Zombies. Vampires. Robots. Zombie-Vampires. Zombie Robots. And a Zombie Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. That's what IDW's Infestation crossover event delivered us under the guiding hands of Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, the duo that brought us all that really cool recent stuff with Marvel's cosmic characters. The concept being spread throughout IDW's varied properties, thus establishing everything under their umbrella as their own multiverse, promised some really cool funsies, but what got is a mixed bag of "kind of awesome" and "a little painful."
Infestation is a relatively modest event, boasting a two-part main story sandwiching two tie-in issues from four of their franchises: Transformers, G.I. Joe, Star Trek and Ghostbusters. It's also relatively straight forward: zombies happen. Deal with it. While the whole shambler thing might be a little played out lately, and it's not likely anyone will be able to top the critically-beloved The Walking Dead, it's not a bad shorthand to try and bring a unified thread to IDW's stable of characters that otherwise could never logically have anything to do with each other.
The main story is thus – there's a secret squad of vampire super-spies called the CVO (Covert Vampiric Operations). They're made up of a busty ex-supermodel named Britt, two interchangeable white guys named Cross and Bools, an overseer type named Overmars and a "recovered" zombie egghead named Benny The Smith, who specializes in fusing magic with technology and calling it "artillica." Oh, and they happen to have a demonic consultant named Nikodemus. They're sent in to clean up the mess left by – you guessed it – a military experiment gone wrong that opened a portal to a zombie world, and the undead come pouring into New Mexico to feast. The trouble is, this particular strain of zombie is backed by a powerful presence called the Undermind, driving them to eat and absorb everything they can to increase its own power.
The Undermind from Infestation #2. Hot damn, that's an amazingly creepy piece
of artwork. Well done, David Messina.
This would be why, when Benny loses control and bites Britt, she doesn't just become an even grosser undead creepy thing, but instead transforms into some kind of "living artillica" conduit for the Undermind, who then possesses her to reach into four other worlds to try to spread the contagion and suck up all the power it can. Hence, zombies chasing James T. Kirk, Optimus Prime, Peter Venkman and the Baroness.
Sadly, the main story as written by DnA might be the worst thing I've seen from them – and this is coming from a guy who loved the Annihilation books and the Guardians of the Galaxy. The dialog in the main book is just grating. "Overmars, Cross and Bools need the artillica, but Benny's got the artillica and Benny, who has the artillica, just bit Britt and now Britt is being transformed into living artillica and, Overmars, if Cross, Bools and Benny don't get the artillica then Britt will get the artillica and feed the artillica to the Undermind who wants to feed on the artillica and add the artillica's power to his own, exponentially artillica-izing the artillica into unstoppable artillica, Overmars, and not even our own artillica will be able to stop the artillica, so we might just have to become artillica to out-artillica their artillica." That's only a mild exaggeration. There's very little sense of characterization for any of the CVO, although David Messina manages to knock the artwork out of the park at times to try and make up for how rushed the story feels.
Business picks up for DnA, however, when they get their hands on the Transformers. Yes, this particular zombie plague can take hold of robots, too, but this time they leave all the 'artillica' talk behind and just go full-on blast-happy. A spacecraft crash-lands on the Las Vegas strip and dumps a horde of zombie robots onto the unsuspecting populace, while Galvatron (who, it's important to note, is not a reincarnation of Megatron in this universe) goes completely and entertainingly apeshit trying to stop the undead advance. Optimus Prime and the Autobots show up and try to do their standard "now, now, Decepticons" schtick, while Galvatron essentially responds with '"f- off, I'm fighting zombies! Help me or die, morons!" It's not until they finally subdue the big purple bastard that they look down and go "oh, hey… these undead people might be a problem." Turns out Britt's there in the form of a robot in disguise, with big plans to go back in time to feast on the power available back in the golden age of Cybertron, and it's up to a completely freaked-out Kup, who's suffered through an undead ordeal before, to pull out all the stops and save the day.
