Polar Bear Comics‘ Polar Bear Zombie is a fun, rewarding book that is worth your time. The story involves a couple of hapless zookeepers who struggle to survive in the early stages of a zombie invasion. Their chief ward, the ill-fated polar bear, becomes infected while brawling with the encroaching undead. The animated atrocities accomplish what global warming could not: the would-be hero is laid low — until he returns to hideous life, on a mission to bedevil every man, zombie, and whale that crosses his path. The story is brisk, the drawings are detailed sketches that strike just the right mood, and the gore is so grotesque it may give squeamish readers paws. [ahem]
The stand-out feature of this book is the artwork, which is simple and highly economical. Vaguely crude black-and-white sketches strike just the right note for this intensely self-aware work. The story itself — minus the polar bear — is standard zombie camp: unsuspecting ordinary people are caught up in End Times madness with frightening speed. Precisely because the scenario is so worn out, all the artists need to do is provide the hint of a world, a shell. The reader’s well-trained mind can fill in the rest, and it does.
However, this is also a story that relies very heavily on the grotesque: entrails, severed heads, de-limbed unfortunates: these are the fine details that give many of the more striking panels their tone and texture. Such moments stand out precisely because so many of their neighboring panels are essentially empty: an outline of a man in an empty office, an undefiled door vibrating gently in its frame. The contrast is palpable and an endearing achievement.
One other great aspect of this book is that the zombie story shambles along with virtually zero stakes for the involved. Before things get too far, the situation is far too out of hand to be rectified, so all you really end up caring about is the destruction itself — how it will be rendered and who will dole it out. And, of course, you care about the bear, about what he will do next and just how gross it will be.
As we come up on what is likely the end of the zombie craze in the next year or so, it is nice to see fun pieces like this emerge. It gives us exactly what we want out of a basic zombie story, and it does so in a way that respects the artist’s essential intentions. A very strong work.