Beginning a new arc entitled The Book of the Dead, The School of the Damned diverts from the familiarity of its titular setting with a tale of an undead scourge, beginning with a prologue a century previously, where a pair of executed witches enacts a curse on the mob responsible for their deaths.
It becomes very clear early on there’s a heavy Night of the Living Dead vibe to the story, not just from the setup of a group of strangers holing up inside a remote house while shambling undead relentlessly try to scratch their way in, but also from the group’s inability to properly unite likely proving to be just as detrimental to their survival as any amount of zombie attacks.
The story is populated with a mix of new and familiar characters, seeing the return of Mr. Hyde replacement Gabriel and werewolf Lyla, who were last seen departing the school at the end of issue #3. It also introduces monster hunter Julia Bronte – previously the most memorable character from the supplemental Tales of the Damned – into the main narrative of the series. A little of her history can be inferred from her tutor Nathaniel Wrightson, and with such a cold and unfeeling warrior as a mentor, it’s little wonder she developed into such a stoic badass.
The zombies themselves barely get a look in, seen only in the black eyes of an infected doe and one doomed character at the point of turning, but despite their lack of visual presence, the threat they pose is felt in every panel, permeating the barricades with an atmosphere of oppressive claustrophobia.
Although taking place in a world where supernatural shenanigans run rampant, this return to The School of the Damned remains true to its vision of being tales about people, be they human or monster. Despite the eminent recognisability of the setup and story, it avoids feeling like a retread of familiar material, using the clashing perspectives of its characters to offer contrasting opinions where nobody might be completely in the right. It’s clear it’s going to be a long night for all involved, and the animosity both pre-existing and newly developing means that it’s highly likely that even for those who make it to dawn, the confrontation will be far from over.
THE SCHOOL OF THE DAMNED #7 / AUTHOR: JOHN FARMAN / ARTIST: LUCA CICCHITTI / PUBLISHER: VITAL PUBLISHING / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW