Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Then and Now: Resident Evil 2


After Resident Evil wowed gamers with its survival horror gameplay, a sequel was guaranteed to happen.  Yet, development wasn't easy.  The original version of Resident Evil 2 was scrapped because Shinji Mikami, creative director of the first game, wasn't proud of what he saw.  With a little help from a then unknown Hideki Kamiya, Resident Evil 2 was reworked and released, becoming one of the highest selling PS1 games.  21 years later, Resident Evil 2 was reimagined for a new generation.

Leon S. Kennedy is driving to Raccoon City to work his first day as a police officer for the RPD.  He arrives, only to discover almost all the populace has been zombified.  While fleeing the undead he runs into Claire Redfield, Chris Redfield's sister.  She's looking for her brother since he went quiet and hasn't been heard from.  The two make their way to the police station, hoping to find sanctuary from the madness outside.  Instead, they find zombies, a corrupt police chief, and a rapidly mutating monster that was once a human being.

Like any good sequel, Resident Evil 2 raises the stakes and introduces new characters who went on to become series staples.  It also has a clearer focus and a better tone.  As I said in my previous review, the first Resident Evil is like a carnival haunted house.  The frights seem scary, but they're not.  This isn't the case with Resident Evil 2.  The atmosphere is one of isolation and hopelessness.  Raccoon City is a ghost town, and the only sounds are the howling wind and moans of the undead.

Fire in the hole!

Trekking through the police station, you see signs of a last stand.  Dead cops and civilians lie about the station, while hastily put-up barricades clue the player in on how dire the situation is.  Diaries and notes detail the final days of struggle between the living and the living dead.  The first half of the campaign is tense and eerie, once you reach the sewers, the tone becomes action packed.  It's a race against time as the characters try to accomplish their goals and escape before everything explodes.

What makes the story unique is its use of perspectives.  The original Resident Evil 2 features "A" and "B" scenarios in which the main characters experience the same sides of the story but from differing points of view.  The first Resident Evil toyed with the idea by offering separate campaigns for Chris and Jill, but the sequel expands upon it.  Choices you make playing as one character effect how difficult or easy the other character's journey will be.  It's a fantastic system that boosts the game's replay value, and while the idea is in the remake, it's not as in-depth as it is in the original.

Let's talk about Leon and Claire.  Leon is a rookie unsure of his potential as a cop and the outbreak doesn't help his uncertainty.  As the game progresses, he becomes more confident in himself and is willing to take a bullet for others to ensure their safety.  During his adventures, he meets Ada Wong, a woman claiming to be looking for her boyfriend.  This is a cover-up for her real mission, to find samples of the G-virus.  She doesn't think much of Leon, but when he saves her from being shot, she starts developing feelings for him.

As for Claire, she finds herself protecting a young girl named Sherry Birkin.  Sherry is the daughter of William and Annette Birkin, Umbrella scientists who were working on a new strain of the T-virus dubbed the G-virus.  William is cornered by government agents assigned to collect the virus.  When he is accidentally gunned down, Birkin injects himself with a vial of the virus and begins mutating into a horrific monster.  Birkin's mutation causes a chain reaction that leads to Raccoon City's downfall.

Birkin's mutations are horrific with a capital H.

The relationship between Claire and Sherry is reminiscent of Ripley and Newt from Aliens.  Claire becomes a big sister to Sherry and is willing to keep an eye out for her, something Sherry's parents didn't do.  She also gets entangled with Bryan Irons, police chief of the RPD.  Irons is in dirty with Umbrella.  Even after the surviving members of STARS attempt to explain what happened at the mansion, Irons dismisses their claims.  He's an asshole and a total creep, which makes his death more satisfying.

Like the Resident Evil remake, the Resident Evil 2 remake preserves the plot and characters but makes a few tweaks.  Instead of looking for her boyfriend, Ada is posing as an FBI agent.  Sherry immediately recognizes the Birkin/G mutant as her father, whereas in the original, she was oblivious to who it was until near the end.  Tonally, the two games are about the same, but the remake plays up the creepy factor.  The atmosphere and lighting are used to create feelings of uncertainty and dread.  Also, the zombies are now terrifying creatures whose guttural screams will send chills down your spine.

