Written By: Frank Tieri
Art by: Oleg Okunev
Colours: Rob Schwager
Lettering: Marshall Dillon
Published by: AfterShock Comics
It’s the late 14th Century, and a Great Pestilence —the “Black Death”— is sweeping across Europe, killing over 100 million people. BUT, what if history as we know it was a lie? What if, in reality, this was no straightforward plague, but the FIRST non-recorded Zombie Infestation of man?
The above bio, taken from the AfterShock website, may be one of the greatest sales pitches I’ve ever read. I’m not sure how the hook for “Pestilence”, issue #1 on sale this month, could be any sharper, unless perhaps it simply read: “What if Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead woke up in each other’s arms?”
The story of Pestilence, written by Frank Tieri (Wolverine, Deadpool), follows Roderick Helms and the other members of Fiat Lux, a group of assassins hired by the Christian Church. It is the year 1347: England and France still wage war across the channel, disease runs rife in Europe and in the Holy Land, the shadow of the crusades linger. Nothing is at peace.
The comic opens with blood, a sort of flash-forward battle between Roderick Helms and the undead. It is an expert piece of foreshadowing (pun intended), as Disney illustrator Oleg Okunev quite literally transports us to the Dark Ages with his palette of black and grey. The artwork, rigid and uninspiring, works well when compared to the comic cover itself (Tim Bradstreet-The Punisher, Hellblazer), where an all-too-real knight stands painted with fear. The effect is that opening this issue literally throws you a few centuries sideways, and as the grim images continue, we can almost feel the Medieval world right between our fingers.
The story in issue #1 is fast-paced and gripping: Sir Archibald and his men, betraying the wishes of the Church, have pillaged the Holy Land and are now holed up inside a fortress, drinking and plundering as they see fit. But when their sentries bring intruders into the castle, they inadvertently invite Roderick and his men in. Soon, the Christian army on their doorstep follow. Overall, the scene is a paraphrase of Warhammer 40K, a kind of “in the grim darkness of the past” story that only rarely touches the territory of needless gore.
But while the first half of the comic might be heavily-armoured, the “back nine” of the issue really packs the punch Pestilence is looking for. We’re introduced to more of the Fiat Lux, and the dialogue between them is sharp, edgy and pointed, none of it going to waste. Our first zombie, lurking until now in the shadows, finally appears and sets the stage for the apocalypse to come.
By the time we reach the last panel, we understand that the Church want more from Roderick and his men than they may have signed up for. Yes, they survived the Crusades. Now, they have to survive the Black Death.