Zombillenium volume 4: Royal Witchcraft


By Arthur de Pins, translated by Joe Johnson (NBM)
ISBN: 978-1-68112219-9- (HB)

Arthur de Pins is a British-born French filmmaker, commercial artist and Bande Dessinées creator whose strips – such as adult comedy Peccadilloes (AKA Cute Sins) and On the Crab – have appeared in Fluide Glacial and Max.

In recent years his superbly arch and beautifully illustrated supernatural horror-comedy Zombillénium has become his greatest success and lead to the overlong hiatus between the last translated volume and the cracking read under review today. The in-demand maestro was supervising and co-directing with Alexis Ducord a magnificent animated movie. If you haven’t seen it yet, check out your streaming service of choice…

The Bande dessinée it was based on is a truly addictive comics cult classic which began in 2009 (serialised in Le Journal de Spirou from #3698 on) and has now filled four albums released in English thanks to Canadian publisher NBM.

Rendered with beguiling style and sleek, easy confidence, the unfolding saga details the odd goings-on in a horror-themed amusement park staffed by actual monsters and operated and owned by a cabal of capitalistically-inclined infernal powers. They have big expansion plans that are only curtailed by the perpetually lethal jockeying for pole position on the diabolical Board of Directors…

Zombillenium is a truly magical entertainment experience celebrating every aspect of the spooky and supernatural, where (human) families can enjoy a happy day out rubbing shoulders with werewolves, witches and all breeds of bogeyman. Of course, those enthralled customers might not laugh so hard if they knew all the monsters were real, usually hungry and didn’t much like humans … except in a culinary fashion…

The inaugural volume introduced hard-working, exceedingly humane Park Director (and vampire) Francis Von Bloodt, newly-reborn Aurelian Zahner (a pathetically inept thief until he expired at the park and returned transformed into a demonic indentured employee of the business) and quirkily stroppy British Witch Gretchen: a young newcomer interning at the park whilst secretly advancing her own agenda.

As they individually toiled away at the vast entertainment enterprise its true nature was slowly revealed: for unwary, unlucky mortals the site is a conduit to the domain of the damned and its devilish overlord Behemoth: an intolerant horror ever-hungry for fresh souls…

The humans of the nearest town know the monsters are real (as work-shy absconders keep hiding from their bosses there) and undertake many schemes to evict or exorcise the inhabitants of the site. For the uncanny undead workers from the Park – who would rather be anywhere else – conditions of employment worsen every day: it is regarded as one of the least profitable holiday destinations on Earth and The Board are always threatening to make sweeping changes…

For most of its existence – despite the incredible bargaining power of the many monster Trade Unions – the only way out of a Zombillenium contract was the True Death and a final transition to Hell, but then a cascade of changes upset many apple-carts. Through it all, newcomer Aurelian was somehow always shouldering the blame for every new crisis.

Stuck between a rock and a hot place, Zahner gradually adapts to his new (un)life of constant sorrow whilst growing closer to Gretchen after she shared with him her own awful life-story; revealing what he has become whilst disclosing what her real mission is at the Park. The big boob has no idea how much she left out…

The saga moved into apocalyptic high gear in previous episode Control Freaks as Gretchen’s private plot gathered pace after she made contact with a loved one currently confined in Hell. The bold sorceress promised a seemingly impossible liberation before sneaking out, whilst in the mortal world a long-dreaded day dawns and all the arcane artisans and supernatural staff quailed at Big News…

Officially a consultant despatched to “observe” how the park was run, elite vampire Bohémond Jaggar de Rochambeau wanted to take the business by the throat and shake things up. He forces Von Bloodt, the revolting Shop-Stewards and all objectors to achieve his new business model at any cost…

One of the most unfortunate aspects of the fearsome funfair is that any human dying on Zombillenium property is instantly reborn a monster, owned by Behemoth and compelled to work eternally in the theme park until the master takes them below. Under Francis’ governance that had been wisely offset by a set of stringent rules, the first of which stated that no employee is ever allowed to attack a human. Jagger has other ideas: he impetuously killed a little girl, delivering in no uncertain terms the new working time directives to Francis and the astounded staff.

The Park was a pump designed to generate money for the shareholders and a steady supply of souls to Behemoth. Now Von Bloodt’s hands-off-humans policy was superseded by more robust policies demanding bigger returns on both sides of the investment…

The news was met with mixed feelings by the workforce: most were scared, appalled and resistant, but a significant proportion saw it as the opportunity they’ve long argued for and a chance to feed and feast and hunt all those obnoxious yet tasty human morsels…

The result of the mounting tensions was a cataclysmic battle of supernatural forces and revolt of the monsters, which triggered an evacuation of Zombillenium. Casualties were kept to a minimum but eventually, when the dust settled, Francis was out and Jaggar was in charge; actively encouraging the killing of unattached or unaccompanied humans, who now come in droves to the most exciting entertainment experience in the world…

This latest infernal escapade – released in Europe as La Fille de l’air and available in English in both oversized Hardback Album and eBook formats – opens some time later as the Board’s machinations result in the entire Park enterprise being offered as the prize in a demonic contest.

At the Park site, winter grips the land and Aurelian and Gretchen are running a dangerous side-game: smuggling monsters to freedom outside the infernal boundaries. That enterprise ends when the young witch is ambushed and defeated in a spectacular aerial duel with an even more powerful sorceress – Charlotte Hawkins – Monster Hunter!

The victor is Director Jagger’s latest attraction, but also hides a tragic and deadly secret that will shatter lives and post lives in Zombillenium. In the meantime, however, the rebels undertake a desperate scheme to oust Jaggar and replace him with Aurelian before the discorporate raider slaughters every breather in the vicinity. Sadly, it involves recruiting Lieutenant Leonie Tran: a human police officer still seething from the transformation spell Gretchen ruined her life with…

As always, nothing goes right and before long all-out magical war breaks out, with demons deviously vying for control of the site, humans screaming and running about in panic and Gretchen forced into a fatal rematch with Charlotte that leads to a most unlikely and unexpected denouement…

To Be Continued…

One of the most engaging candidates in a burgeoning category of seditiously mature and subversively ironic horror-comedies, this deliciously arch tale combines pop-cultural archetypes with smart and sassy contemporary insouciance and a solid reliance on the verities of Nature – Human or otherwise…

Sly, smart, sexy and scarily hilarious, Zombillenium masters that remarkable trick of marrying slapstick with satire in a manner reminiscent of Asterix or Cerebus the Aardvark, whilst deftly treading its own unforgettable and enticing path. You’ll curse yourself for missing out and if you don’t, there are things out there which will do it for and to you…
© Dupuis 2018 by De Pins. All rights reserved. © NBM 2019 for the English edition.