Another thing the remake does better is expand upon minor characters, namely Marvin and Kendo.  Marvin is a police officer that warns you about the zombie infestation before telling you to leave the west office.  When you encounter him again, he's a zombie, so you blow his head off.  When we meet Marvin in the remake, he's in the lobby instead of the west office, and he gives Leon or Claire an important piece of advice, never let their guard down, no matter what.

Kendo, a gun store owner, is made into a more sympathetic figure.  His appearance is brief, but you can see the toll the outbreak has taken on him.  His wife his dead, and his daughter was bit.  It's a short scene, but an effective moment.  Compare that to the PS1 original, where he's frightened and gets quickly overrun by the zombies.

Resident Evil 2 and its remake are wholly different experiences.  Whereas the remake of the first Resident Evil felt like a fully realize version of the original, the Resident Evil 2 remake is a brand new experience, one that pays lip service to its predecessor while doing its own thing.

Florida's not the only one with a gator problem.

In both games, the goal is to escape the police station and Raccoon City itself.  Finding a way out won't be easy due to the zombies and other nasties lurking within.  Whereas the first game emphasizes puzzle-solving and item-finding over combat, the sequel strikes a balance.  You'll solve puzzles and collect items necessary for progression, but you'll also blast through dozens of enemies.  Ammo isn't as scarce and there are some new tools of destruction to mess around with.

Claire gets a handgun, a grenade launcher, a crossbow, and a six shooter.  The grenade launcher can be equipped with flame, acidic, or explosive rounds.  Leon gets a handgun, a shotgun, and a magnum.  Unlike Claire, Leon's weapons can be upgraded with parts you find.  The pistol becomes a burst-fire machine, while the shotgun turns into a cannon.  There are also one-off guns to find including a spark shot, the flamethrower, and a submachine gun.

Even though ammo is more plentiful, you still need to be conservative with it.  Never waste bullets on minor enemies and evade them as much as possible.  Besides having different arsenals, Leon gets the lighter and Claire has a lockpick.  Neither character's campaign is more difficult than the other.  However, your choices may make certain parts easier or challenging.  If you find the weapon room keycard, you can equip either pouches for extra inventory slots or a submachine gun for extra firepower.  If you find wires, you can use them to reactivate the shutters and keep the zombies from getting in.  The shutters will short circuit though, allowing the corpses to get back in.

Both campaigns feature one-off sections where you play as Ada or Sherry.  These are a nice reprieve and mix up the experience.  While Ada has a pistol, Sherry has nothing to defend herself with, so she needs to avoid enemies.  Speaking of which, the enemy roster features some familiar faces and new threats to contend with.

Zombies, spiders, cows, and dogs are joined by lickers.  Lickers are creatures who crawl on all fours and attack with their tongue.  They can't see but are attracted to sound.  If you're crafty enough, it's possible to sneak by lickers and then bolt before they get the jump on you.  Late in the game, you'll face a giant alligator, moths, and plant monsters.  Then, there's Mr. X.

Resident Evil 2 Remake revisits the age old question, "How do you kill something
that's already dead?"

During the "B" scenario, Umbrella deploys a Tyrant nicknamed Mr. X to kill any survivors.  He's slow but his hits deal a ton of damage.  Despite his intimidating stature, Mr. X isn't much of a problem.  It's easy to fake him into punching before running by him like he's nothing.  You can try taking him on, but it's a waste of time since he gets up when you leave the room.  Mr. X is cool on paper but lacking in execution.

This also applies to William Birkin.  He's constantly mutating throughout the campaign, each form less human than the last.  It sounds neat, but the fights are underwhelming.  You stand in a corner, unload your most powerful ammo into him before he flees or is temporarily incapacitated.

