The Wilds 1: Discussion

by Drew Baumgartner and Mark Mitchell

Wilds 1

This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!

They might not have done so with elaborate ritual, since there has never been solid evidence that they included symbolic objects in graves, but it is clear that they did not just dump their dead with the rest of the trash to be picked over by hyenas and other scavengers.

Francesco d’Errico

Drew: What makes us human? As with any attempt to draw hard lines around a vague concept, there seem to be exceptions to every feature we might describe as human, forcing us to consider that other species might just qualify for whatever working definition we land on. Such is the case with Neanderthals — the “they” in the quote at the top of this piece — which display enough of what we understand as culture and morality for me to be satisfied with their humanity. But were their contemporary Homo sapiens? The trouble with that nebulous definition of humanity is that our gut tends to default to speciesism, especially in the moment. It’s easy for me to rule Neanderthals in now, but what about chimpanzees or dolphins? They have irrefutably human-like use of tools and language, but they just don’t feel human — they inspire a kind of visceral “this is an animal” feeling that requires a great deal of rational thought to overcome. That confusing, blurry line between human and non-human has long been a point of fascination for sci-fi writers, whether the non-human is a robot, alien, or some kind of mutated human, literalizing the struggle Homo sapiens seem to have in even recognizing the humanity of one another. This is far from the only intriguing theme in Vita Ayala and Emily Pearson’s The Wilds 1, but it might be the most unexpected.

The premise of the series is largely familiar — in the wake of some kind of global pandemic, humanity is scraping by, scavenging from the remains of society while dodging the free-roaming and dangerous infected. It’s The Walking Dead, but with a mysterious mutagenic disease in place of zombieism. And actually, the fact that these zombies might actually have a culture (hinted in that same reverence for the dead that leads me to call Neanderthals human) is also somewhat familiar; it’s the twist from I Am Legend, albeit delivered a bit more elegantly. But the clever part is that Ayala and Pearson reveal that information right off the bat. This isn’t a series about us discovering the humanity of the infected, but a series where we understand their humanity, even as we see our heroes murder them with a clean conscience.

Lest I lean on that theme too hard, I should acknowledge that the actual interactions with the infected are kept to a minimum in this issue. We see one character run from an infected, and later see our hero, Daisy, kill two to save a stranger, but that’s about it.

Instead, this issue seems most interested in Daisy’s sense of duty — a sense of duty everyone around her seems to think is totally overgrown. The first to suggest as much is Daisy’s longtime friend, Hank, who she still trades with in her role as “runner” — a kind of courier that ventures between settlements to keep them all supplied.

Hank and Daisy

Daisy cuts the conversation short, but has to explain her position a bit more thoroughly when her girlfriend, Heather, brings it up later:

Daisy and Heather

I mean: Daisy’s 100% in the right here, right? This isn’t some job that’s failing to pay her for overtime — it’s the survival of the human race. If she can save people’s lives, doesn’t she have a moral obligation to do so?

Both Hank and Heather criticize the working conditions of the compound, so it’s likely that there’s more to this equation than meets the eye, but it’s hard for me to justify the “let’s bug out because we can” attitude in light of the dire need of the few remaining people left on Earth. Again, I suspect it may make more sense as we learn about the nature of the compound, but all I’m seeing now is a straightforward parallel to charity or ally-ship — Hank and Heather don’t feel like they owe it to the citizens of the compound to help them, so would rather not. Daisy, on the other hand, recognizes that her ability to help bears a duty to help — classic Spider-Man power/responsibility stuff, but with two devils on Daisy’s shoulder framing it as an issue of inadequate compensation.

But as I said, I’m sure future issues will complicate that a bit. For now, the dramatic irony of our awareness of the “abominations'” humanity is enough to hook me in for another issue. Actually, the oblivious to the infecteds’ humanity creates a different (though not entirely unrelated) set of parallels to bigotry — whether we want to see them as a stand in for illegal immigrants, muslims, trans people, whatever. Which might just put Daisy in an interesting position; as I said, I’m reading her as an ally, but while she’s eager to help, she may still be sleeping on who actually needs her help. Her duty to humanity simply needs to adjust its definition of “humanity.”

