Sunday, October 28, 2012
October is Spookey Month: John Severin's zombie soldiers
Personally, I'm sick of zombies. Well, I thought I was, anyway. Turns out I'm sick of zombies unless they're WWI soldier zombies drawn by John Severin. Severin could draw anything. Zombies, war comics, westerns, horror. Horror-war. This is the first page of "Battle Rot," a genre-bending tale from Creepy #81 (July 1976). Written by Bill DuBay, it's the story of a German flyer who holds his ground-based fellow officers in contempt, especially when one of them starts rambling on about undead soldiers wandering around the trenches at the front. Later, while villainously attempting to bomb a hospital, the arrogant pilot learns this story has its basis in fact.
"Battle Rot" would fit right in with DC's similarly themed Weird War Tales anthology comic. The final page packs a wallop, and I was tempted to share it. But I prefer the title page because it's just so haunting, evoking the climaxes of both versions of J'Accuse, the pacifist films French director Abel Gance (later a Petain supporter, unfortunately) made and re-made in 1919 in 1937 in which the war dead return; the earlier film features actual war footage and both have maimed veterans as the walking corpses, back to lay the blame for war on everyone equally. All war is terrible, but WWI with its rolling artillery barrages, frontal assaults into fortified positions bristling with machine guns, mass gassings, filthy, diseased-ravaged trenches, No Man's Land full of unburied corpses and satiated rats must have been a special level of Hell unto itself. Its mechanized, technology-based slaughter convinced a number of artists and writers life itself was absurd, was without no meaning and gave rise to Dadaism, an anti-art movement that's had a profound impact on my own sensibilities (I believe life is very meaningful, yet still absurd). It would inform the horror genre in film and literature throughout the 1920s and 1930s as well, and we can extrapolate a similar reaction to the atomic bomb in the giant bug and lizard monster films of the 1950s.
Especially here in Japan.