Has it really been 13 years since Marvel decided to unleash an undead apocalypse upon its heroes? Granted, the ‘Marvel Zombies’ line of books – originating with the mini-series we’re talking about today, but expanding to a plethora of limited-series runs that are still going on today – tells the tale of how the zombie virus spread through an alternate-universe Earth, not the “main” Marvel Universe that our well-known heroes inhabit.
This series takes a lot of pages to show some really great aspects of superheroes and zombies mashed together: some heroes are reticent to attack and eat other, fearing they have lost too much of their humanity and their morals; some heroes realize that they can only think clearly when they are not hungry, so they engage freely in eating people when they have to, and some heroes just plain can’t fight the hunger and attack every living thing in their immediate vicinity. Written by “the zombie guy” himself, Robert Kirkman of ‘The Walking Dead’ fame, the first part of this story really tackles some pretty heavy issues and ideas of how super-powered beings might grapple with the moral and survivalist consequences of being undead with an insatiable hunger for flesh. It is well-written and well-drawn, and Kirkman really gets to show that he can write a good zombie story to fit pretty much any situation; whether it’s the gritty, reality-based world of ‘The Walking Dead‘ or dealing with reanimated versions of some of the world’s most beloved superheroes, Kirkman steps up to the challenge and absolutely delivers.
Just when you are blown away by the first part of the story, the second half of this series takes things in a whole new and exciting direction by reliving a classic Marvel storyline: right as the heroes are trying to come to grips with their new un-lives and the fact that they rashly have eaten almost every living thing on Earth, the Silver Surfer shows up and announces the imminent arrival of Galactus, the Devourer of Worlds. Will the undead superheroes be able to keep Galactus from destroying Earth (or what’s left of it, anyway), and will they ever find a good meal again? The question is answered in vivid, gory detail, and without giving too much away, I will say that the high amount of carnage in this story easily equals the high enjoyment a reader should get out of this series, even if you are not intimately familiar with the heroes featured in this series (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, Thor, and Giant Man, among others).
This five-issue mini-series is the pinnacle of the entire over-arching Marvel Zombies storyline. Kirkman went all-out to write a story that was rewarding to zombie lovers, and doubly-rewarding to zombie lovers who were familiar with Marvel superheroes. The inclusion of the Galactus plot was a great idea; Marvel purists may try to point out that Galactus visited Earth long before now and that this story doesn’t make sense from a chronological standpoint, but don’t forget: this is a parallel Earth to the “mainstream” Marvel Earth, and this could very easily be this universe’s Galactus’ first trip to Earth. Nothing like throwing in a good bout of sci-fi confusion to a story that already has fantasy and horror elements to make your brain explode, right?
With these characters being the property of Marvel Entertainment, that obviously means that no one else could legally use them in a zombie story before, making the originality of this story pretty high by virtue of it being the first time these characters have ever come into contact with zombies. In addition, the story itself also lends itself to a higher score in this arena, as it not only follows intelligent zombie superheroes as they grapple with their moral compasses while eating most of humanity, it also sees undead superheroes fighting a giant alien from outer space. Good times.
In other ‘Marvel Zombies’ mini-series, such as the collected “Marvel Zombies: Dead Days” that attempts to build a bit of “prequel” to this first series, the questions about how realistic the storyline might be are glaringly evident. Here in the ‘Marvel Zombies’ mini-series, however, the questions don’t nag at you, because you are simply having too much fun reading the story! I rarely questioned how or why certain heroes reanimated while others had the misfortune of being destroyed completely, and I believed that these massively superhuman zombies could easily eat 6 million people in a short amount of time. (There are probably other super-powered beings on other parts of the planet that helped reduce the human population, but I have more fun thinking about the core group of heroes eating everything and everyone…they are far scarier that way!)
Artist Sean Phillips lets you see what you thought you might never see: the most classic of Marvel superheroes dead and rotting, but still walking and talking. The carnage is fairly bluntly illustrated for your viewing pleasure – seems like every other page has a close-up of a heroes’ zombified teeth tearing into some flesh. The covers for the books in the series were “zombie” versions of classic Marvel comics covers, and were beautifully illustrated by Arthur Suydam, who also drew many covers in the subsequent series as well.
If you can only read one “Marvel Zombies” mini-series, make it this one, it is easily the best of the bunch. But with the stories in the successive mini-series revolving around the Marvel Zombies romping around the universe causing havoc, bumping into Ash from “The Evil Dead,” and the Zombies breaking through to the mainstream Marvel Universe, there is plenty more for you undead lovers to read!