Border Horror, Part One of Two: Infestaci贸n: The Mythology

Posted by on February 3rd, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Infestaci贸n: The Mythology; Javier Valencia, Francisco Arce, Ray Ramos, writers, various artists; 656 Comics; B&W, Hardcover, 370 pp., $37.98; ISBN 9780578034423; Softcover, 334 pp., $20 (ISBN聽 not yet assigned)

Nicked from lulu.com

Infestaci贸n Volume One: The Mythology, is divided into three parts, which should have been three books. The first, “Outbreak,” is by far the best.聽 It comprises seven short stories, mostly by Francisco Arce.聽 These one-issue vignettes portray the confusion and fear of the first days of a zombie attack.聽 We see the initial signs of infection, followed by its fast but quiet spread, the chaos of social collapse, the efforts of individuals and small groups to defend themselves, and the reaction of the authorities when faced with an unprecedented apocalypse.

Set in the border town of Ciudad Ju谩rez 鈥 the other side of El Paso 鈥 the incidents range from the dramatic to the banal.聽 Or rather, as is usual in disasters, the heroic, the tragic, the horrific, and the commonplace mix together: a group of men hunt down an infected dog.聽 People try to save their sick children.聽 Human smugglers load live people into a truck, and unload dead people 鈥 or rather, undead people.聽 U.S. soldiers hold the line at the border, firing at zombies and refugees alike.聽 The art varies by issue, displaying influences from manga, adventure strips, realist illustration, photo-montage, and of course, classic horror comics.

The second section, “Hell’s Pass,” takes us to the other side of the border as the zombie outbreak spreads to Texas.聽 Written by Ray Ramos and drawn by Villano Montanenas 鈥 using a sketchy, scratchy, punk-rock style 鈥 the comic follows a group of Anglo tough guys as they try to escape the area of infection.聽 Rather than simply running for it, they spend their time drinking beer, smoking cigarettes, eating tacos, picking up girls, calling their rivals “faggots” and “Spics,” and killing everything in their way 鈥 for about 100 pages.

In an interview included in the hardcover edition, Ramos says: “The main three characters are assholes to the very core, but they are determined to not let the undead get in the way of them living their lives the way [they’re] used to.聽 This comic is the most arrogant, belligerent, egotistical, conceited, racist comic I have ever written, but there is a method to my madness!”

The problem is, a parody of the masculine id running amok tends to look very much like a celebration of the same.聽 It’s excessive and annoying in any case 鈥 even in the context of a zombie war.

The third section, “Deliverance,” is the most novelistic. Written by Javier Valencia, with art by Rub茅n Dar铆o, it somehow absorbs everything that has come before 鈥 both the literary aspects of the first section and the ultraviolent comedy of the second.聽 And the art 鈥 done in a rich, black-and-gray wash 鈥 is beautiful even when it is grisly.

In this leg of the tale, the U.N. has established a quarantine zone and has begun evacuations of the living.聽 Local neighborhoods are largely under the sway of former drug gangs, reborn in the crisis as guerrilla “cells.”聽 A semi-mythic leader, Dante, has just returned after an unexplained two-year absence.聽 And a crazy religious sect called the “Commune” seems intent on undermining all of humanity’s chances for survival.

The exposition comes in small, unreliable pieces, and the reader’s confusion becomes a narrative element in itself.聽 These stories are dense with rumors and lies.聽 Everyone has something to hide 鈥 things they’re ashamed of having done, secret allegiances, or conspiracies waiting to unfold.聽 It’s intriguing, and to my frustration, the book ends mid-story, just as a young woman is sent back to the quarantine area as an assassin.聽 So I suppose, to revise my earlier statement, Volume One contains only two and a half books.

A border town is, in some respects, the perfect setting for a zombie tale.聽 The living dead already inhabit a kind of no-man’s-land.聽 “The undead are liminal beings who exist between the worlds of life and death,”聽 Annalee Newitz wrote in Pretend We’re Dead, her treatise on the politics of horror.聽 “They represent the sorts of identities that erupt into being when different racial groups collide violently with one another and produce horrifying new cultures of deprivation and oppression.” (90).

What’s interesting about the stories in Infestaci贸n is how quickly the cannibalistic ghouls fade into the background.聽 The theme, throughout, is that the real horror is not the violence of the undead, but that of the living.聽 It’s not the zombies that divide humanity into warring factions, hoard scare good, betray their friends, abandon the weak, rape and enslave women.聽 We do that, in this world and in the world of the comic, all on our own.

In the real world, Ju谩rez has a thriving economy based on sweatshops, human smuggling, and drugs 鈥 with all the poverty, desperation, and violence that that implies.聽 Last year, this city of 1.5 million people saw approximately 3,000 of its citizens murdered, averaging seven a day. Many of the crimes have been deliberately gruesome, with severed heads serving as warnings to those who find them.聽 Even after the national government sent 4500 soldiers and police, Ju谩rez still had the highest murder rate in the world 鈥 leading the Chamber of Commerce to dramatically request the deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force.

The horror of fiction is but a shadow of the horror of reality.

Next time:聽 Vampire Clowns!

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