“What would you do if the dead could come back for one day?” asks writer Ryan Parrott in describing in the introduction his motivations for writing Dead Day. Indeed, Parrott imagines a world in which the dead do, in fact, come back for one day, and we see that they all have different desires, ranging wildly from the mundane to the violent, as might be expected from a horror comic, but what really makes this story work is the way the living talk about their expectations from the dead when dead day rolls around, which is a sporadic event having to do with the alignment of the stars, or some such cosmic happening.
The story starts a few hours before sunset on the fifth ever dead day; a couple with children fight about what the wife, Mel, will do if someone close to her returns from the dead. But not all the dead come back, and those who have been cremated do not, so it’s a guessing game for the living. During the last few hours before sunset, the family goes shopping, the wife ominously buying bullets for her gun, and their neighbor cuts open the throat of a goat to paint the doorframe of his front door red with blood. In the parking lot in town, we see a woman spouting conspiracy theories about dead day and aliens. We also meet a young woman, Lily, who is a “revivalist” and who seems interested in Brandon, the teenaged son of the featured couple in the story. The first issue ends with the wife going on a mission with her dead lover and young Brandon contemplating sneaking out to go meet Lily.
There are all sorts of reactions to dead day: One is a group of vigilantes who hunt down the dead and burn them to ashes, something that ignites our empathy when we see a poor young man, recently dead, trying to get back to see his family one last time, he says. The vigilantes shoot him down as he tries to escape, and throw him on a bonfire stacked with the bodies of other returned dead. Meanwhile, the government tries to process the returning dead by having them get in orderly lines and getting registered—with social security number, if they remember it—so that they can quickly get to see their loved ones with as little red-tape as possible.
The writing is great in this story. One older woman is described memorably as looking like “someone who enjoys hard living and bad choices.” Very much noir-styled writing in places, which is appropriate because we also get the backstory about Mel’s returned lover, a story about a heist gone wrong in the past with a connected revenge-story in the present. First stop for Mel and her dead ex-lover? A bar where the wrong kind of people hang out, a place for rough-necks and criminals.
The good writing is supplemented by key quotations from poems about death as the openings to each issue, and the art is excellent. Evgeniy Bornyakov portrays the dead as almost alive (most the time!), without the zombie trappings we have come to expect. We see a few partially decomposed bodies, but that is not the focus: Instead, the dead are agile and mostly look alive for the night, unless of course, they were killed in some particularly disfiguring manner. A nice touch is that many of the dead wear masks, veils, or in the case of Mel’s partner, a bicycle helmet with face shield down. We have to wait for that key moment when he takes it off . . .
This is a comic that transcends the zombie genre, and there’s much to contemplate by way of the afterlife, too. All the threads come together as the vigilantes, the revivalist cult, Mel’s family, the heist, and the returned dead all meet up at the couple’s home for a big finale, giving this story solid closure. Dead Day is a five-star comic, and I highly recommend it.