At first glance Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell (not to be confused with the zombie video game of the same name) from IDW Publishing seems to owe more than a little nod and wink to that other famous zombie comic series The Walking Dead, but that impression lasts for only a page or two before this story veers off and into territory that’s all its own.
Written by Jonathan Maberry and drawn by Drew Moss, this was first released in three issues as Road of the Dead: Highway to Hell, and it’s the collected TPB that is up for review today. As well as the comics there’s a collection of covers in both black and white and colour as well as a short story called ‘Chokepoint’ which tells of a collection of wet behind the ears National Guard tasked with defending a bridge against anyone, or anything, that comes at them. It’s a nice little addition that successfully communicates the fear and horror of this sort of apocalypse unfolding.
Road of the Dead is based on legendary director George A Romero’s final script, and tells the story of a tank driver who finds himself joining up with another group of survivors who are taking one of the few remaining scientists to a medical facility where she hopes they will be able to work on a cure for the zombie plague – one that will make the zombies less violent and less hungry for tender flesh. Standing in their way is the usual horde of shambling undead, joined in this story by a biker gang who would really like to own a tank, as well as assorted conspiracy nuts and crazies who want the scientist for themselves, believing that she intends to keep the cure for the elites and the rich and screw everyone else.
Ever wanted to see zombies getting blown up with a tank or mown down with a 50.cal machine gun? Road of the Dead has you covered. Ever want to see a car given a viking funeral? Yep! Road of the Dead‘s got that too. This is a comic that walks a gloriously fine line between seriousness and absurdity. As mentioned in the beginning there are some hints of The Walking Dead thrown in there, more than a little Mad Max, a little bit of the movie Wyrmwood and lashings of glorious, glorious ultraviolence (as the droogs might say).
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The dialogue is snappy, the action plentiful, and the characters are all memorable, like Viola constantly telling people off for swearing, Shawn and his endless string of colourful profanity like “Fuck me yellow and call me a banana” (and my personal favourite “Fuck me blind and move the furniture”), as well as the brightly-clothed Kahuna and his spiked baseball bat (which doesn’t have a name, unlike Negan’s favourite bludgeoning implement).
The art style is quite loose in places but not to the point of caricature, staying relatively grounded considering the brutal and gory subject matter, but it’s also very dynamic, suiting the pace of the story which only pauses for breath in a couple of places before charging off into what a film would describe as a set-piece.
All in all, Road of the Dead is another worthwhile entry into the grand canon of zombie comic lore and while the movie script it’s based on may never see the light of the day, being stuck in production hell for a large number of years now, this is another fine little love letter to the zombie genre and a fine sign-off from the King of the Zombies himself.
Road of the Dead: Highway To Hell is available now from IDW Publishing.