Rise of the Dead - our lost zombie story.
So, several years ago (maybe 2002?) Eric Jones, Ivan Merritt and I sat down to work on a zombie story. This was the result - Rise of the Dead - a pitch designed for either a comic series or a TV show. Eric and I had been producing zombie stories since the mid-90's (though only a few were published). This collaboration on what had been a mostly ignored genre of horror culminated in the editing of a zombie anthology comic for SLG Publishing titled Zombie-O-rama.
We wanted to go further with this series, but it sadly was never picked up as a comic. We made a small bit of headway on having it produced in animation, but an agent we were working with at the time dismissed zombies as a dead end and ultimately vanished while working on this and our Little Gloomy option with 1492. We resolved our option with 1492 without an agent and saved the 10%. Sadly, we never were able to generate any further interest in Rise of the Dead.
The agent we were working purportedly with went on to help push Walking Dead through with AMC. So I guess he found there was a strong market for zombies after all. What a shock. People like zombies.
This work dates back many years. So, I expect the writing and concepts are pretty well played out and just awful at this stage. But Ivan and Eric's art is still quite nice. Colors are by Rusty Drake or Rikki Simons. I think. Like I said, it's been a long time.
Point is: Check it out, but don't judge it to harshly. It's a product of another time.
He’s coming to get you, Barbara.
Jason Taylor is a relatively young man (somewhere in his mid-twenties) fairly non-descript looking and considered by most who meet him, unmemorable. He is working a temp job as a file clerk in Los Angeles, California. His fiancée, Barbara, is in the process of finishing up her master’s degree in New York and will be joining Jason on the West Coast shortly.
And unbeknownst to Jason, the world has just ended.
Two days ago, a space capsule landed in the middle of the ocean. Upon retrieval, all the astronauts inside were found dead. Within hours of being brought to land and admitted into a government installation, the bodies of the astronauts rose from their examination tables and began killing everyone within reach. To make matters even worse, when the capsule was opened, something beside the bodies of the astronauts was let loose. Something bacterial.
While most people would find themselves immune to the initial effects of the airborne virus, it would soon be discovered that 10 percent of the population would die rapidly once exposed. The virus would then cause the body to rise from the dead in a grotesque parody of life. These zombies would have only one biological imperative. The basic need to feed – and they feed only on living flesh. Their blood and saliva is infectious, and even those immune to the airborne version of the plague will rapidly succumb to this mutated and more deadly form.
The end result is rapid, widespread destruction. Civilization ends up being a surprisingly fragile thing as more and more of the populace succumbs. Within two days zombie uprisings have reduced the city of Los Angeles (amongst many others) to urban chaos. And this is the world that Jason Taylor has unknowingly awoken to.
Jason has one overriding goal: to travel across the country by whatever means possible in search of his fiancée Barbara, who he hopes still survives somewhere in the city of New York. The journey of Jason Taylor shows us every type of conceivable Americana. From the streets of LA, where widespread destruction has taken over, to the city of Las Vegas, where each casino has become a warring island of humanity, to the sprawling land of Texas where the military prepares its last stand against an invader impossible to destroy.
Due to the structure of the world and the motivation of the main character, story ideas are fairly limitless. In a world where zombies have taken over, a thousand different survivors could react in a thousand different ways. This allows us to see Americana at it’s most desperate and extreme; to see how people react when all the institutions that keep them in check are violently stripped away. All this is easily witnessed through the eyes of our main character, Jason Taylor.
A non-descript man in his mid-twenties, Jason has never pictured himself as a hero. Never the intellectual or athletic type, Jason is a fairly unemployable web designer and video game tester who is generally just cruising through life. He has recently relocated out to the West Coast, and is in the process of preparing his apartment for when his fiancée, Barbara, moves out from New York to join him. When the zombie outbreak occurs, Jason has to fight against the natural human impulse to hide from this horrific threat, and begin his journey across the dangerous landscape that once was the United States of America.
Never seen beyond a battered photo in Jason’s wallet, Barbara represents all of Jason’s hopes and goals. Whether she even lives is unknown, but it is the driving need to know that keeps Jason moving onward, even when all evidence points to his actions as being futile.
Early on in his journey, this young girl nurses Jason back to health from injuries he sustains escaping a zombie attack. Pretty and sweet, She is the unwitting temptation to lure Jason off his path. Leaving behind the remnants of her family, she joins Jason in his travels across the country out of both a developing crush on him as well as a deep need to be protected. Unfortunately, her choice seems to lead down a road of tragedy and suffering.
