One of the things I find most fun about the zombie ranch concept is working out how similar (or in some cases, how different) they might be to a conventional livestock herd. Obviously close enough that Suzie’s daddy, the late Jonathan Zane, was able to adapt some of the tried-and-true methods of cattle ranching to wrangling zombies, but in other ways you’d have to figure there are differences that could prove deadly if ignored.
There’s a lot roiling in my brain about this topic that I rarely find the space to cram into the comic. For one thing, we’re talking about a set-up which doesn’t exist much in nature: zombies (as pop culture usually knows them) seem to naturally want to do gather together, forming swarms far beyond the scale of the largest packs of predators such as lions and wolves. The closest examples there might be creatures such as army ants, although fortunately for humanity the zombie mobs weren’t quite as smart about cooperating or navigating obstacles.
But of course, given the western theme one big concept I keep returning to is that trail hand’s nightmare of the stampede. That peaceful mass of animals that can suddenly become a deadly, nearly unstoppable surge of force at the slightest provocation. One or two herd members get spooked and start running, and before you know it thousands of hooves are pounding the ground, indiscriminately flattening anything unlucky enough to be in the way.
Zombie ranchers are wrangling mere human-sized charges, but if you’ve heard of those tragic events over the years at religious pilgrimages, sporting events, or even Black Friday at Wal-Mart, even a “human stampede” can do plenty of damage to people and property.
Now imagine that instead of wanting that special price on a flat-screen TV, that stampede wants to eat you. This is the paradox of zombie ranching. On the one hand, you need to gather a big herd together or you’ll never turn a profit. On the other, even the most insulated Safer knows zombies are most dangerous in large groups.
Is there such a thing as “zombie whispering“, or are Suzie and her peers just plain crazy for having a job where they regularly have to climb in amongst the walking dead? Or is it a little of both?
All questions I do want to go into more as the story continues. Assuming anyone survives the current circumstances, of course…