"Key of Z" Trade Paperback Review
Written by James Ferguson
Originally published as Key of Z #1 - #4
Written by Claudia Sanchez and Chondra Echert
Illustrated by Aaron Kuder
2011, 130 Pages
Trade paperback released on February 29th, 2012
I hope you're not tired of zombies stories because they're not going away anytime soon. Fortunately, there are still some new ideas to come out of those brains that the undead love to eat so much. One such case is Key of Z from BOOM! Studios and Evil Ink Comics. Yes, there are a bunch of zombies and like most of these tales, the biggest danger isn't from those that are already dead. However, Key of Z is the only comic I've read that has a harmonica capable of controlling these things. Now, I just wrote that and I realized how crazy it sounds, but I assure you, it's actually pretty cool.
Ewing is a New Yorker with a great life. His wife and son love him dearly. Then the zombies come. He moves his family to a safe haven in Madison Square Garden as rival gangs set up shop in Yankee Stadium and Citifield. The island of Manhattan is divided up into territories and these groups are trying to keep the peace and stay safe. Of course, not everyone sees the reason for peace and violence quickly escalates, resulting in MSG getting destroyed and with it, Ewing's life. Left with nothing else but a thirst for revenge, he sets out to kill the man responsible.
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That sounds cool and all, but where's the magic mouth harp? That comes in later and I'm still not entirely sure how or why it works. We don't get a specific explanation, but I like it that way. It provides a bit of mystery. When Ewing plays it in a certain key, the zombies follow him like the pied piper. When he mixes it up a bit, it sends them into an uncontrollable rage. You can imagine how useful this might be if you were plotting to kill someone that's behind a bunch of guards.
With the gangs and the setting of NYC, Key of Z reminds me very much of The Warriors but with zombies. This is definitely a good thing, because seriously, how much cooler would that movie have been if one of the gangs was made up of the undead?
Aaron Kuder's artwork occasionally reminds me of that of Frank Quitely. I'm not a fan of Quitely's work because it's always all squiggly like he's drawing while off-roading. Fortunately Kuder avoids this problem for the most part. Ewing's transformation is pretty drastic. He goes from a mild-mannered family man in flashbacks to a muscled brute with a huge beard in present day. He's been fueled by revenge for all this time and he hasn't had his wife or son around to center him. He hasn't lost his mind or anything, but he might have a screw or two lose.
Where Kuder's work really stands out in Key of Z is with the zombies. They're not in every panel, or even every page, but when they are there's a huge variation. Big ones, skinny ones, ones that climb on rocks. They're in all shapes and sizes and they're all deadly and decomposing. I don't think I ever saw the same zombie twice or even two that look alike.
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The effect with Ewing's harmonica is well done too. When he plays the follow tune, a blue wave emanates from the instrument, swirling around the zombies and putting them into a trance. When he switches keys and makes them angry, it's a violent red streak with lots of jagged edges. At times it resembles blood splatter.
Authors Claudia Sanchez and Chondra Echert have created an impressive zombie comic that doesn't get bogged down with the basics of the genre. They brought something new to the table. The magic harmonica is a nice touch and it doesn't seem crazy at all. When it's first revealed, my only thought was "That's pretty cool." followed quickly by "How does it do that?" That question doesn't get answered, but Key of Z works regardless. Of course, I want to see more from this world, but what can Ewing do now? He's been fueled by revenge for years and what is his purpose after he finally gets it?