Merrick is in his early thirties. He is not an uncompassionate man, but his strong adherence to the military hierarchy limits his flexibility. As the world (and subsequently, the military organization) around him begins crumble, so does his mental state. When he encounters Jason Taylor, he is forced to choose between his innate belief that the military is responsible for protecting civilians, and the orders that have been passed down the chain of command.
Just like people, zombies come in all shapes and forms. If you are bitten or scratched by a zombie, you will quickly die and become a zombie yourself. All trace of your former personality will be lost; and all that will remain is a mindless desire to feed on the flesh of living humans.
The cause of this outbreak is largely unknown to our main character - he simply wakes up one day to a world where the dead have risen from the grave - but the military rapidly begins conducting research on this phenomenon. The hope is to create some form of counter agent that will destroy all traces of viral infection. In short, ending the zombie plague. But whether or not this is possible remains a mystery.
In the meantime, the only way to stop a zombie is to destroy the brain. Any other damage will only inconvenience them. The contagion that brings the zombies into existence is quickly shown to only affect certain species, specifically members of the primate family. Monkeys, gorillas and humans are all susceptible to the virus. Other species are immune.
Zombies decompose at a much slower rate then a fully dead body. This means that a zombie can remain active for months past the point where a normal corpse would have rotted away to bones. In addition, a zombie that feeds on live flesh will actually heal to a degree, although not to the point of becoming fully human again - but a zombie will become stronger and faster the more it feeds.
Because their bodies are essentially dead, zombies require no food or rest. They are single-minded. Once they sense the presence of a human, they will continue to pursue their victim until they are completely physically disabled.
When lacking the stimuli provided by prey, zombies typically become fairly dormant. Because of this, it becomes difficult to differentiate between a regular corpse and an active zombie. From time to time however, zombies will go through grotesque reenactments of their former lives: a zombie might try to read the paper or drive a car. Of course, they lack the brainpower to do any of their former tasks properly, but this does not stop the tiny spark of memory in their minds from compelling them to try.
The crowded city of Los Angeles is hit hard. The streets are filled with cars, abandoned during rush hour. Fires rage through parts of the city. Unsurprisingly, the more urban areas are now some of the safest, as the residents of these low income regions were already well armed. But eventually, through a lack of any proper defensive structures, these regions also fall to the sheer numbers of the zombie horde.
When the plague first begins to spread, some compassionate soul decides the animals of the zoo would be better off roaming free than starving to death in their cages. Unfortunately, the animals quickly begin adding to the chaos as elephants march down the street in a panic and lions stalk unwary survivors. And a worse threat soon rears its head from within the zoo: All primates are infected with the virus.
These endless catacombs can be found in most major metropolitan areas. In the city of Los Angeles, many people flock into these sewer tunnels seeking refuge from the undead inhabitants on the city streets above. But this maze of tunnels is as much a trap as it is a haven.
Seemingly endless. Few zombies are to be found here, but lack of water and oppressive heat is still just as deadly as it has ever been.
Seemingly endless. Few zombies are to be found here, but lack of water and oppressive heat is still just as deadly as it has ever been.
Several of the casinos close off their doors quickly when the zombies first begin appearing. The survivors within the casinos represent some of the worst that humanity has to offer. They guard their neon tower fortresses viciously against any invaders, be they zombie or human. The streets of Las Vegas show the city’s tattered dreams. Undead showgirls stagger through the streets trailing dirty gowns of feather behind them. Young men visiting the city for bachelor parties feast on the flesh of strippers. This city shows the decadence it is famous for, even beyond the grave.
Located on an aircraft carrier situated just off the West Coast, military scientists gather survivors here to use as guinea pigs in hope of a better understanding of the virus and creating a vaccine. In the brig, several small cells house captured zombies for use on living test subjects. The Institution is heavily guarded and surrounded by an electric fence capable of killing any living trespassers and disabling most of the undead ones.
EPISODE 1: The End
Jason Taylor awakens to what appears to be another average day in his life. He gets up, brushes his teeth, and gets in his car to leave for work and hits gridlock traffic. The day stops being average when a horde of zombies stagger out of the morning fog and shamble their way down the freeway, killing everyone in their path. Jason narrowly escapes an untimely death, but as he looks to the city he sees smoke, fire and chaos everywhere. Jason spies a nearby electronics store with televisions in the window. On the TV is a special news bulletin urging all survivors to head to the nearest police station for safety. The news bulletin then goes on to show various parts of the country, all in a similar state of devastation, including New York City. Panicking, Jason tries calling Barbara on his cell phone but the signal is completely dead. Jason’s first and only real concern becomes clear at that moment: he somehow has to get to New York and find out what’s happened to his fiancée.