Resident Evil 2's remake overhauls the gameplay in many ways.   Instead of fixed camera angles and tank controls, the game is an over-the-shoulder, third person shooter.  Even though the game is modernized, there are many old-school flourishes in its design.  On normal or easy, the game autosaves at regular intervals, and saving on a typewriter doesn't require an ink ribbon.  Autosave is disabled on higher difficulties and you need to find ink ribbons before you can use the typewriter.  Puzzle-solving and item finding are an important part of the gameplay as is resource management.  

As for combat, it's a wholly different experience.

By today's standards, the zombies in the original Resident Evil games aren't a threat.  They're easy to dodge and go down after a handful of shots.  Like the Resident Evil remake, the Resident Evil 2 remake reinvents the walking dead into deadly creatures.  These shambling corpses will chase you from one room to another and can soak up a lot of damage before going down.  Even a close-range blast from the shotgun will only scar them.  Sometimes, the best thing to do is stun them with a headshot and run by in an effort to conserve ammo.

These zombies are tenacious, so don't be reckless.  Ammo isn't plentiful, but you can mix and match different types of gunpowder to create more bullets.  While zombies behave differently, other enemies like lickers and dogs function the same as their PS1 counterparts.  Pro-tip: try tiptoeing around lickers as much as possible, you'd be surprised by how effective this tactic is.  Spiders and moths are absent, while G-mutants populate the sewers.  The plant monsters are now plant/human hybrids that can only be killed by burning them or shooting their weak spots.

Mr. X is another story.

Instead of being an inconvenience that's exclusive to one half of the story, he is an unstoppable juggernaut that stalks both Leon and Claire.  Be ready to have a back-up plan if you run into Mr. X as he will make your life a living hell.  One time, I was moving bookshelves to form a makeshift walkway.  I heard a door opening and the footsteps of Mr. X increasing in volume.  I quickly stopped to see where he was, only to notice him go through the next door.  I resumed what I was doing and got across before he had a chance to come back.

Don't bother shooting Mr. X unless you REALLY want the trophy for shooting
his hat off.

The reworked combat and enemy behavior require you to think about what your objectives are, what the best paths are to take, and where the save rooms are in case you need breathing space.

Boss fights are an improvement.  While most of them rely on hitting weak spots to hurt them, they're a step up from what was in the original.  The bosses pursue the player, have attacks to avoid, and require you to keep your eyes open for windows of opportunity.  Because of this, I found the fights with the mutating Birkin and even the final fight with Mr. X to be more enjoyable.  The only exception is the giant alligator, which is now a scripted sequence, but the way it's been redone reminds me of the boulder chase from Resident Evil 4.

Both versions of Resident Evil 2 are loaded with content.  Besides the campaigns, there are extra modes, hidden weapons, and alternate costumes.  Beating both campaigns in the original unlocks Extreme Battle, where you need to make your way from the underground lab to the police station, collecting four bombs along the way.  There's also the 4th Survivor, where you play as the agent HUNK and need to escape the lab.  Beat that, and you unlock a version where you play as a block of tofu.

The remake features three bonus missions in addition to hidden weapons, costumes, and concept art.  One of these missions is a remake of the 4th Survivor, while the other two are "what if" scenarios where you play as Kendo or the mayor's daughter.  These missions are challenging.  Each character has their own loadout, plus distinct enemy types to square off with. They're tough, but also a great way to test your familiarity with the combat.

Resident Evil 2 on PS1 boasts a bit more graphical polish.  Characters and environments are more detailed, and there's more variety to the looks of the zombies.  The CG cut-scenes are an indicator the developers had a bigger budget to work with.  As for the remake, it looks fantastic.  Every character, location, and gun are rendered with incredible detail.  The physics and gore system are impressive.  Dead bodies crumple in realistic fashion, and when you shoot at limbs, they slowly detach and fall off in visceral detail.  If nothing else, the remake wins the award for most detailed hamburger in a video game.

Tofu: the true hero of the series.

Sound design is great in both games, but the original is better for one reason: the music.  Instead of cartoony synth, we get a proper soundtrack that sets the mood.  The police station theme provokes emotions of mystery, intrigue, isolation, and uncertainty.  Then you have Ada's theme, which is calm but romantic.  Also, the fully upgraded shotgun packs a wallop.  While some of the dialogue has that trademark Capcom cheese, the performances are a huge improvement.

