I’m a die-hard fan of zombies of all descriptions. I refuse to admit that we’ve reached “peak zombie” in our pop culture. That said, I also admit that I’m constantly looking for something fresh in the genre. This search has led me to 28 Days Later, Shaun of the Dead, The Reapers are the Angels, The Girl with All the Gifts, and so on.
Now, it’s brought me to Tethered. In the words of its creators, Tethered is an original graphic novel about, “Two assholes in Colorado (who) get a second chance to “live” after a zombie apocalypse as “souls” tethered to their zombie bodies. Will they live better deaths than their lives? No.” This is a story told from the point of view of undead characters experiencing something akin to a multiple personality disorder. They have somehow retained a vestige of their consciousness and their memories.
The story is laid out primarily through first-person narrative, with the point of view shifting between the two main characters in alternating chapters and flashbacks interspersed throughout to fill in backstory. Tethered maintains a tricky juggling act between narration, physical action, and dialogue between multiple “tethers,” which are frequently out of frame. All of this can make for some complex panels to wade through. It definitely took me a couple of chapters before I was clued into which character’s story we were encountering in each chapter and picking up on all of the little visual clues that served as a map to dialogue and action.
This juggling act would have been a disaster in the hands of a less accomplished artist. Thankfully, Danny Luckert guides us through each panel with a mastery of detail and character depiction. The post-apocalyptic world of Tethered is illustrated in gorgeous sepia tones, filled with a golden-hour glow and a healthy dose of blood splatter in shocking red. The flashbacks are set apart in a brighter, more colorful palette. The artistic wonder, though, is the depiction of the “tethers,” glowing souls connected their zombie bodies by a shimmering strand of light. Sometimes diffuse and ethereal, sometimes crisp and hyper-realistic, Luckert lays out a vision that’s stunningly beautiful, even when you look closer at the surrounding chaos, death, and dismemberment.
David Faroz Precht has given himself quite a challenge in writing a story about “assholes” who now walk the world as zombies. These characters commit horrific acts as zombies, which is to be expected. But their behavior in their previous human lives is hardly more appealing. Representing the extremes of emotionless apathy on one side, and psychopathic predator on the other, these “zombies-with-a-soul” become truly horrifying in their “evolved” states.
Even among the group of human survivors, it’s difficult to find anyone for whom you feel much affinity or sympathy. Sympathetic characters are sacrificed with a Walking-Dead-cliffhanger inevitably. Even when we are given a hero moment toward the end of the story, it seems so accidental and too-little-too-late that any rejoicing feels undeserved.
Ultimately, I think the story worked best when the focus was solely on the two main characters and left the “human” survival plot to the sidelines. The narrative lost a sense of focus when we started to interact with humans in a more direct manner.
Reading a story from the POV of the zombie will call to mind shows and movies like iZombie and Warm Bodies. But there is no Veronica Mars pluckiness nor happy-ending romantic comedies to be found in these pages. There are no redemptive character arcs, no sudden epiphanies, or born-again revelations. Precht’s tale is truly bleak and unforgiving. The world has fallen, people are bad, and there’s not much reason to expect any improvement.
Which leads me issue what is very nearly a SPOILER ALERT. Sexual assault trigger warnings definitely apply to a couple of scenes toward the end of the book. This isn’t entirely surprising given the hell the story is set in, but be warned that one of these scenes happens in a flashback to “happier” times, as well.
That’s not to say that Precht and Luckert haven’t achieved a truly riveting and fresh take on the zombie genre. Tethered is a gorgeous, unflinchingly told story about dark and depressing people and events. For a rabid Zombie Apocalypse fan like myself, it’s pure, fatalistic heaven.
Story: David Faroz Precht
Art: Danny Luckert
Lettering / Layout: Lindsay McComb
Editing: Joanne Starer