“Zom com,” the zombie comedy, is now officially a thing.
“iZombie,” a TV show adapted from the comic book series of the same name, premiered Tuesday on the CW. While the show diverges significantly from its source material, one element remains constant: They both rely heavily on the blackest of comedy.
The undead star of “iZombie” is Olivia “Liv” Moore (Rose McIver), whose very name is a pun. (It’s a homonym for “live more,” which she cannot do.) In the pseudoscience of the show, zombies become shambling and nonverbal only if they don’t have a steady diet of human brains, which Liv achieves by working at the coroner’s office. Medical examiner Ravi Chakrabarti (Rahul Kohli) knows her secret, but none of her friends and family members does; they think the brilliant former pre-med student is wasting her life.
This being television, it’s only natural that “iZombie” is somehow a cop show, and it is. When Liv eats a brain, she gets visions of the deceased’s life, especially his or her final moments, which is mighty handy for homicide detective Clive Babineaux (Malcolm Goodwin), who writes off her insight as psychic powers. Bullets will fly, bad guys will be arrested and puns will be made.
As much fun as that promises to be, the comic book series is vastly different. “iZombie” ran for 28 issues (it ended in 2012) and was published by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, which is aimed at adults. Written by Chris Roberson (“Masks”) and drawn by Mike Allred (“Madman”), “iZombie’s” full run has been collected in four trade paperbacks: “iZombie: Dead to the World,” “iZombie, uVampire,” “iZombie: Six Feet Under and Rising” and “iZombie: Repossession.”
In the comic book, our heroine is Gwen Dylan (nee Gwendolyn Price), who acquires her brains by working as a gravedigger. As in the TV show, she gets visions from the brains she eats, and feels compelled to avenge murders and/or complete dying wishes.
Gwen gets her new name from Ellie, the ghost of a girl who died in the 1960s (she still says “groovy”) and dresses like a go-go dancer. Our friendly ghost isn’t terribly bright and misunderstood “Gwendolyn” when she first heard the name. Gwen and Ellie become best friends anyway — after all, they both live in a graveyard. And who else is a zombie going to talk to at 3 a.m. but a ghost?
Gwen’s other best friend is Scott, who is secretly a were-terrier. Yes, that’s like a werewolf, only substituting “Scottish terrier” for “wolf.” Naturally, Gwen calls him “Spot.”
So our central trio are a zombie, a ghost and a were-terrier. The series also riffs on many other monsters, and Roberson keeps the story moving briskly with breezy dialogue and a refusal to get too serious.
None of which would work without the high-energy, lighthearted art style that Allred provides. His work is largely informed by 1960s pop art, and can make even brain-eating seem bright, upbeat and normal.