Pullbox Reviews: Necromancer Bill #1 – Zombie raising, croc wearing, garden tending action

Bill is just a regular schlub who loves gardening and resents being brow-beaten by his ex.  When an arcane ritual-gone-wrong accidentally grants Bill the power to reanimate the dead, he is assigned a “mentor” in the form of Larry — a ne’er-do-well raven with a substance abuse problem.  And then things go awry. 

Meet Bill. Bill’s a decent fella, into gardening & defensive avoidance. He’s been divorced for a couple years, but hasn’t quite bounced back yet. His ex-wife, a lovely woman (cough… harpy!), likes to check in on him occasionally, just to see how he’s doing & maybe borrow his boat for a weekend of fun with her new boyfriend.

Meet Larry. Larry’s kind of a prick, into sarcastic attitudes & shirking his responsibilities. He got kicked out of the Underworld for some minor misunderstanding, & he’d like to get his old job back. Oh, also Larry’s soul was trapped in the body of a raven for the duration of his exile, to give him the chance to really think about what he’d done.

What possible misadventure could bring these two together?

For starters, there’s the matter of a ceremony gone wrong, releasing the penultimate powers of death in all of its horrific glory. Said powers were supposed to be granted to a deserving acolyte of the Underworld, trained to maintain the balance & to ensure the smooth transition of souls from the land of the living. Instead they wound up in Bill (dude, it’s right there in the title). For a shot at being allowed back into the Underworld, Larry is supposed to keep tabs on Bill, to keep him from doing too much damage before the mistake can be corrected.

Simple, right?

Previously featured in the comic anthology Octal (reviewed here back in December of 2016), Necromancer Bill was one of the issue’s highlights. Light & completely left of center, the idea of a mild mannered Everyman being given power over death itself was a hoot & a half. Now, the unlikely duo of Larry & Bill has been given a full trade paperback treatment in which to stretch their legs. Let the zombie raising hijinks commence!

The brainchild of writer Robert Menegus, Necromancer Bill took a bit of a roundabout path to get here. Originally conceptualized as two separate stories, one featuring a “selfish, substance-abusing, EDM-loving raven”, the other following a “pretty standard” story about a leather wearing necromancer, the ideas merged into what we have today. Menegus didn’t want to settle for standard & the pairing of Larry & Bill became the twist from which legends are born. Rather than the typical dark & broody necromancer of stereotypical nightmares, we’re blessed with… Bill. Unassuming, kind of a pushover if we’re being honest, he’s not the guy you’d picture as a lord of the dead. Still, Menegus has blessed Bill with enough personality to give readers someone to root for. We know… we hope… that if he can just muster the confidence, he can kick some zombie bunny butt. As for Larry, it was interesting to read (yes, I do look at author’s notes & afterwards…) that Menegus sees this as his book, even more than Bill’s. If we’re looking at character arc & growth, or who has more of an effect on the action, it really is that cocky little feathered fella. Bill may be the focus of the story, but it’s Larry who takes the lead.

Visually, a book like Necromancer Bill could go a couple different directions. The obvious choice would have been something dark, something edgy that might have made a cool heavy metal album cover. But I’m gonna direct your attention to Bill’s chosen footwear. You never would have seen a Manowar album featuring a guy summoning the forces of darkness while wearing crocs. Once again, we’re pulled away from the obvious choices, and given something perfectly unexpected. Artist David Brame comes at this project with an approach that isn’t quite goofy or whacky, but still well within the realm of toony. The entire design of the book is meant to be taken in with a chuckle, even amidst the horror of a rampaging horde of zombie pets. The stakes may be high, but just looking at Bill gives the reader the sense of “wait… that guy’s the necromancer?” That attitude is contrasted just a bit by the work of colorist Gabriel Roldan. Even with light blue polo shirt, khaki shorts wearing Bill, Roldan manages to evil things up through the use of sickly greens, obviously evil purples, & arterial reds. Finally, the lettering laid down by Frank Cvetkovic put the finish to the look. Mostly straight forward, the dialogue moves along with as much flair as might be mustered by Bill himself. But Cvetkovic still manages to dip into the evil inkwell now and then, never failing to add something to incantations read from the Necronomicon.

“Klatu, verata……” Never mind, you know the words.

Necromancer Bill has everything you could expect just going by the title of the book. The writing is lightly tongue in cheek, the banter between Larry & his cohorts (oh, just you wait & see… forces of darkness, represent!) is quick & witty without being over the top, & the visual style should keep most readers from mistaking it for anything remotely heavy. With all of that fluff, there still manages to be some substance behind this entertaining read, for those of a more- but not too- serious mindset.

Final Score: 9

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