The remake features excellent sound work, but the music is lacking.  It's ambient, and at times, the music lifts motifs from the original, but it's nowhere near as good.  Fortunately, the voice acting is stellar.

If I had to rank my favorite Resident Evil games, Resident Evil 2, both the original and reimagined version, would sit comfortably in second place.  I think both games are great for different reasons.  The original Resident Evil 2 built upon what its predecessor did.  The game was more focused and less obtuse.  While I like the first Resident Evil, it can be confusing at times, not the case here.  I also like the characters and how it expands the universe in interesting ways.

Resident Evil 2 does what a remake should, honor the legacy of the original while doing its own thing.  It adheres to both modern and old-school gaming tropes to create a satisfying survival horror experience.  The game is tough but fair.  The zombies are tenacious bastards, but with a little patience, you learn their tricks, and become a better player for it.  Resident Evil 2 has the polish of a big-budget game but the depth of an Olympic swimming pool.

Final Score: 8/10

Friday, October 8, 2021

Then and Now: Resident Evil


2021 marks the 15th anniversary of Resident Evil.  What was conceived as a spiritual successor to the Famicom game Sweet Home became the franchise that defined survival horror.  It spawned sequels, spin-offs, movies, novels, and more.  It taught gamers about the healing power of herbs, and how boulder-punching isn't a skill, but a way of life.  My introduction to the series was through Resident Evil 4: Wii EditionResident Evil 4 balanced terror with action and popularized the over the shoulder perspective.  The result was a fantastic game made better by the pointer controls of the Wii remote.

This was back in 2014, back when I was a stupid teenager afraid of earning money through something called "work."  Five years later, I acquired the first three Resident Evil games for the PlayStation and was able to experience the series' roots proper.  For my first annual Arcade of Terror, I'm covering the original Resident Evil's and their respective remakes.  Resident Evil may be a long-running franchise, but its stories have been retold more often than once.

Mysterious murders outside Raccoon City result in the STARS Bravo team being sent out to investigate.  When nothing is heard back, STARS Alpha Team is sent to find answers.  Turns out Bravo team's chopper crashed, and nearly everyone was killed by grotesque-looking hounds.  Alpha team is ambushed and retreats, but their helicopter pilot panics and takes off.  Left alone in the woods, they seek shelter at a mysterious mansion.  Turns out the place is infested with an assortment of monsters, all the result of secretive experimenting by the Umbrella Corporation.

Concerned Barry is concerned.

Resident Evil's story plays out like a video game version of Night of the Living Dead.  A small group of survivors are stuck in a house and need to find a way out.  How the story is told is where the original and its remake differ.  Resident Evil on PS1 is like a cheesy B-movie.  It tries to scare you, but you're more likely to die from laughter than shock.  

The voice acting is amazingly awful.  Dialogue is delivered with the gracefulness of someone trying to read a script written by aliens.  Everyone and their mother have talked about "Chris' blood!", "Jill Sandwich," "I'm Rebecca Chambers," and all the other lines that have been quoted to death.  The live action opening sequence piles on the cheese by featuring a bunch of nobodies dressed as the main characters fighting off what looks like Muppets from hell.

That's not to say Resident Evil is a total laugh fest as there are some genuinely creepy moments.  One of my personal favorites is the art room with the crows.  Seeing them perched above, waiting for the chance to swoop down and attack is quite nerve-inducing.  Then, there are the hunters, bi-pedal lizards with huge claws that show up at the halfway point.  Just when you think the mansion is safe, hunters show up to slice your head off.

Notes and journals you find give an insight into how things were before the outbreak happened.  Guards and technicians describe the shady activities of Umbrella and clue you into the state of things before their demise.  As the game progresses, you discover the corporation is up to no good and one of your own is a backstabber.