Nick Roche's art in The Transformers: Infestation is top notch and incredibly kinetic, and it's unfortunate that it couldn't carry over into the Heart of Darkness series that follows up on this, focusing more on Galvatron's "anti-matrix" power. Ulises Farinas does some incredibly detailed work there, but that attention to detail sometimes seems to come at the expense of the whole picture. Plus, his Decepticon faces are a bit too cutesy-looking.
Standing in stark contrast to that high-energy take on the Cybertronian angle is what happens in Scott and David Tipton's Star Trek book, although you should expect the more cerebral Trek to be a lot more subdued. There's a reason it ain't Star Wars, y'know. Since we've got Kirk ranked as an admiral when he lands on the strangely deserted planet Calibus VII with Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy, it's got all the energy of three old men shuffling away slightly faster than the creeps shuffling after them can muster. The art from Gary Erskine and Casey Maloney doesn't help that very much, although they do have fun with the weird friendly box-robots that help save the day.
In all fairness, much of the enjoyment of Star Trek for me comes from watching William Shatner do his thing alongside Leonard Nimoy's gloriously snide deadpan and DeForest Kelley's constant aggravation, so it just seems like the wrong medium for these guys. That said, it's hard not to like it when McCoy utters his famed "He's dead, Jim" line only to have the corpse pop right back up to snarling life. I also enjoyed McCoy's "old country doctor" line late in the book, because hell yes, Bones is awesome enough to come up with a way to reverse zombie-ism. Unfortunately, when Britt shows up here in a form pretty much exactly like the one from the CVO story, she's having none of the classic Kirk charm, which feels like a missed opportunity to me.
Perhaps the most enjoyable read, surprisingly enough, is the Erik Burnham's Ghostbusters, possibly because a shambler infestation feels like it's right up their alley. Nothing forced about this one. The same caveat about actors vs. drawings from Trek should also logically apply to this book, but there's a hell of a lot more room for Burnham to let loose with crackling banter here, and it also helps that Kyle Hotz draws a mean Egon Spengler. It's not quite as good as watching the movie, but what in the world possibly could be?
It seems our favorite quartet has been dealing with some weird spectres whose ectoplasmic forms can't be held by their containment grids, leaving them with a bunch of full traps with nowhere to empty them. They don't get a full-fledged zombie invasion, either, but rather a manageable size due to the fact that Britt is not here specifically spread the plague, but rather cause a distraction in order to snatch some of the power of Gozer. What better distraction could there be than the return of The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man? Even better than that – Mr. Stay-Puft locked in mortal combat with a giant gooey zombie version of himself?
"I tried to think of the most harmless thing."
You just can't go wrong with that.
Unfortunately, you apparently can go wrong with G.I. Joe, although that's not particularly due to the story from Mike Raicht. He chooses to leave the zombies out of the equation and run with the technological manipulation of the "living artillica," as Britt only sort of shows up here at all to possess a robotics developer trying desperately to perfect a method of regaining the use of her legs – desperately enough that she's signed on with Cobra to work on their Battle Android Troopers (aka B.A.T.s). The chaos that ensues is from Britt gaining control of an army of deadly robot soldiers – not to mention a bunch of monkeys and lab animals also sporting cybernetic implants – to terrorize everybody in an underwater research facility, including the Baroness, a kidnapped Joe named Psyche-Out and a bunch of lab techs and Viper soldiers. It's claustrophobic, everything's flooding and anybody will need to be extremely lucky to get out of there alive.
While the characterization of the Baroness feels a bit off – she's so obnoxiously brutal and selfish the whole time that her little 'moment of conscience' is hard to swallow – the trouble here is mostly due to the unappealing art from Giovanni Timpano. It has that hazy, indistinct, amateurish kind of look to it that you see more than you'd like to in independent comics. It just makes you just want to speed through the book as fast as possible to you can stop looking at it.
Overall, Infestation was an admirable effort that turned out to be hit and miss. To use the parlance of The Book Report podcast here on Crave, Transformers and Ghostbusters are yays, Star Trek is a bit of a meh, and G.I. Joe and the CVO are unfortunate nays.