Thursday, January 7, 2010

victorian undead

This blog has spawned several monsters.  Yes, monsters.  The primary monster is myself, obviously.  I haven't immersed myself in so much Victorian information since I first started seriously editing my Victorian historical fiction novel over three years ago.  It's starting to show in my fashion tastes, slowly but surely, as well as my leisure reading choices.  My bookshelf's predominant ancient history and Islamic history collections are gradually being overtaken with Victorian books, either bought for me or borrowed from family and friends.

 The secondary monsters are family, friends, and commentors.  You are all such bad influences.  My roommates, my sisters, and my friends have kept up such a string of suggestions, sending me links or just mentioning a website or book or band in passing, that my horizons have expanded exponentially since I started this blog.

Such as zombies.  I never thought I'd talk about zombies on this blog.



As a current resident of the city of Pittsburgh I live in the city of zombie filmmaking. It's a big deal here.  My parents lived near the cemeteries where the original "Night of the Living Dead" was filmed.  One of my high school teachers was an extra in the original "Dawn of the Dead." Every semester students at my alma mater play "humans v. zombies" (essentially a big game of tag where the tagged ones become zombies) for days, if not weeks, on end.  People go on zombie bar crawls. One of the local malls has a day where humans dressed as the "mangy dreadfuls" stumble about and talk about brains.

I am not a fan.  The only thing I liked about the remake of "Dawn of the Dead" was its soundtrack, which had this ridiculous cover of the Disturbed song "Down with the Sickness."  And that Johnny Cash song "The Man Comes Around."  I don't like zombie movies, I don't like zombie movie spoofs like "Shaun of the Dead" (2004), and I just don't like zombies.  There is just something so unsettling about the dead not staying truly dead, but wandering about the earth looking to feast on humans. No wonder I'm not a fan of vampires either.

I bought my friend Andy (the same guy who went to the ScareHouse with me) a copy of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies on his birthday and have regretted it ever since.  Now he sends me links to images of Hollywood-esque monsters in 19th century England:

image source: imgur
So I was not surprised when my friend Christine jumped on the Victorian bandwagon and gave me the first issue of a comic book series for Christmas that pits Sherlock Holmes against--you guessed it--zombies!  She gave me something she thought I would appreciate based on what she thought was cool (zombies) with what I think is cool (the Victorian era and Sherlock Holmes). It really was thoughtful, but all I could do as soon as I saw it was laugh.  Laugh at the cover image.  Laugh at the title.  Laugh at the irony of it all.  And groan inside.  Damn it! 

My only real consolation was that it is a comic book, perhaps 20 or 30 pages of absorbing scenes of carnage and possibly dreadful dialogue at worst.  So I settled into bed one night and went through the entire comic in about half an hour.

Written by Ian Edginton, illustrated by Davide Fabbri, and published by Wildstorm Comics, Victorian Undead #1 is mainly an introduction to the series, as it should be. After some meteor or asteroid crashes near London in 1854, a zombie plague breaks out, turning oridnary Londoners into mangy dreadfuls.  Flash forward to 1898, where two Underground construction workers come across an old plague pit, and are attacked by a reawakened zombie.  Sherlock Holmes is called in by Scotland Yard to figure out how someone could be undead, when the case is quickly suppressed by Her Majesty's Secret Service.

image source: Wikia
Christine, good choice for someone who is not a fan of zombies and writes about Victorian culture's influences on modern culture. The zombie aspect was more of a curiosity than a bloodbath in this installment, and Sherlock Holmes was introduced in a true Victorian science fiction manner- solving a case involving an automata (machine) that looks like a human. Fabbri took a reel from Guy Ritchie's recently released movie "Sherlock Holmes" and dressed Sherlock Holmes in normal Victorian suits, not the Inverness cape and deerstalker hat that has become a Holmes staple.  Thank goodness for some degree of creativity, even if the cover art displays the stereotypical Holmes garb.

I got through the entire zombie comic without being annoyed by any unnecessary carnage and ridiculousness that seems to be common in zombie movies.  And there actually appears to be a decent zombie story plot, something that made "I am Legend" (2007) a great zombie movie.

I haven't decided whether I'll purchase the next installment of the series, but it looks rather promising so far.  My hopes is that the writer will eventually settle the following questions:
  1. What, exactly, created the plague?  Is there a logical, scientific explanation, or one out of this world?  Can Sherlock Holmes make sense out of something as unsettling as the dead coming back to life to attack the living?
  2. Why is the Secret Service trying to suppress investigation of the zombies? 
  3. How did Sherlock Holmes not hear of the plague back in 1854? Does that have anything to do with the Secret Service's attitude on the subject?
  4. What was with the automata that attacked Holmes in his introductory scene?  Does that have a connection to the zombie plague?
Thanks Christine, for buying me a comic I would never have purchased, and exposing me to aspects of neo-Victorian culture I would not have dared delve into myself.


  1. Speaking of Victoriana/Steampunk and zombies. There area also zombies in George Martin's steampunk novel "Affinity Bridge".

    There is also a roleplaying game called "Unhallowed Metropolis" (

    It is described as:

    Unhallowed Metropolis™ is the gas-mask chic role-playing game of Neo-Victorian horror.

    Set two-hundred years after the advent of a zombie Plague, Unhallowed Metropolis is an apocalyptic Neo-Victorian dystopia written by Jason Soles and Nicole Vega. Inspired by the works of Mary Shelley, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson, and painstakingly researched by the authors, Unhallowed Metropolis provides a rich role-playing experience steeped in alchemy, mad science, and undeath.

    By the way I also hate Zombies and I haven't seen Shaun of the Dead either. I have a number of objections, apart from them creeping me out and giving me nightmares, but one of the main ones is that the Romero styled zombie as flesh eating ghoul is a deviation from the traditional zombi as unthinking slave raised by Voodoo.

  2. Thanks for pointing these zombie-related facts to me. Yes! Someone else knows about the "real" zombie behavior as an undead slave controlled by someone else.