World War II might have ended, Hitler might be dead, but the army of Nazi undead he raised are still out there, and the world is fighting the Dead War. Welcome to the world of Zombie Army: Last Rites!
Judge Dredd Megazine #416 is out this week with the first episode of this new five-part series from iZombie writer Chris Roberson and Italian artist Andrea Mutti (Infinite Dark).
After the events in Zombie War 3, you’d be forgiven for thinking the Dead War was pretty much over. And that’s just what Efram Schweiger and his ‘Deadhunter’ team are expecting when they head into a French town to mop up the last of the undead Nazi horde. But the undead have other plans. And Schweiger, alongside Marie Chevalier (from the Zombie Army Trilogy), engineer Shola (who you’ll see in Zombie Army 4), and a couple of new characters; Sikh Regiment Major Haripal Singh and former SOE operative Reginald Patterson are suddenly fighting for their lives once more!
Last Rites comes as a three-pronged assault on the undead from Rebellion. The comic series will appear alongside Zombie Army: Fortress of the Dead, a brand-new prose novel coming form Rebellion in February. And all you zombie-killing gamers will be able to join in with the release of Zombie Army 4: Dead War in the US on February 4 and in the UK on February 6.
Zombie Army: Last Rites debuts in Judge Dredd Megazine #416, on sale from 15 January.
Richard Bruton sat down to talk all things Nazi Zombies with writer Chris Roberson and artist Andrea Mutti…
Chris, Andrea, welcome to 2000 AD! I suppose the first question should really be, what’s Zombie Army: Last Rites all about?
Chris Roberson: Zombie Army is about a last-ditch fight by a ragtag group of survivors against an army of Nazi zombies in what would have been the last days of the Second World War. In the course of the Dead War, a group of daring survivors succeed in foiling the plans of Hitler, at whose direction the Dead had been brought back from the grave in the first place, and in the aftermath squads of “Deadhunters” roam the countryside putting down the zombies that remain. But while most of the Deadhunters believe that the work is nearly done, the conflict is far from over.
How does working on a video-game adaptation work for you? Is there a process of collaboration with the game designers at Rebellion or are you given a fairly loose brief?
CR: It was a mix of the two. I was given a lot of source material to draw from, but also given the freedom to introduce new characters if the story demanded. And there was a lot of back and forth with the game designers as the story developed, with them suggesting little ways that we could bring the comic more in line with the mechanics of the game, and ways that our story might eventually funnel back into the games themselves further down the line.
Chris, you’ve been involved in Zombie Army already with your novel, Zombie Army: Fortress of the Dead. It’s out in February, but was it written first? What, if any, are the connections between novel and comic series?
CR: The novel actually came first, and then the Zombie Army: Last Rites comic grew out of conversations that we had as the novel was being written.
Were you already familiar with the ZA games before coming into the novel/comic? And if so, how did you find Zombie Army?
CR: I do play a fair amount of video games, actually! And while I was aware of Zombie Army (and Sniper Elite) for a while, I hadn’t had a chance to sit down and try out the games until I was approached about writing the novel. So, of course, the first thing I did was sit down and start playing because one of the best things about my job is when I get to play video games for ‘research’!
Oh yes, when work ‘research’ involves hours of zombie killing game-play you know you’ve chosen the right career path!
Chris, you’ve got form with the whole Zombie thing, with the acclaimed iZombie comic… how do you go about making what some see as a somewhat limited genre into something new and interesting, even fun?
CR: I find that mixing genres can help keep them fresh, or transposing them into new and interesting settings or eras. And so Zombie Army was already right up my alley, as it fits within genres like historical adventure and war stories as much as it does in the horror genre.
Looking at the preview images, it strikes me that this is more war story with zombies dropping in as the enemy rather than a straight zombie tale – was this the plan?
CR: Very much so. The thing that interests me most about Zombie Army is that it is set during WWII, which provides the opportunity to approach it as a period piece rather than simply a story about soldiers shooting zombies. So in many ways Zombie Army: Last Rites is a war story first and foremost, with the wrinkle that our heroes are facing a supernatural threat instead of simply enemy soldiers.
Andrea, unlike Chris, you’ve already had some strips published in 2000 AD, but this is your first longer-form strip.
Andrea Mutti: Yeh, this is my first longer stuff with 2000 AD, and I was really thrilled about that… I love those kinds of stories, funny and rich of vibe. But I’m also a pretty huge fan of this kind of video game and when there are monsters, of any kind, for an artist it’s a blessing!
So, happy to be back? And what can we look forward to in Zombie Army: Last Rites?
AM: Yeah, totally! I’m really excited to see what the readers think of it, but I really enjoyed bringing ZA to the pages of the Megazine… Zombies, WW2, ruins, monsters and metaphysical stuff, that’s great to draw!
How did you approach visualizing the ZA strip? Was it a case of taking visual clues from the games and then branching out from there?
AM: I have a very realistic style, it’s my favourite way to work. In this case, I tried to be very realistic about the places and the all the details… the village you are gonna see is areal one, a small french village bombing during the war. I think it’s always good to add something REAL in a supernatural story like that. My gritty and dark artistic feelings tie in with the story, shadows, brains and blood, strange machines, the mist all around… there’s such a vibe going on and I like the “trapped feeling” of our heroes…I wanted to really capture all that. But there was always the reference from the game for me to follow but I was free to add detail and tone… and that was pretty good for me.
Finally, can you give us an idea of what your process for creating the strip was?
AM: Chris was very clear in his script, very direct, impossible to ask for more and I love his moody style, his drama, the acting is pretty funny. So once I have all that, I work in the classic way; pencils and inks with layouts or designs if some scenes need something specific… it’s all about getting the storytelling right, that’s so very important to me.
Now, how about the whole 2000 AD experience for you? Chris, you’re from the US, Andrea, you’re from Italy, did you get to experience the Galaxy’s Greatest growing up?
CR: I was first introduced to Judge Dredd in American reprints when I was in high school in the 80s, and quickly started snatching up progs of 2000 AD whenever I came across them, and I’ve been a fan of the magazine ever since. As for particular favourites, The Ballad of Halo Jones is still one of my favourite science fiction stories of any kind, in any media. And as for favourite creators, I’ve been quietly recruiting a lot of my favourite artists from 2000AD over the years to collaborate with us on the Hellboy spinoffs, like D’Israeli on Witchfinder: The Gate of Heaven and Paul Grist on The Visitor: How And Why He Stayed.
AM: I am a huge fan of Judge Dredd and I have to convince Rebellion to give me a chance for a story with the crazy, violent and irreverent Judge! love that guy!
Finally, what do we have to look forward from you, both from 2000 AD / Rebellion and further afield?
CR: I’m busy working on more spinoffs of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy, and while I don’t have any other 2000 AD work lined up as yet, I’ve really enjoyed the experience and would jump at the chance to write something else for them in the future!
AM: I really hope there’s more for 2000 AD! I’ve really loved working with them, great editor, super pro and always available to help, very quickly and with enthusiasm… for me that’s the best way ever! I’m also working on things in the Hellboy Universe and there are a couple of things that I can’s say yet but..stay tuned!
Thank you to Chris and Andrea for those answers. Zombie Army: Last Rites is a great strip, full of all the zombie fighting, Nazi beating action you could want. And it all begins in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine issue 416, available from Wednesday 15 January.