The Wilds Volume One
Natasha Alterici (cover artist), Vita Ayala (writer), Jim Campbell (letterer), Danny Lore (editor), Marissa Louise (colourist), Emily Pearson (artist), Stelladia (colourist)
Black Mask Studios
November 20, 2019
What is most striking about this zombie apocalypse is, well, the flowers. Every zombie story seeks a new take on the shambling press of undead humanity, but Vita Ayala and Emily Pearson have finally hit on the kind of zombies that truly instill fear in me just imagining their existence. The most notable element of their appearance is, well, the flowers. No one knows what has caused the virus here, though the cordyceps fungus comes to mind. Deadly plants are not new, but, combined with the lifeless stares and mindless pursuit of the victims of this virus, The Wilds offers a zombie apocalypse that truly gives me the shivers and makes me question my continued green thumb efforts (and failures).
We are introduced to this dystopia when Daisy, a runner, is compelled by compassion, against her better judgment, to save a stranger from a zombie attack. She brings him back to the compound with her where we learn about what life is like now and, specifically, what it means to be a runner.
The job title alone throws me back to my Zombies, Run! days where you become Runner 5 and join a team of people willing to risk their lives to collect and trade supplies for Abel Township. Similarly, runners in The Wilds have the all-important task of ensuring the survival of their co-habitants by scavenging goods and trading supplies with other compounds, including the medical facility. Runners have the unique opportunity to earn their keep and obtain bonuses for themselves and their loved ones, but there is an insidious nature to the system that tracks their progress. It seems that no matter how much runners do, the finish line that allows them to step away from this job keeps getting pushed further and further away.
While her partner and other runners question the deception of their leadership, Daisy is not quite ready to give up the opportunities running offers her. She is well-aware of the compound’s injustices but holds enough sway to keep both sides in check, until a particular trade opportunity involving her partner goes awry.
Much like the more subdued but no less frightening zombies in The Wilds, the danger of the living humans is also subtle and insidious. There are no Governors or Negans—no ever-more-increasingly violent Big Bad to show us explicitly that humans are the most dangerous and deadly creatures on the planet and should never be trusted.
Ayala and Pearson also give us a world that isn’t simply pandemonium in the face of total breakdown. Society has figured out how to build itself back up and adjust to the new state of being. Their worldbuilding speaks to actual thought going into the societal structures and personalities that move the story forward, instead of simply moving from one shocking moment to the next.
It is by no means an easy world, and Pearson depicts this through the heavy scars and lines that many of the characters wear. But everything is also surprisingly clean, almost sterile. This isn’t the unwashed chaos and mess of your usual apocalypse. With the empty stares of the dead and the unique foliage that adorns them, the world that Pearson depicts is far more chilling than what we’re used to in this kind of story.
Aside from the main story, the collected volume also features short stories with art by Jessi Jordan, Chris Shehan, Isaac Goodheart, and Phillip Sevy. Each one reveals aspects of life from different perspectives, whether it be other runners, people living outside the complex, or otherwise, spreading the tendrils of The Wilds in many different directions that root its horrors beneath the skin.