Life After Life: Things Undone

Posted by on March 8th, 2010 at 9:36 AM

Rob reviews Shane White’s zombie slice-of-life story, THINGS UNDONE (NBM).

THINGS UNDONE was the first comic I’d read from Shane White, and it wasn’t quite what I was expecting based on the opening pages.  We meet a man named Rick who’s just bought  gun and it’s revealed that he’s decomposing like a zombie.  When we flash back to the beginning of his troubles, I initially thought that I’d be getting a mix between romance and sci-fi.  Instead, White gives us something considerably more downbeat.  Rich’s zombiehood is purely metaphorical, a reflection of his own emotional deadening.  When his eyeball pops out, his foot falls off and wounds don’t heal, it’s a mixture of magical realism on the page and Rick’s own internal understanding of his existence.

Like a zombie, Rick felt swept up in a series of events over which he had little control.  His creatively rewarding job went down the tubes when he broke up with his girlfriend (a co-worker) to date another co-worker.  That eventually led him to moving across the country with his new girlfriend following him, along with a feeling of dread, guilt and helplessness.  From there, the plot moves predictably: the relationship falls apart, his new job is awful and his supervisors idiots, and his life decays a bit more every day.  What makes this more than just another relationship comic is the zombie trope, which works to often hilarious ends.  When he realizes that his despised boss is now seeing his ex-girlfriend, he goes crazy and starts biting him–exactly as a zombie might.  There’s a blur between metaphor and reality, as Rick actually does staple his ear as though he were putting it back on.

There’s a sense in which the more his life was going down the tubes, the more freedom it gave him to speak and act.  That climaxed in a picnic where he broke one of his supervisor’s noses after Rick got nailed by a water balloon, the assault on his boss and then another beatdown in the conference room when his boss tried to confront him.  The gun that Rick bought at the beginning of the book came into play as it was uncertain just what he planned to do with it.  White took that eventual decision in some unusual directions, and Rick’s final decision came both as a surprise and clever final metaphor, ending on a surprisingly upbeat note.

The story aside, it’s White’s line that makes the story work.  His figures look like a cross between Bob Fingerman and Bryan Lee O’Malley, with oversized heads and big eyes on the men, and sexier features on the women.  There’s even a touch of Dan DeCarlo at work here in features like Rick’s nose.  The pale orange wash adds to the sickly quality of the story’s visuals, reinforcing that sense of deterioration.

All told, I’d say this is a cleverly-designed and executed minor work.  It doesn’t overstay its welcome in terms of length, it’s clearly told and darkly humorous.  The themes are all familiar ones, though as noted earlier the zombie metaphor turns some of the themes on their ear.  The two major problems with the book were the depth of characterizations (nearly everyone but Rick acted like a caricature) and its over-reliance on narrative text.  White really spells out Rick’s story in agonizing detail, leaving little to the reader to figure out.  White is a bold and confident visual storyteller and didn’t need a lot of the text he added.  For example, at the end of the story when Rick is driving away triumphantly, the three panels on the page (featuring a healthy and serene Rick and his cat) didn’t need 58 extra words telling us his feelings.  It was clearly told already on the page, and the effect was that of gilding the lily a bit.  I’ll be curious to see if White relies more on his visual storytelling sense to carry the narrative rather than rely so much on text.

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