If you’re a zombie fan and aren’t reading Image Comics’ new series Cannibal, you are doing yourself a serious disservice. That said, Cannibal transcends the basic zombie story we all know and love, delving into the more complex, emotional and moral side of cannibalism–the human side, if you will–through an ensemble cast of characters residing in the sleepy, Southern Gothic setting of Willow, Florida (now a ghost town in real life). The series attempts to answer questions as to what the outcome would be of an epidemic involving flesh-eating humans with a conscience and a choice of victim; true to human nature, some of the answers prove more frightening than those of a more traditionally mindless, savage zombie scenario.
The slow burn of the previous three issues’ events come to a head in the fourth and final issue of the series’ first story arc (Cannibal #5, the first issue of Part 2, is slated for a May 2017 release). The story takes a few steps closer to a reveal regarding Danny and his possible involvement in the savage murder of his baby mama; meanwhile, Grady and Louise try to negotiate with Sheriff Mays (whose role in the downplaying of the outbreak is now highly suspect after the end of Issue #3) for Danny’s release. Carl gets some “good ol’ boy justice” after his beating from Cash, who persists nonetheless in his tireless search for the missing Jolene. Capping off the issue is a serious cliffhanger that’s going to make the months’ wait for Part 2 that much longer.
Writer Brian Buccellato has been turning out some of, in this writer’s opinion, his best work lately (please tell me you read Sons of the Devil), and Cannibal is the continuation of one hella fine hot streak. Buccellato and his co-writer Jennifer Young describe the series as an “anti-apocalypse” story; where most zombie tales focus on survival and the breakdown of society, Young and Buccellato choose to explore the possibilities and pitfalls of a community unwilling to relinquish its day-to-day way of life even while staring impending death square in the eye. The small-town mentality of its colorful cast of characters paired with the episodic nature of its multiple interwoven storylines make for a much more intricate and unique horror story than one would expect in this subgenre.
Cannibal is no slouch visually, either; Matias Bergara’s brooding, textured panels draw you in visually, bringing the swampy decay of the Everglades and the dusty backwater backdrop of Willow to brilliant life. His deliberate, thoughtful use of lines and shadows brings out even the most subtle emotion in each character. Occasionally characters are even drawn outside the panel while still engaging in the action and dialogue within, a smart and eye-catching form of emphasis. This evocative style is a perfect fit for Young and Buccellato’s story, subtle enough to hint at its secrets yet powerful enough to pull the reader further into its universe.
Every single component of this series fits with the next to ensure its success, and the end result is a comic you just can’t put down. It’s certainly the most intriguing zombie series I’ve encountered since Crossed, with far more potential for ongoing story arcs without boring the shit out of you or spiraling into redundancy. Again, if you aren’t reading this yet, you have plenty of time before May to get up to speed on these first four issues…so DO IT. NOW.