Spoilers for a 25-year-old game, but Albert Wesker, Alpha team's captain, is in cahoots with the company.  He sicks the Tyrant on the heroes as a last-ditch effort but is killed by his own creation.  After hours of puzzle solving and exploration, the game climaxes in spectacular fashion as the player kills the Tyrant and escapes the mansion before it explodes.  Depending on your decisions, certain characters might survive or not.

In the world of Resident Evil, dobermans make great zombie dogs.

Resident Evil's remake keeps the story but ditches the unintentional comedy for pure horror.  The game's atmosphere is dense with a capital D.  The mansion is turned into a Gothic manor, complete with a cemetery area, lots of lightning, and lots of fog.  Excellent sound design adds tension as you explore the house and hear moans coming from unseen places.  The plot plays out the same, but there are a few changes.  For example, Richard Aiken, a wounded Bravo team member, can be saved if you're fast enough, compared to the original where he dies no matter how long you take.

Another addition is in the form of Lisa Trevor.  Lisa Trevor was a family member turned test subject by Umbrella.  Injected with the Progenitor virus, she became a grotesque creature that stalks the halls of Spencer Manor.  Diaries detail her family's attempt to save Lisa, only to be executed by Umbrella.  She may be a grotesque creature, but you feel sympathy for her when you realize this was done against her will.  If the original Resident Evil is like a Universal monster movie, the remake is like the Hammer Studios version, darker, a little more violent, a little more Gothic.

Resident Evil on PS1 crafted the survival horror formula, and the remake flavors up the concoction to make it more irresistible.  The goal is to escape the mansion and uncover the truth.  To do so, you'll complete puzzles, unlock doors, and try to survive the tank controls.  Instead of using a traditional set-up, the original Resident Evil games use tank controls.  When you push the analog stick forward, the character moves forward.  To move left or right you need to tilt the analog stick in the direction you want to go then move the stick forward.

At the start, you are given the option to play as either Chris Redfield or Jill Valentine.  Both characters have strengths or weakness.  Jill has eight inventory slots, gets access to a grenade launcher, and is the master of unlocking thanks to a lockpick she receives near the start.  Chris can take more damage and has a lighter.  The drawback is he only has six inventory spaces, not to mention he can't do a lot of puzzles without help.  First-time players will want to start with Jill since she's technically the game's normal mode.

Inventory management is important because resources are limited, as is the space to carry items.  It's smarter to try and run around zombies instead of shooting them.  You'll save ammo and in the case of the remake, deciding whether to burn bodies, more on this later.  Despite being labelled survival horror, Resident Evil is more akin to an adventure game.  The emphasis is on puzzle-solving and item finding rather than combat.  Nearly every door requires a key to open, and while Jill can open some with her lockpick, Chris needs to rely on keys if he wants to get anywhere.

The graphical difference between the original and remake is night and day.

Resident Evil does not hold your hand.  Expect to ask yourself, "Where do I get next?" more than once.  You're given clues about where to find things, but not always.  The challenge comes not from combat, but from keeping track of your progress.  The remake alleviates the frustration by marking rooms as cleared once you've nabbed every item.  Plus, part of the satisfaction from playing Resident Evil is your increased familiarity with your surroundings, helpful on future playthroughs.

However, the remake throws many curveballs at those familiar with the PS1 game in the form of new areas, as well as redone puzzles and mechanics.  In the original, when a zombie dies, they stay dead.  In the remake, zombies are dead temporarily.  After a while, they return as crimson heads, which are faster and vicious.  To ensure they stay dead, you need to burn them or blow their head clean off with a headshot.  Kerosene fuel is limited, so either try for the head or get around them.

Zombies aren't the only thing to worry about.  There are also crows, zombified dogs, hunters, a giant snake, giant spiders, and a giant snake for good measure.  The crows aren't much of an issue, but dogs can gang up on you if you're not careful.  Spiders aren't a threat or a nuisance, but an inconvenience.  I never understood why people found them scary since they're easy to run by and only once are you required to one on mano a mano.  If you get hurt, use herbs and first aid sprays.

