The Symptoms is another September Zuda comic done by William Sliney and Dave Hendrick. Here is the synopsis: One night a star fell poisoning the Earth. The age of the Zeno had arrived– half dead humans intent on spreading their star disease until all became like them. But humanity is nothing if not resourceful. As states fell siege walls went up and life went on behind them.
Later a star rose amongst humanity’s ranks, Kinger Loade, singing songs of revolution and resistance.
A string of misery if you’re a Zeno and the best guitarist this side of the plague. The son of a preacher man Kinger spent his formative years travelling the new dustbowl hunting down Zeno’s with his father. At 19 he emerged from the desert with a bloodied guitar in one hand and his daddy’s dog collar in the other. What became of the good Reverend Loade is a mystery that Kinger doesn’t ever want uncovered.
Kinger made straight for what was left of New York with a song in his heart and an idea in his head.
No matter how desperate life became he had learned he couldn’t die. He had found he’d something other than talent and sought others like him. Musicians with more than music in their arsenal; Reap a giant of a man and bass player, Violet Spray a lightning fast drummer both behind the kit and on her feet. They are The Symptoms.
Their music inspires what’s left of humanity, while their powers protect all who seek a better world. They will soon discover why they are special, on that day the world will end.
This is their story.
A Zuda entry with both zombies and guitars was predestined, but the story structure is what makes it stand out as a good read. Neither zombies, or music backdrops are my go-to genres, so I had more than a little trepidation reading this comic. Having each of the main characters tell their stories in short vignettes is something new to Zuda so it got my attention. If it's a Zuda competitor, a 22 pager, or a hundred plus page graphic novel you need to hook the readers on page 1 which Symptoms does. You see a King Loade standing in front of a mirror about to blow his brains out. The switch back and forth between King Loade and his image in the mirror was very well done, with decent text box thought balloons as well. In panel 2 King Loade's reflection has his shoulder over the bottom part of panel 2, which called attention to the sequential order of panels. Readers see the reflection of King Loade holding the gun to his eye in panel 4, his actual non-reflected hand is also shown within the panel. The way this panel was laid out it looked like King Loade was both about to shoot himself, and also holding up his hand in a 'stay away' defensive gesture. A very cool use of a character's reflection in the panel layout on this first screen. It ends with a Bam sound effect panel that leads into a surprising full screen shot Juan Jose Ryp would be proud of on screen 2. Screen 3 is the start of Violet Spray's introduction where she's the drummer in a band who spots a zeno. The zombies are more the gray skin, than rotting corpse type so not very scary. Violet Spray runs across the stage to confront this 'zeno' with seemingly no one in the crowd noticing her, or it. Violet has super speed so no one notices how fast she's moving she grabs the 'zeno' at full speed, and ends up decapitating it. Violet Spray looks like a brunette Christina Aguilera, and their are some interesting choices in panel layout on her screens. In screen 2 the the creators went full on with the blood and gore, in panel 3 of screen 5 it was hidden with a readers imagination left to fill in the blanks. More gore might have been welcomed, but changing up speeds underlined a subtle difference in these characters origin stories. For the most part though the layout of Violet Spray's story was predictable and didn't rise to the level of the first 2 screens.
The soft bigotry of low expectations
Lately I usually expect nothing from a zombie comic, and end up with less than nothing to hold my interest. Fairly recent exceptions would be The Walking Dead in it's early run before it went off the rails and lost me, and the former Zuda competitor Gone Zombie. Comics with a musical back drop are also hit and miss with me. In spite of my zombie/rock band fatigue The Symptoms came close, but didn't succeed in hooking me as a reader. It started off fantastic, got a little pudgy around the middle, and ending up falling off a cliff into the abyss of average. The beginning of the end all started with Reap's origin story failing in comparison to the other two, so it was not the one to end on. The art/layout of a man-mountain Reap scaring off some bullies picking on another kid was fine, and set Reap up as the nice guy of the group. What didn't make sense, or read well was the text box narration. It's already been commented on, but how could Reap not know till he was 16 everyone else was afraid of him? It has the aura of Lennie from Of Mice and Men about it, but that never gets followed up on. In the text segue from screen 6 to screen 7 Reap thinks: "They were way too scared of me to pick a fight. First guy who did turned out to be one of them, ya know, Zeno's." Why is Reap the only character we don't get to see ( scaring bullies doesn't count) use his powers in the story? Their actually isn't a fight between Reap and the zeno, King Loade and Violet Spray show up and kill the zombie before Reap gets the chance. King Loade recruiting of Violet wasn't shown, so why bother to set-up Reap's story that way. I would rather have seen Reap take on a zeno, and bring back some more action to the story. The comic ends with the reveal this was all done as a news segment on a entertainment show. In screen 8 you have a info babe summing up the Symtoms with: "If they don't rule what's left of the world, they'll sure as hell try to save it." The last panel being the show playing on a TV in the front window of a 'TV Sales' store as a group of people run away from a herd of zombies. People running away in terror from the zombie/zeno hordes is expected, but the feelings of dread for the characters/human race wasn't pulled off by the creators. Making humanity's last, best hope a zombie fighting rock band featured on a entertainment TV segment turned it into camp, and took away all the dread. The beginning was more serious in tone so the story's end was disconnected, and the comic couldn't keep up the pace it started at. The Symptoms came close though, and I would like to see these creators back in Zuda again.