Back in November of last year, we did a feature Throwback Thursday piece on the original “Marvel Zombies” miniseries, to honor Stan Lee’s passing and the legacy of some of the amazing characters he had a hand in creating. “Marvel Zombies Return” was a mini-series designed to give readers a sense of closure for the story concerning these “original” Marvel Zombies, superheroes from an alternate Earth who were stricken by an alien virus and became flesh-munching monsters.
For the “Marvel Zombies Return” series, Marvel was wise to bring in some experienced “zombie veteran” writers to each have their hand at writing an issue of this series:
- the second issue, with a story revolving around Iron Man, was written by David Wellington, author of the “Monster” trilogy of books
- the third issue, with a story revolving around Wolverine, was written by “Patient Zero” and “Zombie CSU” author Jonathan Maberry
- the fourth issue, with a story revolving around The Hulk, was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, best known to fans as the “co-author” of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”
- Fred Van Lente, the writer for the “Marvel Zombies 3” and “Marvel Zombies 4” mini-series, provided the bookend first and fifth issues.
When we last saw these self-aware superhero zombies at the end of “Marvel Zombies 2” (“MZ3” and “MZ4” followed a storyline of different characters), they were surprise-attacked by a small group of living survivors and teleported off of their original homeworld of Earth, which they had decimated. The teleportation device used to surprise them had been reconstructed from its original form and the reader was never given an idea of who programmed it or where it was set to send the zombies. We find out in this mini-series that the zombies were sent to “Earth-Z,” a parallel universe I believe we have never seen before, except the teleporter deposited every zombie in a different location in this universe, and it is apparently the late 1960s on “Earth-Z.” I’m judging this date by the facts given to us in Issue #1: the story follows zombie Spider-Man as he finds himself witnessing events that took place in his homeworld some time ago (in issues of Spider-Man comic books first released by Marvel in 1969, according to editors notes). His actions in this universe lead to – surprise surprise! – some carnage and devastation, and with that, the series is off and running.
This story returns us to the high-enjoyability factor that we haven’t really seen since the original Marvel Zombies went away in “MZ2.” There is an odd feeling that nagged me throughout the series, but I attribute it to the writers knowing that this was essentially the end of the line for this particular storyline, and whenever creators know that they only have a finite amount of story space left to work with, I do feel that it causes them to sometimes do things a little differently. The story definitely gave readers a very interesting and satisfying endpoint to the tale, and for that sense of closure that not all comic stories get, I am grateful.
Bringing back the original Marvel Zombies makes me smile, and I suspect I’m not the only MZ fan to do so. However, I do have a couple of nagging questions that were presented in this series, like why did the zombified heroes get dumped in the late ‘60s and spread across the universe? Also, when we last saw the zombies in “MZ2,” many of them were working on controlling their hunger, and some had actually achieved control; in this series, the control (and the desire to do so) seems to come and go whenever it’s convenient for the plot line.
Each issue in this series got a different artist and a different artistic approach to it, which I think is really inventive. Kudos to artist Nick Dragotta for a great first issue of this series, as the story really evoked the ‘60s/’70s comic book feel and look. Writer Fred Van Lente also did a pretty good job with the first issue, although some of the zombie carnage felt a little out of place when paired with the “wholesome” feel of the old-school artwork. I know I have really written about how displeased I was with Van Lente’s work in “MZ3” and “MZ4,” but perhaps he learned a thing or two about effectively writing a zombie story by working with some of the great zombie writers of our time. Wellington and Grahame-Smith’s issues were also well written, but I feel that Maberry’s Wolverine-centric issue is really the high point of this series, both in his writing and the accompanying frenetic “sketch-style” artwork (created by Jason Shawn Alexander).
Since the conclusion of this series, the Marvel Zombies saga has actually continued at Marvel in subsequent mini-series, so “Marvel Zombies Return” is no longer the “end point” of the characters’ saga that it was once meant to be, but it’s still a great series that is definitely worth seeking out.