I feel like a lot of pitches to most genre comics start with "You know what would be awesome..." and just go on from there. In the case of Fanboys vs Zombies that awesome thing would be 150,000 comics fans becoming zombies in the middle of the San Diego Comic Con. Although generally I am the kind of person to say "That would be awesome!" to those kind of pitches I do have to admit when I first heard about this the first thing I said was "really?". The thing that ultimately made me pick it up though was the fact that it was written by Sam Humphries whose last two books Our Love is Real and Sacrifice really impressed me. So on the strength of those books I thought I might as well give the first issue a shot. Upon completion I found it to be a very fun read but that didn't stop me from having some problems with it. Fanboys vs Zombies takes place during the San Diego Comic Con and centers around a group of friends (comprised of video store clerk Rob, his best friend Burger, his ex Jenna, his former friend Kyle, Myles' sister Amanda, and the group's mutual friend J-Mac) who make it a point to meet at the con each year. Unfortunately this year sees the group fractured due to some unspecified incident among them, although with the information we're given this issue it's pretty clear it was a love triangle of some sort. And although they try avoid one another they nonetheless are forced to confront each other and their problems. Oh yeah and also the zombie apocalypse is upon them. Let's hope they can reconcile before becoming snacks for some flesh eating monsters!
Like I said before, the main reason I decided to give this issue was on the basis on Humphries' previous work and Fanboys vs Zombies almost feels slight by comparison. Here's my main takeaway from the story of this issue: what you get is right there in the title. Fanboys vs Zombies. Nothing more, nothing less. It's a very fun book and I throughly enjoyed it but at the same time I kept expecting more from it. This isn't a case of false advertising on Humphries' part and in fact it's probably my own fault for expecting too much from a comic called Fanboys vs Zombies (it's not like I was expecting much when I read Werewolves on the Moon vs Vampires) but my preconceptions forced their way in nonetheless. The book may very well grow into what I had hoped it could be (somewhat improbably, this is slated as an ongoing series) but for now it's just a literal representation of it's titular premise.
The book's main strength comes from the fact that the core group are all archetypes of geek culture. In most situations this would be a detriment, but within the very specific context of a comic book convention, it helps establish what each character's "thing" is early on, allowing him to dive right into giving them more depth. Humphries puts an emphasis on making the characters feel real, warts and all, and the first issue does give us some nice emotional setup which I'm hoping will have real payoff down the line. He also keeps each character's individual voice diverse enough that they actually sound like individuals are relatable.
The book is also very funny, in the same dark humor vein as something like Chew. The main characters practically don't even blink at the concept that the zombie apocalypse is upon them. Some will say this is unrealistic. I say that if you watch enough zombie movies you learn to play along. The more potential zombie scenarios you watch, the more mentally prepared you are for them to be in the realm of possibility. Then again I'm probably in the weirdo minority on that one.
The art in the book is by Jerry Gaylord, but it should be noted that the original character designs were done by artist Humberto Ramos. Now Ramos is an artist whose work I have very much enjoyed in the past but I'll be the first to admit many of his character designs follow certain....patterns. While the four main male characters have several different body types ranging from thin to fat to muscular, the two female leads have the stereotypical builds of most mainstream comics with waifish waists and relatively large busts. They even have belly shirts and cut off shorts. I honestly don't believe that the designs are as overtly nefarious as some other designs I've seen in the mainstream recently, and Humphries writes the women well enough (well he writes Jenna well enough) to make up for it, but it's still a problem. As a female friend remarked to me over the weekend, "Even creator-owned comics can take the 'business as usual' approach to female design." Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but its just a facet of comics that's begun to annoy me more and more recently.
Nonetheless, I have to give credit where credit is due to Jerry Gaylord. Although he uses Ramos' designs, he doesn't fall into many of the traps of some other artists I could name and the women move and act like actual human beings instead of improbably posed dolls, and over the course of the issue the overall design relaxes a bit. The rest of his art is great, it's expressive with a great sense of body and facial movement and handles the eventual carnage of the zombie fighting very well.
When all is said and done, Fanboys vs Zombies is a very fun comic book, but not a very substantial one. I realize that my disappointment might stem from setting expectations too high, but I still believe the seeds for something special are here, even if it's not quite there yet. The book was enjoyable enough (and only a dollar) that I think I'm going to stick with it, at least for a few more issues, to see if I can get a better idea of just what it's trying to do. Because at the end of the day it's a book with zany zombie fighting action with some enjoyable character work. Does it need to be anything more than that?
TL;DR: Zombies vs Fanboys #1 is a fun enough read however some fairly substantial flaws keep it from being a great read. It may deliver on its title but your milage may vary.