Brian Ralph's graphic novel Daybreak takes a phenomenological approach to survivalist horror. Like the participant in a pick-a-path novel, the reader is abruptly plopped down in the middle of a garbage-strewn hellhole.
You have no idea why the world is a wreck, but fortunately there's a nameless one-armed man who's your tour guide through the ruin. And don't let the cartoon characters throw you off — Daybreak delivers potent end-time chills.
The book collects the three installments of Ralph's Daybreak comic, which were published periodically in the mid-2000s. What differentiates Ralph's post-civilization tale from books like The Walking Dead and Crossed is his first-person approach to the genre.
The silent reader wanders the waste with the fictional survivors, dodging the infected and scavenging for supplies. This vantage point allows for some jarring sequences — the reader witnesses car crashes, cave-ins, and the total blackness of a lightless world firsthand.
The reason this approach works so well is because, well, the apocalypse brings people together. No matter what the readers' actual dispositions happen to be, they must accompany the one-armed man in this comic book reality. He has food, guns, and demonstrable lack of craziness. Those who are affable, live.
And what of the unnamed roamers in Daybreak? Because you experience the book from a first-person view, the reader never sees a splash page of a zombie's rotting face. Why not? Because that would signify a ghastly end for your comic avatar.
Rather, we see glimpses of these wasteland antagonists — an arm here, a shadow there. Remember that tense scene in I Am Legend where Will Smith chases his dog into the building, before the movie turns into Attack of the Vampiric Morlock Gymnasts? Daybreak is a lot like that. This is a compliment.
Like the recently reviewed Infinite Kung Fu, zombies are ancillary to Daybreak. Yes, the roamers are the reason the one-armed man is in this jam, but Ralph is more interested in putting blinders on the reader and gradually teasing out the terror. Daybreak is a rock-solid read, and many horror comics would do well to learn from its example.