Exclusive: George A. Romero talks Marvel Comics’ “EMPIRE OF THE DEAD”
After sending his zombies through a half-dozen features, George A. Romero is now bringing them to the comics page as writer of Marvel’s upcoming EMPIRE OF THE DEAD, set in New York City. We got some exclusive words with the legendary filmmaker about what to expect.
Romero, who previously penned the DC Comics miniseries TOE TAGS based on an unused feature script, notes that despite its title, EMPIRE OF THE DEAD (illustrated by Alex Maleev, and debuting in January) is not directly connected to his movies. “It’s actually a brand new idea, and it’s not a part of the same mythology,” Romero (pictured above promoting Empire at this month’s New York Comic-Con) tells Fango. “I wouldn’t want anyone to think it was happening concurrently. It’s sort of happening in the same time period of LAND OF THE DEAD, which is maybe two or three years into the phenomenon—actually, maybe less than that—but the zombies aren’t the same.”
This time, he reveals, the living dead are a little more advanced, and we’ll learn a bit about how they “think.” But the big change is that the battle is not just between humans and ghouls, but a three-way conflict that also includes vampires sharing Manhattan with the living. Not monstrous like the zombies, these bloodsuckers pass as humans and walk among us (in the daylight)—one of them, Romero reveals, is New York’s new mayor!
EMPIRE marks the first time Romero has set his action in an iconic real-life location since the Monroeville Mall in DAWN OF THE DEAD, and represents a homecoming of sorts. “New York is where I grew up,” he says, “and I didn’t want this to be set in Pittsburgh again or the middle of the country someplace. My partner, Peter Grunwald, lives in New York and we hang out there a lot and know the city, so I just decided to do it there. There are also places that are great to use, like the zoo and the subway system, so I’m having a great time with having that broad of a canvas.
“The art that Alex Maleev has been doing is terrific,” he continues. “He did Stephen King’s “N.”, which was beautiful. I’ve enjoyed collaborating with him, and we’re having a good time.”
Romero adds that Maleev has not been looking to his movies for specific visual cues, nor will there be homages to them in EMPIRE OF THE DEAD. “I don’t want to really reference the old films. There’s one sequence where I mention one of them, but I don’t want to talk about that right now, because the legal department is concerned that I might not be able to use it [laughs].”
Other comics, of course, have taking Romero’s saga as inspiration, most notably the first of the films. “NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is basically public domain, and nobody has to come to us for anything to want to do with that,” he points out. “[Producer] Richard Rubinstein holds the reins on DAWN OF THE DEAD and DAY OF THE DEAD pretty tightly, so there are probably legal issues there [for anyone who wants to adapt them]. I’m just happy to be able get away from my old mythology and into something completely new.” Look for more on EMPIRE OF THE DEAD in Fango #329, on sale in early December.