I AM NED #1
Writer: Max Myint
Artist: Zac Smith- Cameron
Tones: Zac Smith-Cameron & Marc Noble
Editor: Yuu Matsuyama
I am Ned is a Ned-Kelly-inspired zombie apocalypse story set in far future Australia.
World War Four has happened. The continents are isolated behind mighty walls and travel, communication and trade is strictly forbidden. Australia is a closed society that has banned technology in favour of peace through simplicity. A Zombie World Order (ZWO) of uncannily intelligent zombies has taken advantage of this technological defence vacuum to dominate the nation and humans are on the decline. Fast running out of people, the zombies have resorted to human farming to maintain their food supply.
Volume one establishes the tone and world-building of this new and frightening Australia by plunging two of its main characters, Kristy and Nolan, into one of the grim human farms. Set amidst a drought-stricken wasteland dotted with rusted out vehicles and broken signage, the farm is located in what looks to be a converted prison complex, complete with rundown guard towers and razor-wire fencing. Inside, the humans are overcrowded and terrified; presided over by cruel zombie guards with ghoulish body augmentations. A human abattoir is in full operation and the place is filled with the stench of the dead.
Things seem all-but-hopeless for Kristy and Nolan and new-found ally, Koa, until a metal-clad warrior in an armoured roadster arrives, taking the war to the ZWO. They call him Ned.
Given this is a first volume, we don’t learn everything about the major characters; however enough detail is provided to hint at interesting developments to come. The story is told from the alternating perspective of Kristy and Ned, with inner monologue used to good effect to give information about the characters’ goals and imbue each lead with a distinctive voice and personality.
Having been captured while searching for Ned, a saviour figure who is little more than a rumour, Kristy is presented as someone driven by hope and a degree of reckless desperation that is not averse to taking deadly risks to change her circumstances and those of her fellow humans. Presented as calm in a crisis and adept with a firearm, one gets the impression that she is an old-hand at living rough and outrunning zombies and it is likely she will prove a gutsy ally in Ned’s ongoing quest.
Ned is presented as a burly man with muttonchops and Ned Kelly style armour who drives a fortified vehicle that is part armoured car, part battering-ram. He is orchestrating a food shortage by destroying the zombie farms, and looking to incite a war. He talks with his fists and is not averse to enacting high levels of violence against his foes. He also has an underground bunker of Mad-Maxian vehicles and weapons and is carting around the severed head of a bilingual (English/zombie) zombie called Ted and to be honest, I’m up for the next volume just to see what the deal is with these two.
As for the other named characters: we do not learn much about Nolan, except that he cares for Kristy enough to join her on her dangerous scheme; and all we learn of Koa is that he is an indigenous Australian who believes in Ned and who is brave and quick-thinking in a fray.
The artwork is solid with thick lines and heavy shadowing that meshes well with the tone of story. I especially liked the black, white and red aesthetic in this piece, and the way the scenes are intercut with brightly coloured propaganda posters depicting the work-food-centric mindset of the zombie population. The mantra, Eatz, Workz, Repeatz is on all of these, making me think a major theme of this series is going to be consumerism and also the zombielike ritualising of the workday (working to live and living to work). I hope these posters continue through the series because they are striking.
Readers should be aware that the art does not shy away from the grizzly reality of its subject matter and while the action, violence and general gore are well-drawn and suitably exciting and bloody, some readers may find this aspect confronting. From a content warning perspective, it should also be mentioned that the multicar trucks with boarded and barbed-wired windows transporting humans to the farm, as well as the branding of forearms with ZWO brands and the uniform design of the minister in one of the propaganda posters are somewhat evocative of WWII imagery.
From a diversity perspective, I was glad to see a good balance of women and men, as well as several people of colour, in the crowd scenes at the farm, which hopefully bodes well for balance of gender and race in this series. The choice to include aboriginal man, Koa, as a potential major support character is good in a story based on Australia, however, it will remain to be seen how much agency he is given and how sensitively his role is tackled particularly if aboriginal culture comes into play in future volumes.
In summary, this is a solid first volume that builds plot and character nicely as it goes, ending with a tantalising double-page spread of a city in disrepair and a promise of urban warfare, Ned-style, in the volume to come.
If I have any major quibble with this volume it is that victory appeared to come about too easily, making it seem less earned, and while it is implied that weakness and slowness is developing in the zombies as they grow hungry, I would hope to see Ned and his allies have to work a little harder and smarter and maybe even face a few setbacks to their goals in future volumes.
I look forward to discovering more about these characters and gaining answers to the many questions posed during my reading:
- Where did the zombies come from?
- Why are they so intelligent?
- Will the World War Four backstory have further bearing on the plot beyond its role in disarming Australia?
- What is human society like in this ravaged world?
- And how, in a dry Aussie landscape stripped of technology, is the human population feeding itself?
- Who is this Ned?
- Where did he get his tech?
- And can he trust Ted, the severed zombie head he takes with him on his travels?