So Sayeth the Odinson: Pandemics in Fiction

Greetings from the Odinson,

The Odinson, like I’m sure the rest of the world, is watching the progression and spread of COVID-19 (a.k.a. the coronavirus) with great interest, and concern.  Watching those maps that show the start of the outbreak and then slowly fill in the world map with red as the outbreaks spreads across the globe are a) scary, and b) like something out of a horror movie. 

In the 14th century, the most devastating plague in mankind’s history, the Black Death, claimed the lives of millions.  From leprosy to yellow fever, smallpox to AIDS, mankind has dealt with pandemics in the past, present, and will continue to do so in the future.  Mankind is a hardy species that has and will persevere.

However, fiction allows us privy to windows into those domains where the pandemic wins out and shows us the devastated worlds of a post-Apocalypse.   

Pandemics in Fiction

Dawn of the Dead (2004)Cause of the Pandemic: Zombie Apocalypse.

From George A. Romero’s Night of the Living Dead to his original Dawn of the Dead and the satirical Shaun of the Dead to Zombieland, the Odinson had many classic examples of the zombie subgenre to choose from, but I chose the 2004 remake for a very specific reason – the depicted media coverage of the zombie outbreak.

Though the movie does show this well, it is expounded on and truly explored in the cut scenes section of the DVD release.  With each broadcast, the audience witnesses the foundations of society quickly collapse under the weight of this unstoppable epidemic.  As the institutions of the world, governments, military, and news outlets, unravel, we watch as the world map behind the broadcasters slowly fills in with red as the zombie plague spreads across the globe. 

This is a truly great use of the visual medium for the purposes of shock and horror         

Masque of the Red DeathCause of the Pandemic: Plague.

Edgar Allan Poe’s classic tale of horror follows the decadent life of a corrupt prince.  He waits out the Red Death in his fortified stronghold as the devastating plague sweeps across the land.  It is an allegory of class and the disparity between the rich and the poor.  The rich reside safe in their castles and party like it’s 1999 while the poor are trapped outside in the dirt and mud to face an uncertain future.  It is a metaphor that can still find relevance even today.         

Y the Last ManCause of the Pandemic: Virus.

After a devastating plague wipes out the entire population of the world born with the Y chromosome, man and animal alike, only one man, Yorick Brown, and his monkey companion, Ampersand, are left alive.  As a new world populated by only women begins to take shape, answers must be found fast or mankind is doomed for extinction.  Yorick, the titular Last Man, and Ampersand, and more specifically their DNA, may hold the key to humanity’s survival.

The Kingdom of CainCause of the Pandemic: Radiation.

In this dark Marvel What If…?, the Sentinels, the giant robots created to hunt down and eliminate mutants, decide that all of mankind needs to be wiped out and they accomplish this by unleashing deadly radiation across the globe.  Only someone like Juggernaut, whose powers make him completely invincible, is immune to this devastating culling.  However, immortality always comes with a price, and Cain Marko’s fee is loneliness.

This sad tale follows the Juggernaut as he wanders a desolate world that is devoid of all human life.  He gets to dismantle and destroy the occasional Sentinel, but he soon becomes weary as he realizes he may be the last man of Earth.  Eventually, he does find a sanctuary for the last surviving human beings.  So desperate to be with others, Cain destroys all their defenses and not even Ice Man and Magneto can stop him from gaining entrance. 

However, it is when Juggernaut finally sees the faces of others that his horrible plight truly takes shape.  The barriers he destroyed to get in were what kept the radiation and death away from the survivors.  Now, with those defenses destroyed, Cain Marko, the unstoppable Juggernaut, is forced to watch the last remnants of humanity perish because of his actions.     

28 Days LaterCause of the Pandemic: Rage Virus.

A group of overzealous activists break into a laboratory to free the animals being experimented on.  What they realize far too late is these animals are infected.  The activists have now unleashed a super virus onto the world.  The virus causes the infected to become overcome with rage and seek to destroy any uninfected they can find.  The fast-acting infection spreads through blood and body fluids.  So something as insignificant as a sneeze, a cough, or a small cut can spread the sickness. 

In a moment, a family member, a friend, or a neighbor can be transformed into a raging carrier and 28 Days Later, 28 Weeks Later, and 28 Months Later…the end of the world. 

DCeasedCause of the Pandemic: The Anti-Life Equation.

The dark New God, Darkseid, always sought the meaning to the Anti-Life Equation.  At least, that was until he finally found it.  What he unleashes on the universe is a devastating plague that turns all it comes into contact with into near mindless, insanely vicious, zombie-like infected whose sole purpose is to destroy and spread the disease.

Nobody is immune.  Not man, woman, or child, not even the world’s heroes and villains.  And, the infection originally began and spread through exposure from cell phones, televisions, and computer monitors.   

I am Legend Cause of the Pandemic: Vampire Plague.

When a bacteria spreads across the globe and turns the world population into vampires, only one man remains immune.  Now, Robert Neville spends his days stocking up on supplies, studying the origins of the disease, and learning about vampire myths and legends.  He uses the daylight hours to hunt down these monsters to their daytime lairs where he unceremoniously and indiscriminately destroys them.  He spends his nights defending his fortified abode and fending off the creatures as they try to get to him and eerily call out his name.     

As the years of isolation and loneliness begin to take its toll, Neville eventually finds himself in a final confrontation with the vampires.  However, he quickly learns that in this strange new world, the vampires are not the monsters.  Neville, he who hunts them down by day and destroys them where they sleep, has become the monster.  He is the thing to be feared and hated.  Robert Neville has become the Legend.   

Whether it is natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or even the threat of nuclear war, and yes, even a pandemic, fiction often reflects the world we live in, and sometimes, life imitates art.  Way back, in the 1981 novel, The Eyes of Darkness, this suspenseful tale introduced a biological weapon called the “Wuhan-400.”  Did author Dean Koontz (Phantoms, Watchers) predict the COVID-19 forty years ago?

The world is an unpredictable and scary place.  Sometimes, it’s even scarier when fiction becomes fact.

This is Odinson bidding thee farewell     

NOTE: Be sure to check out my new book – Autumn Dawn: A Glen Haven Tale.  Available in Paperback and on Kindle.

About Odinson

I am a lifelong comics fan and pop culture enthusiast. Comic books, novels, games, television, movies, I love it all. From fantasy to science fiction, drama to comedy, as long as the writing and execution are interesting, I love it, and I want to talk about it.

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