From start to finish, Fatima: The Blood Spinners from Dark Horse Comics has been one of those miniseries that’s so much more than what it’s premise implies. It’s hard to say that about most comics, especially those still cashing in on the wheezing, terminally ill patient of a genre that is zombies. I mean, “secret agents fighting the supply of a zombie drug” is about as elevator a pitch as they come, right up there with “what if Marvel superheroes were zombies,” “what if zombies fought Ninja Turtles,” or “what if Barack Obama fought zombies and we made the title a pun on Resident Evil because aren’t we so clever as to lift a joke title from a Veronica Mars episode title?” It’s like Love and Rockets‘ Gilbert Hernandez saw all these purveyors of crap comics and said to himself, “I can show them how it’s really done.”
And he did.
Where other zombie narratives would pile grisly action atop grisly action, replicating George Romero without understanding him, Hernandez opts to redraw the map: the heroes are sleek, sexy men and women from a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like organization, utilizing flying saucers, hover-bikes, escape pods that look like beans, and other sci-fi gadgetry that would make Bond jealous. The zombies are drug addicts, their hollowed-out humanity functioning as a stand-in for meth, and are entirely sympathetic. What’s more is that Fatima, the top dog agent, has to grapple with the revelation her own organization is responsible for the zombie drug “Spin” being unleashed upon the population; her outlook is bleak, even before she awakes to a nightmarish apocalypse populated with zombies and mutants (which can make anyone pregnant to lethal effect, turning around Fatima’s own infertility). People, in the sense of sound-minded, vital individuals with sense of both self and community, no longer exist, no longer exist, having been replaced by the children of the zombie: they’re capable of basic tasks (one is shown pushing a mop) and of going about their daily routines, but little more. For all its bluster, the War on Drugs (along with its half-sibling, the War on Terror) has only made the drug industry (illegal and otherwise), more powerful; perhaps even willingly so, to keep the populace subservient through medication and intoxication. Hernandez’s end of the world as we know it serves as allegory, then, for such institutional corruption leading us closer to civilization’s demise. Hence, why the organization known as Operations is responsible for distributing the drug, a fact Fatima and her fellow agents discover and deal with far too late.
Dark as this is, Hernandez’s art is never over-shadowed or murky when highlighting his tale’s carnage and insanity–the homogeneous sludge of DC’s New 52–instead, his style is deceptively simple, as it has always been: clear layouts and a high contrast black-and-white, especially effective for a scene where a mutant sneaks up on the duplicitous agent Chitts or when Fatima adopts the superhero image of a hooded cloak to fight zombie-crime, a no-frills approach to sequential art that grounds all manner of mayhem, a rarity unseen even in similarly ambitious, socially conscious comics like Chew or Punk Rock Jesus (both of which have elaborate and often chaotic pages). Even in the latter half of this issue, where Hernandez glides past plot points that would’ve taken several issues for mainstream writers to get to, often with single panels (one character departs from the narrative with “Oh, well! G’bye!”), the issue never goes off the rails precisely because the inexplicable is depicted with such focus.
Another trap Hernandez avoids is demonizing. Though Chitts reveals through his actions to be a slimy, selfish worm, he acts at the behest of a bodyless voice–the institution itself, guiding him through VR goggles–and never out of any malice towards other human beings. Even when left to a cruel fate, the comic takes no joy in it, and neither does Fatima, it seems. This reflects the series’ general sympathy towards the Spin-zombies, as they, along with Chitts and even Fatima herself, have been mere cogs to a security-industrial complex. It’s to Hernandez’s credit that his approach favors people (“All life is sacred”) over ogranization: the existence of a functioning city proves to be a false omen of hope, shrouded almost entirely in black against a white landscape. Even when none are left, people and their stories matter more than buildings in the world of Fatima.