While Resident Evil's puzzles will flex your noggin, the boss fights won't.  Most of them can be defeated by standing in a corner and unloading ammo on them.  The sharks are the exception since you must drain the flooded hallways to render them useless.  It's even possible to kill the giant plant in the guardhouse by concocting a special serum.  The final fight against the Tyrant is a bit of a hassle, but if you keep at least one or two healing items on you, you'll be fine.

When the game is beaten, you earn a rank based on how long you took and how often you saved.  If you're good enough, you can earn the coveted A rank or S rank.  Getting a high rank rewards the player with new weapons and alternate costumes.  When the remake was re-released on HD consoles, extra outfits were added to provide extra incentive for replaying the game.  This version also includes the option to swap between tank controls and traditional controls.

Just when you thought it was safe to be dead.

Visually, Resident Evil on PS1 looks dated but the visual style has held up.  The pre-rendered backgrounds mixed with 3D character models give the game an old fashioned but timeless appeal.  On the other hand, the remake looks gorgeous.  Two decades later and the graphics have aged spectacularly.  I played the Wii port and even on a lower resolution the visuals hold up.  The mansion is beautiful in a macabre sense.  Every hallway, bedroom, and lab are drenched with detail and the game makes great use of shadows.

Voice acting in the PS1 original is amazing.  That is all.  While the remake has better performances, all the magic is gone.  When Resident Evil received a Director's Cut re-release, a new soundtrack was composed.  The music is good, but some of the compositions sound like someone farting on a Casio.  Then again, the composer was allegedly deaf, until it was revealed he had been faking it the entirety of his career.  The remake relies more on ambience, which adds to the creative factor.  Footsteps echo through the mansion's halls and the distant pounding of a door or window keeps you alert.

Resident Evil is a solid game.  While the PS1 title is dated, the game's unintentionally campy tone and challenging gameplay keeps you drawn to the experience.   The remake plays it straight and serious.  The game feels like survival horror and not in an ironic way.  The redone mechanics turn the first entry into a more contemporary experience that still finds ways to surprise gamers.  If the PS1 Resident Evil is a theme park haunted house, one where the scares make you laugh, the Resident Evil remake is a legitimate haunted house, one where the horrors toy with your mind.

Final Score: 8/10

Friday, October 1, 2021

From Script to Ink: Don Calfa's Revenge of the Living Dead


Return of the Living Dead is one of those topics where once you get me started, I don't stop talking.  What was once a movie that scared me as a 12-year-old became one of my favorite horror movies.  Yet, none of the sequels matched the original.  Part II was decent if uninspired, while Return of the Living Dead 3 tried and failed to make us sympathize with a boy and his not so dead girlfriend.  The less said about Necropolis and Rave to the Grave, the better.

For 16 years, the series has laid dormant.  While there has been a plethora of merchandise, from t-shirts to posters to barbeque sauce, no one has attempted to resurrect the series.  This is because of a legal snafu between the family of the late Tom Fox and the producer behind the later, made for TV installments.  That hasn't stopped people from pitching their own ideas, including those who worked on the movies.

Don Calfa, who played the mortician Ernie, teamed up with writer Roger Carney to pen a treatment called Revenge of the Living Dead, which picked up moments after the ending of the original.  While writer/director Dan O'Bannon loved it, producer Tom Fox wasn't interested.  It sat on the shelf for decades until it was turned into a graphic novel by Dead Mouse Productions, the studio behind the upcoming RoboCop documentary RoboDoc.

We thought the nuclear blast killed everyone.  We were wrong.

In Revenge of the Living Dead, the nuclear blast that was meant to eradicate the zombie outbreak in Louisville missed its target.  Burt is killed by falling beams, so Spider, Casey, and Chuck head back to the mortuary, where Ernie and Tina are trying to hold off the zombified Freddy.  Tina spikes him with embalming fluid, which renders him docile.  Meanwhile, Colonel Glover is ordered by the higher-ups to contain the outbreak and find the Trioxin barrels stored at the Uneeda warehouse.

