REVIEW: Zombies Hi! #7

Zombies HI #7

Writers: Danny McLaughlin, Rowan Davidson, Alan Healy, Michael Deery
Artists: Ruairi Coleman, Kevin ‘Gio’ Logue, Brian ‘Burky’ Burke, Dave Campbell, John Campbell
Colourists: Roo Thompson, Dannii Coyle, Joe Campbell
Publisher: Uproar Comics
Cost: £3.50 Print, or £1.50 download.
Reviewed by: Colin O’Mahoney
Up until writing this review, I had not actually read any of Zombies Hi. Researching the series pre-read though, it was obvious that Uproar Comics were doing something right with their flagship title. As well as the usual coverage on ICN and Irish Comics Wiki, Zombies Hi has gotten attention from BBC Northern Ireland.
To help ease me into things, the book opens with a ‘previously… on Zombies Hi…’ page. While this did give me plenty enough information to get me into the story, I found myself having to re-read it to get all that information out. In short, it could use a once-over to clean it up and put a better face forward for someone just picking the title up. The book’s cover, on the other hand, shows great design, with an unnerving-undead terrorist staring the reader down through a ballaclava and over a pile of bodies. It’s eye-catching, and works the terror through zombies and more traditional Northern Ireland issues into a patchwork of gore and the PSNI logo.
The main story in Zombies Hi is 13 pages long, written by Danny McLaughlin. The premise here is brilliant. It is set in the walled city of Derry, which managed to close its gates on time to protect itself against the zombie apocalypse that has engulfed the rest of the island, possibly the world.
And on-board this sinking ship, in the midst of Armageddon, in the face of change so ugly you would think it would be impossible to ignore, there are people carry on as before. Despite literally living in the apocalypse, people are fighting the same old fights, clinging to dead causes even as the literal dead threaten to overwhelm their world.  Like all the best horror, Zombies Hi uses the paranormal as a way of looking at the very normal. Zombies Hi isn’t about zombies. It’s about sectarianism, religion, terrorism, violence. It is an inspired look at the troubled landscape of the north through the lens of a zombie movie.
Danny McLaughlin is telling an excellent story against this backdrop. It is tense, interesting and layered in both plot and themes. However, it is let down by poor technique, falling too often to expositionary dialogue, speech bubbles overrun with exclamation points, and plot points being hammered home where a nudge in the right direction would do. Whether through lack of editing or experience, this stands in the way of Zombies Hi being the really great book that it is so close to being. Improvement in this area could turn what is already a gripping read into an essential comic, and one that would not be out of place in a major publisher.
The art throughout the main feature is great. I am not sure where the work of Ruairi Coleman ends and Kevin ‘Gio’ Logue’s input begins, or if they mix, but throughout it is clear cut storytelling, by turns vibrant and atmospheric, with an occasional flash of brilliance in the layouts. It’s a perfect fit for both story and setting.
This main story is backed up by four more; two text, two comic. All the stories are in the same universe; all adding colour and layers to this world.
The first back up is text, and is by the writer of the main feature. It very cleverly ties into that story, but unfortunately the writing suffers for the same reasons. It remains a worthwhile addition, though.
The second back up is again a comic, from Michael Deery, with art by John Campbell and Joe Campbell. Short and clever, it fleshes out the history of the Zombies Hi world very nicely while incorporating both the political and horror strands very well.
Alan Healy’s Down Time is another text story, albeit one broken up by gorgeous sketches from Dave Campbell. It’s a decent read, again adding another layer to the back story.
Finishing the book off, Rowan Davidson’s and Brian ‘Burky’ Burke’s Honey Moon returns to the comic format for a nice finisher, with lovely pencils complemented by some top notch stylised colouring. Some unfortunate speech bubble tangles aside, it is a simple story, well told and wonderfully presented.
With five stories for £3.50 (£1.50 for digital) it is hard to imagine a better value comic book. All the back up stories serve to add to the main work, which is something I am a huge fan of, and it delivers a great overall package. Zombies Hi makes the absolute best possible use of the 32 page comic format that could be made, and despite some flaws, is a book that I look forward to reading more of.