I’ve really been dragging my feet on Stranger Things lately. It took me longer than I’d like to admit to get around to watching season 3, and I’ve utterly failed to keep up to date on the latest comics. I’d just about given up trying to catch up when Stranger Things: Zombie Boys caught my attention. Its small scale reminded me of the tight scope of the first season I’d originally fell in love with, and I decided to give it a chance.
Stranger Things is the Netflix smash hit that’s basically ruling the mainstream horror genre right now. It tells the story of the town of Hawkins, Indiana, and its residents coming into contact with the supernatural world known as the Upside Down.
Zombie Boys picks up a few months after the climax of season 1 that saw the psychic child El defeating the Demogorgon and ultimately rescuing the young Will Byers. Will and his friends – Dustin, Lucas, and Mike – are trying to get back to their normal lives, but the emotional scars of Will’s abduction remain in the forefront of their minds. Around this time, Joey Kim steps into frame. A new kid obsessed with horror movies, he enlists the boys to help him make a student film and, inadvertently, helps them face their trauma.
Zombie Boys has an efficient plot that calls back to the events of the show without getting bogged down by them. The first few pages dragged during my read through, but once the meat of the story got underway, I tore through this book. I was particularly impressed that the book managed to give each boy an arc and equal “page time,” something the show frequently fails to accomplish. Joey is also a welcome addition to the cast. The boys have a tendency to be a bit spineless, often cowering before their respective bullies. In season 1, El served as the group’s backbone, but, with her out of the picture, Joey fills the slot nicely.
Strange Things comics tend to be character pieces that pick a few characters from the huge cast to dive deeper into. It’s a choice that serves them well, as each book has more time to let characters have quiet moments of character building. Seeing Dustin, for instance, actually interact with his mother in a meaningful way was something I never knew I needed until I had it in my hands.
Everything I’ve said so far has buried the lead on the best part of this book. The artwork is just lovely. It’s crisp and clean with some impressive shading, especially when emotions are running high and the artist gives characters striking shades and colors. On top of that, there’s some real unique framing (something I’m keeping an eye out for more) and good use of panel layouts. Adaptations of live-action shows tend to go for a hyper-realistic look that I don’t care for, but Favoccia, the artist on this book, strikes a nice balance. Characters are recognizable, but they’re given more expressive faces with ever so slightly cartoonish proportions to keep things visually appealing.
Strange Things: Zombie Boys is a nice way to return to the franchise. It’s a competent story lifted up by some really solid artwork. While it doesn’t change the series in any drastic way, it’s a good benchmark for what Stranger Things comics should be. Pick it up if you’re a fan of the series or if you decided to take a break after season 1.
Creative Team: Greg Pak (Writer), Valeria Favoccia (Artist), Nate Piekos (Letterer), Dan Jackson (Colorist)
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
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