Coming in at 60 pages, Revenge of the Living Dead packs each panel with violence, gags, and gore galore.  The action isn't contained to a tiny portion of Louisville; instead, the whole city is caught up in the chaos.  Attempts to flee are rendered futile by the zombie masses.  Soldiers are unable to stop the legions of undead, and anything they do spreads Trioxin amongst the masses.  Revenge of the Living Dead is what Return of the Living Dead Part II should have been.

I say this ironically because there are a lot of similarities between the two.  As mentioned, the action is set in the city, and the military has quarantined the town to ensure nothing escapes.  There's also a heavier emphasis on comedy.  Many background zombies are modeled after famous people.  Keep an eye out for zombified versions of George Romero, Dan O'Bannon, William Stout, and even Bernie from Weekend at Bernie's.  The comic even has its own versions of the severed head and severed hand scenes, the former of which sees Tarman chasing the cast around the warehouse while holding on to his head.

The difference between Return of the Living Dead Part II and this comic is everything is played straight instead of for laughs.  The situation is treated seriously and the undead feel like an unstoppable threat instead of a slapstick brigade like in Part II.  However, the comic makes the same mistake the second movie did by relying on too many callbacks to its predecessor.  A lot of the dialogue is re-purposed from the original.  For example, after giving a report on the situation in Louisville, a fighter pilot tells Glover that "They'll be home in time for Ethel's lamb chops."

The story also shares some similarities with "Resident Evil 2 & 3."  At one point, the gang
even rescues a truck driver who got bit.

What's most surprising about Revenge of the Living Dead is how Ernie is now the man in charge.  With Burt incapacitated, Ernie steps up to the role of leading man, and his knowledge of dealing with the dead becomes quite useful, especially with handling Frank and Freddy.  Frank didn't quite burn himself to a crisp as we thought, but it did leave half his face scarred up.  Using his embalming skills, Ernie turns the two into sharp-dressed corpses and holds off their brain cravings with embalming fluid and formaldehyde.

Ernie becoming the hero was likely influenced by how actor Clu Gulager and director Dan O'Bannon argued on set, so he was written out for the sequel.  Although killing Burt at the beginning highlights the fact that in Return of the Living Dead, no one is safe.  Ernie calls all the shots, while Spider acts as his right-hand man.  On the military side, we get to spend more time with Glover as he tries to find the barrels and clean up the mess.  New characters like General Mainwaring are thrown into the mix to not only bark orders at Glover, but to become brain food for the zombies.

Revenge of the Living Dead carries on the idea that the military are utterly incapable at handling major disasters.  Squads of biohazard teams and troops are sent into deal with the threat only to get annihilated.  When they start using flamethrowers on the ghouls, it only spreads the gas and infects the citizens they're supposed to be trying to help.  Soon, news reporters see what's really going on, and it's only a matter of time before the pot boils over for Glover and company.

While I like the new characters, none of the main cast, save for Ernie and Spider, get much development.  Tina and the rest of the gang act about the same as they did in the original; in other words, panicking their butts off.  Revenge of the Living Dead could have benefitted from an unexpected curveball like killing off another one of the punks.  None of them get harmed during the adventure.  At one point, Casey panics and leaves the guys behind, but before they get overwhelmed, she changes her mind and goes back to save them, and everyone escapes intact.

Things seem dire, but not for long.

Revenge of the Living Dead's art style is colorful and cartoony.  It reminds me a lot of The Real Ghostbusters with how the characters look sort of but not quite like their film counterparts.  Ernie looks more like a chiseled tough guy, square jaw and all.  Frank bears no resemblance to James Karen, though since half his face is gone, it's excusable.  The artwork even references some of William Stout's zombie designs.  While some might find the cartoony redesigns off-putting, you quickly get used to it.

Revenge of the Living Dead is an interesting case of what could have been.  It picks up immediately from the first and takes the story into a new direction, while increasing the action and gags.  To put it this way, this comic is the Aliens to the first movie's Alien.  The best part about the comic is how it makes Ernie the protagonist, and had it been made into a movie, it would have allowed the late Don Calfa to go all out and become a hero.  This comic doubles as both an unofficial sequel and a tribute to the late actor's work.  If you can track down a copy, check out this comic for the sequel that never was.