The first words on the page in the new Vertigo comic I, Zombie are "Eugene, Oregon." The setting is awfully familiar: Hello, Pioneer Cemetery! (To the best of my knowledge, until now, the only zombies roaming the cemetery have been those taking part in one of the zombie walks — or perhaps starring in a Henry Weintraub movie.)
I, Zombie takes its time getting to the messier part of its zombie heroine's existence. Writer Chris Roberson and illustrator (and Oregonian) Mike Allred spend most of the issue setting the scene: Gwen, who's slightly on the sarcastic and cranky side, works in an ecologically friendly graveyard and pals around with a ’60s ghost and a were-terrier. Elsewhere in town, a hot paintball ref has more than the game on her mind when she stops to chat up a lost fella in the woods, and a pair of detectives aren't just keeping their eyes out for misbehaving punk kids downtown.
Gwen looks a little off. Her skin tone doesn't match anyone else's, as is most apparent under the brighter lights of Dixie's Firehouse (another local landmark, renamed). The book's Oregonian palette is appropriately muted and, yes, of course it rains. It's the first issue. Precedent must be set. Allred's art is clean and readable, almost a little spare, but like the issue as a whole, it builds satisfyingly; Gwen's reveal (which isn't much of a reveal, given the name of the book), with rain pouring down into an open grave and an unpleasant meal in our heroine's hands, is set against a page that illustrates the divide in her life: Girl, zombie; self, other self; what she does and what it means.
I, Zombie is a speedy, easygoing intro to a new series; it's light on plot and feels like it's trying to be a little more quippily clever than it is. But the last few pages, as Roberson gets to the real crux of Gwen's complicated existence, have quite a bit of promise. Gwen has to eat one brain each month to keep from going "all mindless and shambling," as she explains — lack of brains is bad for a zombie lass's complexion — but there's a catch.
There's always a catch.
I, Zombie #1 came out May 5. It's a buck at your friendly local comics-purveying establishment.