Could we conjure you up, and raise you from the rich red soil, and bring you back?
Written by David Hine
llustrated by Shaky Kane
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Comicraft’s Jimmy Betancourt
‘THE HATEFUL DEAD’
A planet full of hate explodes and aeons later a meteorite lands on Earth, resurrecting a platoon of US soldiers. The full story of The Hateful Dead, featuring art from the legendary set of bubblegum cards, reproduced as full-size paintings.
The previous issue was the best one. on a pure craft and symbolic levels, nearly impossible to beat. This issue, however, I recall as a personal favorite the first time I’ve read this series. It’s a gimmick, one that calls attention to itself as a gimmick, but one that holds so far. The comics industry has this ugly tendency to take any slightly charming quirky idea and overdo it to death, I think now of various types of variant covers that long since crossed the line. Thankfully no one tried to replicate this issue, yet. If they do I expect to like the issue a bit less in the future. That’s fine, if we learned anything from “Bulletproof Coffin: Disinterred” so far it is about the nature of time in comics and about the nature of comics in time. It’s perfectly fine for future-you to disagree with present-you about a comic-book.
This is the story of the Hateful Dead, a group of Vietnam war-era GIs brought back from the dead as wicked zombies to wage war on all the living. This is also the story of a collectible card game, recalling the likes Mars Attacks, based on comics. The whole issue is meant to evoke a series of cards: following the soldiers’ first encounter with a strange meteor, their transformation into monsters and the military’s panicked reactions as the slaughter intensifies. It’s great to look it, finding just the right mix between parody and actual horror.
I’ve never been much a collector of such cards, Mars Attacks never made it to my country except in the form of a terrible Tim Burton movie, but from looking things online it seems like Hine and Kane have got the ‘feel’ of it mostly right. It’s all horrible stuff, but portrayed in such over the top gory manner as to become comical instead of scary. That’s the theory at least. But the characters and events within this issue are scary, are gross, are horrifying. Possibly it’s their relation to actual human events in close history, the survivors and damages of the Vietnam war are still around and it’s weird to see them reduced into a trading card. Possibly it’s Hine’s language when describing various misdeeds done to human flesh.
As always the series is one step ahead of the reader in realizing what it’s depicting: not only the horror of wars, and its own way this story is far more evocative than dozens of war movies and stories that turned the conflict into a series of clichés, but horror of later commodification. It’s scary because we see real life conflict turned into a toy, it’s scary because the dead are allowed no rest but are brought back from the dead in the name of profit. It’s scary of it’s all tied to the idea of exploitation in the comics-industry in general; we see here the work of Kane & Hine (the fictional versions of them) being taken from them, censored, disappeared.
It’s weird to recall that the likewise disturbing Garbage Pail Kids also have a comics connection: being dreamed up with the assistance of alternative cartoonists Art Spiegelman and Mark Newgarden. Possibly there’s some alternative reality in which Spiegelman decided to stay in the collectible card business and allowed “Maus” to fall by the wayside.
This whole thing also connects us to the previous issue which discussed the problem of value in comics. In the afterword of this story we’re informed that only one mint-condition package of the card game survived, and that it is worth a six figure sum. Naturally, the creators aren’t going to see that money. Once again something made to be fun and transitory is perverted by turning into a museum piece, a rich person’s show-off monument. Nostalgia has a clear cash value to it, and we can no longer turn back that wheel.