To celebrate the premiere of The Walking Dead on AMC this Sunday, we here at Techland will be picking out our favorite formerly deceased monsters across comics, games, film and other media. The zombie myth’s been around for centuries and has been reinterpreted almost as much as vampire lore. At their most basic, though, zombies represent us and everything that can go wrong (or right?) on the dark side of human nature. We’ll be trying to show off some of the most intriguing examples of that symbolism as My Favorite Zombie rolls out.
The fantasy of the zombie is a fantasy of hopelessness and desperation. A vampire can be staked, a werewolf can be silver-bulleted; to get rid of a zombie, you have to do something huge and messy, and the thing about zombies is that there’s almost never just one of them. They represent co-option and corruption: the zombies want to make you one of them, destroy your essence (they want to devour your brain, not drink your blood or even sustain themselves on your flesh) and pervert everything you once were. They’re a fable for a culture whose individuals are terrified of being absorbed into something bigger, brutal and meaningless. Zombies have no free will; all they can do is ruin everything intact around them until they’re violently destroyed themselves.
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In other words, zombies are the enemy of individualism; they’re a useful metaphor for being sucked into a way of life (a religion, a corporation, a political movement). But they’re also a dangerous metaphor, because they represent an absolute: the total loss of everything that’s valuable about the self. Real life is usually more complicated.
That’s why I’m fond of Gwen Dylan, the spunky girl detective/zombie who’s the heroine of Chris Roberson and Michael Allred’s comic book I, Zombie (a.k.a. iZombie). For her, being a zombie is kind of a drag–she has to eat brains every month or so (and she’s gotten a job as a gravedigger to have access to them), she doesn’t heal from injuries very well, and it’s difficult for her to build close relationships with the living.
(More on Techland: Exclusive Preview: I, Zombie #2)
The first storyline in I, Zombie includes a rather original taxonomy of monsters that depends on the distinction between the “oversoul” (the ego, essentially, stored in the brain) and the “undersoul” (the id, stored in the heart). An oversoul without a body, one character explains, is a ghost; an oversoul/body combination without an undersoul is a vampire; and an undersoul/body combination without an oversoul is a zombie. Gwen craves brains because her body is now controlled by the undersoul’s desires, and she needs thoughts and memories to survive. (As who doesn’t?)
But zombieism is more like a chronic medical condition than a moral death sentence for Gwen. It has its up side, too; eating brains allows her access to the memories of the dead, and gives her an opportunity to make amends for desecrating their bodies by taking care of whatever business they’ve left unfinished in the world. And it’s introduced her to a community of other people with conditions like hers. They’re monsters, yes, but they’re learning to live with that.