Zombies have become so standardized that fans debate the validity of such minor variations as fast-moving zombies endlessly and tiresomely. But before George Romero shaped the modern conception of zombies once and for all in 1968, the only zombie rules were that there aren’t any zombie rules. Most often zombies were mesmerized slaves toiling away on some Haitian sugar plantation. They might also be vengeful “things from the grave,” as witnessed in pretty much every issue of E.C.’s horror comics, or swarms of Romero-anticipating rotting corpses. As revealed in Craig Yoe and IDW’s new anthology of rare zombie comics from the fifties, the zombie ranks might also include a guy who gradually turns into the undead as if he is infected with some strange, fatal disease or the tools of some yokel who can raise the dead with his trumpet.
As is usually the case with Yoe’s anthologies of stories from such second-tier horror comics as Horrific, Web of Evil, and Strange Suspense Stories, wackiness is what makes these oddities worthy preserving. The Crypt Keeper’s tales tended to follow a sort of storytelling rulebook no matter how grotesque or illogical they were. The most delightful tales in Yoe’s new volume The Return of the Zombies, such as “Hating Corpse” and “Death by Inches”, follow the logic of someone who woke up at 4 AM with a head full of groggy nightmares. More conventional tales still manage to sidestep convention, such as “The Dead Remember”, which courts serious bad taste with its zombies as vengeful holocaust victims.
Not everything collected in The Return of the Zombies is particularly memorable, but IDW has still assembled a typically attractive package with its center spread of grotty, zombified comics covers and its textural pages and authentically inked artwork. The bite taken from the bottom corner of the front cover is a bit of groovy yet unnecessary extra evidence that IDW is one publisher that takes its goofy second-tier horror comics very seriously. You have to love them for that.