EPISODE 2: The Law
Our hero arrives at the police station seeking aid and sanctuary. The police are barricaded within their own headquarters. Jason is unable to find any aid getting out of the city. As more survivors flock to the police headquarters, the decision is made to disallow any more refugees’ sanctuary. Jason is at odds with this, but as a refugee himself, he is given little say in the matter. Infighting reaches a boiling point as paranoid police officers and desperate survivors begin killing each other. Eventually the living dead find their way into this last haven of the city. Jason escapes, but it is unknown if there are any other survivors.
EPISODE 2: The Jungle
Deciding that his safest bet is to travel alone through the suburbs, Jason’s path leads him close to the city zoo. Unfortunately, sometime during the upheaval most of the zoo’s animals were freed. Even more unfortunately, it appears that monkeys and gorillas are equally susceptible to the zombie plague that has broken out throughout the country. Jason finds himself hunted as he makes his escape into the sewers.
EPISODE 4: Underground
Unable to find another path, Jason seeks refuge in the sewers. Unfortunately the dead have a similar idea and Jason must make his way through this underground maze of pipes and passageways without being detected by the multitude of zombies. To make matters worse, the zombie gorillas have tracked Jason into the sewers and are actively hunting him. Caught between certain death at the hands of the simian zombies and possible death from the fall at a great height, Jason jumps from a drainage pipe into a river. There he is swept away.
EPISODE 5: Shelter, Part 1
Awakening is a long and painful process for Jason. He is in the care of a group of survivors just outside of town. They are holed up in a makeshift fort (really a former RV camp). They find him down by the river and nurse him back to health. Jason must come to grips with the fact that he is developing feelings for one of his rescuers, a pretty girl by the name of Polly.
EPISODE 6: Shelter, Part 2
With increasingly frequent zombie attacks on the makeshift fortification, Jason becomes restless. He knows that he has to continue his journey across the country. The RV encampment is not safe. Eventually they will run out of food and water. After one final brutal attack where the camp is almost overrun, Jason convinces Polly and another survivor named Dylan to seek safety elsewhere.
EPISODE 7: The Road
Traveling across the country in an RV is a long and boring process. With Dylan driving, Jason and Polly learn more about each other’s pasts. Just as the inevitable sexual tension between the pair is becoming too much to resist, the RV finally breaks down. With no other real options available, the trio packs up as many supplies as they can carry and head out on foot. But the going is slow, Dylan is recovering poorly from a zombie bite he received at the camp and their water supply is very low. To make matters even worse, far across the flat desert horizon, the trio can see a large number of tireless zombies following their trail.
EPISODE 8: The Desert
Slowly the trio continues across the desert. They are out of water. They are out of ammo. Dylan is poisoned and will soon become a zombie. Other zombies slowly pursue only a few miles behind. What began as a seemingly simple drive through the desert has now become a desperate race for survival.
EPISODE 9: Sin City: Part 1
At death’s door, Jason, carrying an unconscious Polly across his back, arrives in Las Vegas – or what’s left of it. The casinos have become the final citadels of humanity in the Nevada desert. While dead dancing girls and half decomposed lounge singers prowl the streets, the survivors of the King Arthur, Pharaoh’s Pyramid and the Amazon casinos all wage war against each other for two precious resources: water and women. Unwillingly, Jason and Polly find themselves caught up within this power struggle.
EPISODE 10: Sin City: Part 2
When the survivors of the Amazon casino stage a raid on the King Arthur, Polly is taken captive. Jason is compelled to attempt to save her, but despite his best efforts he finds her half-dead and mostly out of her mind from the brutal treatment she receives from her captors. Polly dies, leaving Jason with a renewed desperation to travel to the east coast. As zombies slowly find their way into the casinos (through a door that Jason does not bother closing), Jason finds a motorcycle in the street and drives off, leaving Vegas behind forever.
EPISODE 11: The Cabin
Running low on fuel, Jason encounters another survivor who claims to be able to help - the survivor knocks Jason out. Jason awakens in a basement, tied to a chair next to two zombies. The zombies are also tied to chairs and appear to have died from various types of torture. Jason is saved from this apparent serial killer when a man from the military investigates the screams emanating from this strange cabin in the woods.
EPISODE 12: Army
Saved from the serial killer, but apparently still very much a prisoner, Jason, along with a truckload of other survivors, finds himself herded off to an aircraft carrier in the Pacific Ocean. Some of the survivors are from the recently overrun Las Vegas casino encampments.
EPISODE 13: The Institution: Part 1
Imprisoned onboard an aircraft carrier that has been converted for scientific use, Jason and the other civilian survivors discover what purpose they are intended to serve: as guinea pigs for government research scientists. Jason finds himself scheduled to be used to test a vaccine that involves direct exposure to some foreign elements found within a zombie’s bloodstream. Things look very grim.