It appears that no one is safe from the infectious jaws of the walking dead, not even Jesus Christ himself.
The Christian icon is currently enjoying a hellacious undead makeover in the pages of Rob Liefeld's "Zombie Jesus," a new online comic book series that takes the zombie genre all the way back to Jesus' crucifixion. Liefeld's latest, entirely self-published through his official website, expands upon a passage in the bible that suggests zombies roamed the Earth in the days following Jesus' death - a passage that, from the creator's point of view, practically begged for a comic book adaptation.
"I was reading my bible this time last year and that passage [in Matthew 27] leaped out at me as it never had before," Liefeld told CBR News of the origins of "Zombie Jesus." "I called my pastor friends and asked them if they were aware that following Christ's death, the dead rise and walk among the people in Jerusalem. The response I got every time was, 'Yeah, that's a creepy passage, one of those mysterious texts in the bible.' I'm a huge fan of bible history and I've always been bummed out that there weren't the 'further adventures of' Samson, Joshua, David, etc., so when I saw this clearly ambiguous passage, I was like, yeah, I can fill this in, no problem. My imagination immediately took me in a very specific direction and this 'untold tale' was born."
At the heart of "Zombie Jesus" is Lazarus, a man that was raised from the dead by Jesus in the chapters prior to Matthew 27. In Liefeld's story, Lazarus was resurrected in order to defeat the demonic hordes and protect the physical body of the deceased Jesus Christ from destruction at the hands of Judas Iscariot, who himself has been possessed by the devil and put in charge of the legions of zombies.
"I married [the Matthew 27] passage with another group of verses that clearly state that Judas was possessed of the devil," said Liefeld. "So now I have a zombie army, a devil to lead them and a mission that makes complete sense if I was on the side of evil. Jesus told everyone that he would rise again in three days, and that miracle would prove he was truly the son of God. Well, Judas and the zombie horde are going to try and obtain Christ's remains and prevent him from fulfilling his promise - it's a race to the tomb to destroy or protect Christ's body, depending on what side you're on. Swap out Nazis for Romans and the grail and the ark for Christ's actual body, and it's a biblical 'Raiders of the Lost Ark.'"
The idea of undead forces warring against one another in an effort to save or decimate Jesus Christ's body might appear controversial to some onlookers, but Liefeld himself - a man of faith who has previously collaborated on the religiously themed "Armageddon Now" with his pastor Phil Hotsenpiller - doesn't believe his story contradicts his religious beliefs in any way.
"I believe in God. I believe he loves all of us, I believe he gave me talents and inspired me to use them, and that goes for this story as well. That's how I've believed my whole life and this is no different," he said. "If I'm blaspheming [in creating 'Zombie Jesus'], then I'm blaspheming when I see 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' and the 'Omen' films or 'Constantine' or 'The Seventh Sign.' As a matter of fact, the 'Ten Commandments' film would be blasphemous too, as it takes huge liberties with the book of Exodus. But I reject that line of thinking and being judgmental and so uptight that we can't have fun with a passage as crazy as this one is. I tell stories not to harm, but to entertain, and based on all of the positive responses I've received on this out of the gate, I think people get it."
In addition to telling a story with truly biblical stakes, Liefeld said he's having a blast fashioning a zombie story, particularly given its setting in the distant past. "You can't just shoot their brains and remove the problem; this is all swords, spears and whatever medieval weapons can be used to stop the zombie horde from reaching you," he said. "I love drawing horses and swashbuckling disciples and Roman centurions - it's a real change up from what I've been drawing."
"Zombie Jesus" is a change for Liefeld in another meaningful way, as the comic book series is published exclusively online through his official website. Liefeld said that the decision to go online with "Zombie Jesus" rather than taking the publisher route was an easy one. "Online is where I live and where a great many folks are hanging out at all times," he explained. "I want something new every few minutes, whether it's a headline or an interview or a comic strip."
It's not just "Zombie Jesus" that Liefeld plans to release online, either, as he revealed that he has two other webcomics in the works: "True Danger," a spy story about a group of former teen agents, and "The Cross," about four midwestern kids gifted with powers from God that protect their small town from an infestation of demons.
"Expect many more strips in the near future - comedy, sci-fi, superhero, all genres," he teased.
Indeed, Liefeld said that he has plans for online comics well beyond "Zombie Jesus," "True Danger" and "The Cross," saying: "I've stockpiled hundreds of pages on various projects over the past few years, all with the express purpose of putting them online for free. Some I've commissioned, others I've written, but they're all stories that I've been creating."
Without any current plans to publish these stories in print, Liefeld is more than happy with "Zombie Jesus" as it stands. "The most appealing part of 'Zombie Jesus' for me is the fact that it takes place during the tumult following the crucifixion and involves so many staples of such a familiar story. Lazarus, Peter, the Disciples, Pontias Pilate, Mary, Judas - with zombies!" he said. "I mean, you read about stuff like ['Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter'] being made into a film, Paul Revere warning us of werewolves, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' is out there and you go, 'What's the context for these?' All the while, zombies and crucifixion are connected right here under our noses in the book of Matthew in the best-selling book of all time - and it goes unnoticed!"
"That's what I get a kick out of," he said. "All of those other mash-ups are great, but this one has been sitting here a loooong time."
You can check out Rob Liefeld's "Zombie Jesus" and other original comic book properties at his official website.