Mark, I guess my takeaway is that there’s some rich thematic soil here, though Ayala and Pearson only just manage to sow the seeds in this issue. Are you as excited for the possibilities as I am, or would you have preferred to see some of these ideas developed a bit further by issue end?

Mark: Drew, where do you find all of these fabulous quotes?

But, yes, I do wish that the more intriguing elements of The Wilds had been pushed further in this debut issue. As is, The Wilds 1 is a bit too rote for me to enthusiastically recommend.

What we see in The Wilds 1 checks all of the boxes of apocalyptic zombie fiction, but in a post-The Walking Dead world there needs to be some sort of subversion of the genre to stand out. It’s true that the moral choice here is probably for Daisy to stay and help the Compound as a Runner for as long as possible, but I don’t require characters to make the right choices, just interesting ones. Daisy actually deciding to leave with Heather to live a quiet life in the Dry Lands, and following the ramifications of that choice, would at least be more unique. Then, if she later decided to return to the Compound, wouldn’t that choice be more meaningful after we have an understanding of the life she’d be sacrificing in doing so? As is, Daisy is defined by her unwavering heroism, which renders her as mostly flat.

And that flat characterization is kind of a problem across the board in the The Wilds 1. Go back and watch the pilot for 30 Rock and you’ll see how effectively that show set up our understanding of the dynamics between characters. Each time a character is introduced they’re given the opportunity to play their “game” — Jenna is a delusional starlet, Tracy is like a kid with money, Kenneth is the eternal optimist, etc. You can identify who these characters are in their first few minutes on screen. Contrast that with the various characters we meet in The Wilds 1, where the only thing I can say with complete confidence is that Mac likes cars.

Still, there is real possibility in the idea that the infected are more feeling and more conscious than we’re used to in zombie fiction. The cover of the issue is certainly playing with the idea of there being some sort of symmetry between the infected and the survivors (and we all know how accurately comic book covers represent an issue’s contents, right???), but if that’s Ayala and Pearson’s intention moving forward, I wish it would have been lampshaded a bit more in this first issue.

In the end, I guess the distinction I’m making is that I feel like a story with all of these elements could eventually lead to somewhere exciting, but I’m less confident that this specific execution of these elements will.

The conversation doesn’t stop there. What do you wanna talk about from this issue?

2 comments on “The Wilds 1: Discussion

  1. I do like what Drew mentioned about the infected, having enough sentience to care for their dead. Zombies are so often used as vapid, empty shells to be used for guilt free violence, it is great to have a twist on zombies that removes that. It is a great update, especially today when the idea of a horde of completely dehumanised Other as a villain is a bit less appealing in today’s world (did you hear about how Trump’s campaign targeted watchers of the Walking Dead because their analytics suggested that the watchers of a show about fighting a swarm of subhuman Others would respond to ads of Trump’s racist immigration proposals. A story that actually finds humanity in the Infected becomes more valuable). And the flowers is a beautiful twist, creepy and interesting.
    I like the sense of this being a post post Apocalypse setting. I am kind of reminded of Mira Giant’s Feed, a zombie series where humanity survived the apocalypse and society has rebuilt around zombies. The Wilds isn’t that far, but it feels like it belongs in that space between post Apocalypse and post post Apocalypse. Where Daisy’s job is a contract, and not a desperate obligation. Very important, but built around rules that suggest a society that people usually don’t have in these stories.

    On the other hand, I agree with Mark (though if you want more symmetry between the survivors and the infected, note Daisy’s name). The characterisation is flat. And clumsy at times, I think Daisy’s ‘desert’ line came out a lot more racist than intended. It was certainly meant to be racist, but that line felt a lot worse than it should be. The level feels shocking, for a character who is in a relationship with Heather.
    I also felt the art felt a little static and stiff, unfortunately. Things like the cars look fantastic, but the humans and especially anything requiring lots of movement like a fight or putting on clothes looks unnatural.
    Lots of potential, but ultimately this book fell flat

  2. I didn’t read this, but I looked through it at the store. More zombies (in spite of me reading (and liking a lot) The Walking Dead, I’m not a zombie fan), stiff art, and flat dialogue kept me away.

    There might be something here, but with a full pull list, this couldn’t crack through.

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