Written by Charles Meier
The Hernandez brothers are, simply put, the most perfect creators in the sequential-art medium. Their art, their storytelling, their flawless commingling of the two–all top-notch, of a caliber not seen since Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and this time without the uncomfortable racist stereotypes. While best known for their work in the slice-of-life/magic realism/intergenerational epic genres, Gilbert and Jaime are hardly snobs when it comes to storytelling–Jaime Hernandez’s ”Locas” did begin life in a science fiction setting, after all. Both in Love and Rockets and stand-alone works, Los Bros. Hernandez have explored virtually every genre you can think of–horror, erotica, crime, science fiction, noir, superheroes, and whatever the hell Naked Cosmos was supposed to be (besides amazing). In his most recent work, the 4-part miniseries Fatima: The Blood Spinners, Gilbert Hernandez turns his eye to that most popular and most overdone of horror subgenres, the zombie story.
Fatima takes place in a dystopian near-future in which a popular, highly addictive drug called “Spin” has turned a large portion of the populace into mindless, hungry undead. Straight off, what intrigues me about this iteration of the zombie apocalypse is its, in large part, voluntary nature. People know full well what Spin is and what it does…and they take it anyway. Call me a pessimist, but I’ve always thought that if anything like a zombie apocalypse ever really does happen, it’ll probably be our own damn fault. No failed space probes, no necromancy, no mutated strains of rabies, just a few million or so people saying “oh, but that won’t happen to me”. Good old human nature, biting us in the ass yet again. How many people do you think have tried smoking bath salts in recent days?
At the same time, however, it’s not quite that simple–Hernandez comics rarely are. If taking Spin seems like a foolish risk, it’s plain there’s no shortage of effort behind the scenes to make it seem a calculated risk. Whoever’s behind the production and circulation of Spin won’t scruple to prey upon the public’s gullibility and false hope, teasing them with rumors of a cure. While taking Spin is the wrong decision, you can see why people would make that decision in the first place.
With such societal trends working against them, it’s unclear what the authorities can do about all this, beyond mopping up the resulting zombie hordes. Those who take up the task of control seem liable to lose far more than they can ever hope to gain, as the titular protagonist has learned the hard way. Though an absolute nightmare in combat, she’s haunted by the past, leaving her a detached automaton. It’s unclear what, precisely, Fatima is after. Revenge? Absolution? Death? All three? It’s still too early to tell.
If she’s just looking for blood, however, there’s no shortage of the red stuff here. Fatima is easily Beto’s most violent work so far, its first panel alone splashed with more gore than a year’s worth of Palomar stories. No pretty little holes in foreheads trickling blood here–each dispatched revenant, and there are many of them, sees the back of its head erupt into an octopus of black ink. Agent Fatima is a virtual saint of carnage, her halo a panorama of sprayed gore, her benedictions mercy killings.
It’s not all shoot-em-ups, however, Fatima continues the Hernandez tradition of strong characterization, even if this first issue favors the former to some extent (gotta get the punters in somehow, right?). At first impression, this miniseries looks to tell the kind of story Beto excels at, in the style of a really high-minded ‘70s grindhouse film. This could easily have been another one of Fritz’s B-movies (a la Chance In Hell or Love In The Shadows), and hell, it’s early yet–for all I know it could be.
And few art styles are more suited to this sort of story than that of Gilbert Hernandez. His spidery lines and minimal backgrounds form a crumbly, almost medieval atmosphere, one of a world slowly but surely being emptied out, the cloaked Fatima its looming Angel of Death. The Spinners themselves are nothing short of nightmarish–eschewing the stock dripping-flesh look, Hernandez instead finds the intersection of goofy and frightening, exercising it to full, terrifying effect. Who knew a wrinkly face and raccoon eyes could elicit such a “oh god kill it…KILL IT” reaction? More perverted fans needn’t worry either, as Hernandez also finds time in between bloodbaths to indulge his yen for busty, scantily-clad women, once again getting away with it by remembering to instill them with a personality beyond “life-support system for tits”.
It occurs to me that Fatima may not be for everyone. The extreme violence may put some readers off for sure, but I’m also aware some people prefer Hernandez’s Palomar-style work to his later, genre/experimental offerings. I can see where these people are coming from–the former does tend to be more coherent and involving. For my part, however, I think anything from Los Bros. Hernandez is money well spent. I don’t think Fatima: The Blood Spinners breathes new life into the zombie genre, but simply because I’m not one to judge on such ephemeral criteria. It’s simply everything you’d expect from a zombie comic by Gilbert Hernandez–bloody, spooky, and bittersweet.
Fatima: The Blood Spinners #1 comes out June 27.