There’s a cover blurb on Victorian Undead, the new horror/adventure comic from DC/Wildstorm that proclaims in bright green letters, “SHERLOCK HOLMES VS ZOMBIES!” I feared that the story inside would read as a cash grab opportunity to sell issues based solely on the upcoming Guy Ritchie film. Turns out Victorian Undead’s greatest credit is that it doesn’t smack of opportunism at all — it’s simply a story that writer Ian Edginton felt compelled to tell, a quasi-What If? in the tradition of Alan Moore’s playful historical fiction comics.
I can’t judge how faithful Edginton stays to the tropes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective, having read only The Hound of the Baskervilles at a very young age, but it certainly feels like classic Holmes and Watson. There are some elements of the fantastic added to the familiar mix, like androids and, of course, zombies, but nothing that betrayed my perception of the way these characters should behave. Issue 1 (I’m assuming this is a mini-series, but there’s nothing in the comic to indicate how many issues are planned) is essentially a very simple set-up, wherein a comet passes over 1854 London and brings the recently dead back to life. Sherlock Holmes is called in by Scotland Yard to investigate.
Do I want to know what happens next? Yes. The book is light horror, due in part to the pencils of Davide Fabbri (who seems heavily influenced by DC stalwart Dan Jurgens), and Edginton provides just enough of a hook to make you curious about where the story is going next. Nobody is trying to re-invent the wheel here, and I think it makes Victorian Undead one of the breeziest horror comics in recent memory. Fabbri doesn’t draw anything inside the pages as gruesome as Tony Harris’s hilariously revolting cover art, and, in a different artist’s hands the book would’ve probably felt more adult.
At first, immediately after reading it, I thought that was a bad thing, but I’m not so sure now. Fabbri skimps on Victorian background detail (especially for a book with Victorian in the title), and his work seems better suited for superheroes than things that go bump in the night, but Fabbri may be the key ingredient that makes Victorian Undead so damned accessible. His storytelling is clean and clear, and coupled with Edginton’s approach to the material (emphasizing fun over terror), I think he’s a better partner on this than I initially gave him credit for. Not everything “horror” has to be for the hardcore crowd, and I’m okay with that.
Victorian Undead reminded me a little bit of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and a little bit of Dark Horse’s long-dead title Zombie World, two books that I really enjoyed. There’s an old-fashioned sense of adventure and mystery at play here that just plain works, and I hope Edginton keeps that tone through the rest of the series. If you’re looking for the next Walking Dead, move along. However, for those looking for something a little different to read but don’t want to stray too “indie”, I’d give Victorian Undead a recommend. It’s off to a good start — a killer concept backed by reliable artwork and a solid script.