Raven Gregory’s mind-set after the release of his The Waking comic-book series was almost unheard of when it comes to horror properties.
No sequel. the story’s been told. Let’s move on.
It was the fans, though, who finally broke the writer down with constant pestering for more issues featuring the creepy little girl Madison Raine and a world where if you kill somebody, that victim’s coming back as a zombie to get his revenge.
It was at a HeroesCon in Charlotte where a fan suggested that Gregory tell a story about somebody who has been murdered — since all the killing in the world wouldn’t just immediately cease — and he had the idea for the follow-up The Waking: Dreams End, a four-issue miniseries drawn by Novo Malgapo and debuting in April from Zenescope Entertainment.
You can’t throw a hatchet without hitting some kind of zombie in pop culture these days, so it’s refreshing — and more than a little eerie — to have another dose of The Waking, which takes the undead genre and adds emotional depth and moral commentary to the downright horrifying.
The original series in 2010, which was a little bit CSI mixed with Dawn of the Dead, introduced Madison and her father, Jonathan. A child killer has taken her life. From the time he was a child, her father has had the strange ability to bring back the undead. When Madison is killed, she returns to him, but Jonathan keeps her locked in a room, both to keep her from killing but also so she can stay with him.
When the city is overrun by vengeful zombies and the police figure out Jonathan’s involvement, rookie cop Vanessa Pelegrano shoots him in the head, ending the Waking for a moment but also shifting his powers to Madison, who now has targeted Vanessa for death.
“The world is safe because Madison is there watching. and everyone kept on coming up to me at shows saying, ‘Well, what’s next?’ I’m like, ‘No, that’s it. There’s nothing else! She’s walking the earth, keeping it safe.’ they kept doing it at every show I would go to,” Gregory says.
He admits with a laugh that he may have subconsciously thought there was another story to be told: In an epilogue that takes place a good 15 years after the events of the first volume, the narrator, who had been Vanessa’s partner, mentions that something had happened to her.
Dreams End is in fact Vanessa’s story, the writer says. She’s haunted by guilt over her actions, as well as haunted by visions of the eerie Madison, and seeks redemption in another town. “This whole series is her trying to find a way back from this dark place where she’s immersed herself and just trying to get by day by day with essentially this looming death that will eventually come for her.”
Meanwhile, there’s a serial killer on the loose who happens to be smarter than the supernatural power resurrecting the wronged.
One of Gregory’s first projects for Zenescope was a series based on the movie Seven, where the writer was able to dive into the villainous John Doe. His Dreams End killer is like him or Hannibal Lecter in that they’re great characters with some mystery to them but they’re not exactly sympathetic (like, say, X-Men bad guy Magneto).
But Gregory promises that when readers get inside his new serial killer’s head beginning in the second issue, his actions will make sense and he’s attempting to make a statement against the disruption of the natural order of things.
“He has somebody that’s very dear to him that’s about to die, and he cheats,” Gregory explains. “Instead of what Jonathan was doing with Madison, where he just locked her up and kept her from getting the killer, this character actually kills somebody he really loves because he doesn’t want them to die, and that’s what kicks his descent into darkness.”
There are all sorts of creepy scenes involving him and other terrifying aspects of the Waking, but Madison herself is one of the best visual effects of the Waking in that she is arguably one of the scariest kids in comics because of what she can do.
“She is a force for good,” Gregory says, “but it’s not a pretty thing.”
Gregory’s creator-owned comics are usually really personal books for him — Fly was inspired by drug addiction, for example, the first Waking series was about a father dealing with losing his child and letting go, and the sequel ties into a person’s struggle in coming to grips with something he has done.
However, he also has a longtime connection to the types of zombies that are in The Waking, which are based more in social commentary than a bunch of shambling undead folk simply yearning to eat brain matter.
While the zombies of The Walking Dead comic and TV series are all the rage in pop culture now, Gregory grew up on the ones that existed before George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead hit in the 1960s — things such as the old English horror story The Monkey’s Paw and issues of EC Comics’ The Vault of Horror.
“They weren’t just man-eating creatures,” he says. “It was literally somebody’s cheating on her husband with a lover and they murder the husband for his money, and then the husband comes back from the dead and kills the lover and the wife.
“To me, that was the original zombie. It’s a throwback to what I still think is the best zombie they ever made vs. the mindless zombie that’s just walking around and is hungry.”
Gregory feels his zombies raise the creep factor from those of The Walking Dead or Dawn of the Dead a little because, while those are usually about society decaying and populations trying to survive, The Waking is looking more at where we are as people.
“If everyone knew there was a heaven or a hell, nobody would do bad things. but because you don’t know for sure, people still do the (stuff) that they do,” Gregory says. “So with this, there’s always this looming thing of, oh wow, this thing really exists. this fundamentally changes everything that’s going on in society, and I like that twist on the whole zombie mythos.
“Every zombie mythos is we have to survive, they’re trying to come after us. It’s not, hey, wow, this is actually kind of good. It’s good in a way where people aren’t going to kill each other because they know there are definitely consequences to their actions.”
Gregory would like to invent a character that’s “sick and twisted enough” to go after Madison Raine herself and return the world to its status quo. so, he has learned his lesson and is not ruling out at least one more Waking chapter after Dreams End.
“Now I’m just like, there are sequels to everything,” Gregory says, laughing. “From now on, I’m never going to say, ‘No, it’s done.’ “