Revival Does Diversity Right

Revival, Vol. 1: You’re Among Friends

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These days there’s a lot of discussion around diversity in comics, both on the page and in the creative teams. There’s also a lot of noise about the “right” and “wrong” ways to add diversity to stories, most of which have more to do with personal taste than any objective standards of success. In light of all that, I want to nominate Revival as a series that is getting it right in all the best ways and pulling a cool twist on the nearly done-to-death (no pun intended) zombie genre.

One day in rural Wisconsin, the dead came back to life, but they don’t come back as zombies. The dead come back as themselves –  confused, disappointed, amazed and scared as everyone else around them. They are dubbed “revivers” and when a murder takes place at the same time as the revival, it’s unknown if these revivers really are who they appear to be. The event isn’t widespread; it’s limited to a single, sparsely populated county. The area is put under government quarantine as national media, religious zealots and conspiracy theorists descent gather to fan the flames of fear. We follow Officer Dana Cypress as she tries to solve a brutal murder and keep a lid on the mounting pressures of her community, family and personal life.

Author Tim Seely’s set-up is clever because it allows him to avoid a lot of the pitfalls of zombie stories. Everyone in the world of Revival already knows about zombies. They’re all aware of the Romero films, so Seely doesn’t need to waste any story time on characters struggling for a metaphor to understand what is happening. This frees Seely up to focus on the far more interesting personal struggles and conflicts his characters face. He also wisely limits the scope and duration of the revival event, which means that the story doesn’t get sidetracked with the possibility of everyone who dies over the course of it coming back to life. At the outset of the story there are a limited number of revivers. This allows Seely to switch the tension from panic over a growing horde of revivers to paranoia over undiscovered revivers hiding in the quarantined community. The fear is no longer of outsiders or others. The fear is that the familiar faces neighbors, friends and loved ones are harboring a dark secret. Who do you trust? Do you judge people by what you see on the surface or do you judge them by what you fear lurks beneath the surface?

In shifting the source of fear in Revival, Seely creates a story framework that emphasizes the relationships between characters, and in turn, the characters themselves. This is exactly the type of set-up that could be hampered by a lack of diversity in the cast. Every new gender, ethnicity, role, religion or class provides a new type of conflict or doubt between characters, another reason for characters to questions each others motives or to misunderstand their attempts to help. Seely chooses rural Wisconsin as his setting, an area where the population is usually assumed to be whiter than the snow that covers it all winter. In reality, the Midwest has a large Hmong population. Seely includes a Hmong community in the quarantined zone and fully incorporates it in the story. He also includes a Muslim man as the liaison from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, allowing him to bring up the very real generalization and fear happening in the US today. Three of the main characters (Dana Cypress, her sister Em and the reporter, Ms. Tao) are women and none of them are one-dimensional. They each have complex lives with shifting responsibilities to family, job and self-satisfaction.

What is most impressive is how diversity adds to the organic nature of setting, character and conflict created in Revival. The central conflict – that the dead have risen – is not new, but it’s just a starting point for the story. The setting defines what type of characters can populate the story. Diversity of characters increases the possibilities that can come out of the main conflict. Each of these three elements acts upon the other, working together to create a single story and in Revival, that story is an imaginative twist on a familiar tale.

I also need to throw in a few words of praise for artist Mike Norton. His style is clean and expressive. I love the resemblances he gives family members. Norton also rewards those of us who “read” the pictures as much as the text by providing visual clues (Keep an eye on those police patches!) and visual irony (On her way to investigate a murder Officer Cypress passes a sign that proudly proclaims “The City of Wausau is a CRIME FREE COMMUNITY.”). And the cover is great. Look at it up there, dripping with black & white noir and the cold desolation of a Wisconsin winter.

That’s all the raving I have in me for today, so if you want to know more go pick up Revival!

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