynn in a slightly different light; still an intelligent professional with a thirst for knowledge and a professional drive, but also as a man of carnal passions with a caring heart. Of course, revelations about Minnie’s past in issue eight may affect her future with Flynn.

Wade is all action from issue seven to eight, running from the remnants of the town at the end of seven and puking his guts out on the first page of eight. To be fair, he does have a herd of zombies chasing him at full speed with no time to lose. He becomes very creative in his efforts to take out the mob behind him, utilizing his terrain and the creatures who live there, but exhausted and dangerously low on weapons, Wade’s luck may be running out.

Though I prefer the work of the previous letterer Sean Konot than Tom Long who debuted this issue, Dougherty’s action-friendly artwork and most especially Rahner and Horton’s script continue to surpass themselves. The writers show off their cojones with the blatant Palin digs, and Flynn is as a delightful character to read as Wade, whose dialogue dropped off somewhat due to the dozens of zombies on his tail. As impressed as I was with this book to begin with, the entire creative team seems to improve with each issue, and readers will be left anxiously anticipating Wade’s fate, Flynn’s sarcastic barbs and hopefully more annoying politicians getting stabbed in the face.

ROTTEN 6

ROTTEN #6
Written by Mark Rahner and Robert Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics

The second story arc in this Old-West-meets-zombie-thriller comic concludes in ROTTEN #6, and it packs one hell of a punch. Far from ‘just another zombie book,’ issues like this recent release are filled with ample proof that ROTTEN is much more than just cowboys and soldiers vs. zombies.

The action does not stop in this issue of ROTTEN as soldiers are court marshaled, Mr. Benge the ‘benefactor’ attempts to incite a mutiny, and the entire camp is besieged by recently awoken zombies. Using cool logic in the face of fire, William Wade leads his men into a battle-ridden retreat away from the monsters they barely understand. A journal was found in a cave filled with frozen settlers, but more questions are raised by the contents of that book than answers, and Wade and Flynn know their mission is far from over.

What makes a great story is dependent in part on the characters contained within, and Rahner and Horton have written some amazing leads. One of my favorites debuted last issue, and in ROTTEN #6 Emma, of the best and most bad-ass female characters I’ve seen in a comic, continues to show her strength. There is more than meets the eye to this confident and capable woman, who in the course of twenty-eight pages takes down a conniving thief, squares off against several rapists and dodges a flaming zombie.

Add to that Dougherty’s talent of creating complicated action scenes that easily flow from panel to panel without letting any detail slip through the cracks, this issue of ROTTEN is a winner. There are bloody battles with lives lost, sharp wit exchanged between clever characters, plus a dash of mystery and political satire. With a little something for everyone, ROTTEN is a book to look for.

Avril Brown

ROTTEN 5

ROTTEN #5
Written by Mark Rahner and Mike Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics

The fifth issue of the zombie-Western comic ROTTEN slows down on its trademark gore, amps up the human horror aspect and introduces new characters, both friend and foe. Rahner and Horton continue to deliver a story with strength and smarts, and Dougherty’s art seems to achieve more clarity with each issue.

As Captain of Fort Valhalla, William Wade greets businessman Herbert J. Benge and his wife Emma to the camp, while the soldiers welcome his fresh food supplies and whiskey. That evening Wade dines with the arrogant Benge and learns of his penchant for corruption and white supremacy, and Flynn resorts to his skull-daggery to learn more about their visitors. Soon enough Emma meets Amber, a soldier’s wife and the only woman in the fort, and quickly learns why Amber is a broken spirit, living in fear.

Emma is an excellent addition to the character roster. She is a fiery red-head who talks like a lady and fights like a lion, and she is a fabulous feminine counterpart to the solid male leads of Wade and Flynn. Private Blake is another positive new face and he stars in a laugh out loud scene where he manages to show respect for an officer and puke at the same time. The ghastly discovery at the end is the only zombie carnage in this issue, but Amber’s plight is more evidence that non-zombie humans can be even more twisted than the monsters. Rahner and Horton are not holding back in this series, and it wouldn’t work any other way. A well-paced issue, this book serves as a perfect transition to what promises to be one hell of a conclusion.

