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Monday, March 28, 2016

Zombie Ranch. Clint Wolf (Writer) Dawn Wolf (Art) Lab Reject Studios (2015)

A stunning idea backed by superb execution make for a hugely engaging and enjoyable comic. After the Great Zombie Plague had passed its peak and humanity was slowly recovering to the new equilibrium, zombies have moved to being a valuable commodity. Zombies are farmed on ranches out in the Wild Zones, a very dangerous process that is now the subject of a reality tv show  being filmed on the Z ranch.The Z ranch is owned and managed by Suzie Zane and her crew comes under the scrutiny of the flying camera robots of ClearStream. An accident at the ranch has ferocious consequences and Suzie and the staff at Z ranch find that they are under siege from a vengeful family. A classic western story idea is used with care and thoughtful skill to frame an very intriguing story that is never afraid of big ideas and smart action.
Clint Wolf has given himself a very considerable story problem to lift off the ground and he does with with engaging confidence, skill and unexpected willingness to be true to all of the elements he brings to the comic. Using a Western story framework, an embattled rancher isolated from outside help having to fight off  determined attackers is a solid start. This framework is a classic because it works, it offers a writer considerable scope to move a story in a large number of directions. Having the it be a zombie ranch, where the products are a constant threat in themselves is a wonderful spin on the zombie story idea, it slots amazingly well in with the western framework. Wrapping the whole concept up with a reality tv gives the whole match up room to breathe as they give the reader a chance to be an observer as well as offering a direct link to the greater post Zombie Plague wider world.The detailed, and remarkably unobtrusive, world building that Clint Wolf does is a joy. The balance and contrast between the protected zones and the wild zones is set up artfully and frames the situation at the ranch very clearly.
The sheer density of the story idea could easily become a problem, instead they work together to build a credible stage for the wonderful cast to perform on. Suzie Zane is a deeply engaging character principally because she does not set out to be, she is strongly focused on making a living from the ranch, the tv camera are revenue not publicity for her. Her deliberate competence and willingness to accept decision making are a pleasure and she is blessed in having really, really excellent opponents to test her. Clint Wolf has neatly set up the different layers of threat to Suzie and the ranch, the most visible being the least dangerous, the depth of the situation is slightly known by the reader and is a great story hook. The rest of the cast are singular and individual, they demand attention and are never quite what might have been expected.
The art by Dawn Wolf is equal to the enormous demands the story places on it, the requirement to be realistically fantastical is achieved with the same level of confidence as the writing. There is a clear development in the art across the length of the volume as Dawn Wolf hits her stride with the cast and the ranch. The sheer emptiness of the wild zone is subtly conveyed, the landscapes are not given in detail, they are almost abstract. This strongly contrasts with the vivid body language and motion of the cast, alive and dead, the wild zone is every meaning of wild. The colouring is classic western colouring, it catches the light of the big open desert vistas just as it should. It finds the story tones and nuances and brings them forward without forcing them.
This is a really ambitious comic, a huge story that is carefully unfolding in a deeply satisfying context with a smashing cast and creative confidence. The creators have solved a considerable technical problem, the comic translates seamlessly from a page a week updating web comic to a physical book. The fact that both mediums work so well is a considerable tribute to the strength and depth of the story management talent that Clint and Dawn Wolf bring to Zombie Ranch. This is an outstanding comic, what a pleasure to read it.

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