Avril Brown

ROTTEN #3-4

ROTTEN #3-4
Written by Mark Rahner and Robert Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics

ROTTEN continues to sink to new lows of human decadence and rise to heightened levels of zombie gruesomeness in the third issue conclusion of the ‘Tracy Shilo’ story arc and the beginning of a new storyline in issue four entitled ‘Frostbite.’

Issue three concludes a chilling introductory story, displaying the unfortunate level of denial people can reach when it comes to something they cannot understand or refuse to accept. William Wade has found himself fresh out of options and trapped between a ‘miracle’ zombie and dozens of ignorant townsfolk. Tracy’s family are just plain creepy in their determination to keep their eyes shut in regards to what has happened to their beloved daughter, and their willingness to sacrifice an innocent man to feed a monster. There are several scenes in this issue guaranteed to send shivers down your spine, namely the unforgettable two page spread of Tracy’s grisly bid for freedom and food.

Issue four finds our heroes on an undercover mission where a reluctant Wade and John J. Flynn once again don uniforms of the US military in order to learn more of the evolving zombie menace. They are greeted by slovenly soldiers and a complete lack of discipline, but nothing can prepare them for what else they find. While getting these men and their post in order Wade and Flynn discover what these government-trained men have been doing with the zombies, forcing the reader to beg the question, ‘Who are the real monsters?’

A truly excellent zombie story is about more than just the ghouls who rise from the dead; it is about how the surviving people surrounding the horror deal with the nightmare they have found themselves facing. Rahner and Horton continue to deliver complex, honest and horrendous scenarios and characters which keep the blood pumping in between the sparingly used action sequences. Dougherty art is getting better with each issue and each sickening situation Rahner and Horton can come up with. The cover and two page spread in issue four are both packed with disturbing details and an overall feel of finality, as if he spent hours perfecting his work. This team is producing a top quality and unique zombie comic, a must-have for any fan of the genre.

Avril Brown

ROTTEN 1, 2

ROTTEN #1&2
Created and Written by Mark Rahner, Co-written by Robert Horton, Illustrated by Dan Dougherty
Published by Moonstone Comics

Old Western comics meets a zombie infestation in ROTTEN, a new series by Moonstone Comics. A bit slow in the beginning (apart from the first attack of the walking dead), soon enough the secrets start spilling out, the flesh starts flying and ROTTEN really finds its feet, making it an intriguing read and more than just your standard zombie story.

ROTTEN is chock full of secret agents, corrupt landowners, tragic pasts and oh yea, zombies. Apparent wanderer C.O. Jones arrives in a seemingly sleepy town in the middle of the night. Turns out the residents have itchy trigger fingers and Jones barely escapes a bullet from a suspicious townie. His horse, however, doesn’t have his luck, and Jones finds himself stuck in a town big on problems and short on horses.

Not too long ago this old west mining town struck upon something evil, and that’s when the townsfolk began getting sick, dying, then coming back to a homicidal half-life. Yet in this day and age, money talks and everyone else just walks. Mr. Blackenship, the richest man in town, owns practically everything, including the freedom of the townspeople as he continually orders them back to work with little in the way of pay or assurances they will be safe from the people who will not stay dead.

The second half of the book is when things start to come together. Jones is revealed to have secrets of his own and he struggles to figure out the cause of the sickness in addition to helping his brothers-in-arms, saving the girl, and getting the hell out before the town tears itself to pieces. The initial horror scenes offset the gradual build up of terror and confusion before exploding into the final action-packed pages. Rahner and Horton do an excellent job capturing the accent of the Old West while adding in a more modern touch, making it easy to get lost in the dialogue. Plus, it is easy to take an instant liking to writing laced with a tasteful amount of strategically placed profanity.

The art is like the story: a seamless blend between two drastically different genres of storytelling. The basic lines and slightly muted colors speak of classic Western tales, while the purple-grey tones of the undead give the zombies their appropriate creep factor. Dougherty doesn’t skimp on the background detail either, tossing in a few tumble weeds, an abundance of flies in the presence of the zombies and a smattering of wooden buildings.

ROTTEN is an interesting corroboration of comics which tends to draws you in regardless of whether you are a Western or zombie fan. By the end of the second issue you’ll be left wanting more of ‘William fucking Wade!’

Avril Brown