Comic Archive: Marvel Zombies Return (2010)

Welcome to the Comic Archive!  There have been so many amazing stories, characters, and series produced from comic book publishers for almost 100 years now; this column will serve to celebrate some of the tales you may or may not know about.  Each week, we’ll take a story arc or trade paperback/collected story from a non-new comic (three years old or further back), and discuss the details with you.

Ah, “Marvel Zombies,” I just can’t quit you.

After previously reviewing the first “Marvel Zombies” series, it’s sequel “Marvel Zombies 2,” and the churlish crossover “Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness,” I’m back for one more round – as Marvel was, when they went back to the undead well for “Marvel Zombies Return.”

With the original “Marvel Zombies” mini-series, Marvel Comics caught lightning in a bottle and did something unique with their characters that had already been around for decades: the company found a way to turn all their most popular heroes into the walking undead.  Marvel chose to follow the initial five-issue mini-series with subsequent mini-series, and while “Marvel Zombies 2” did follow the original storyline directly, the next four mini-series deviated into telling stories of zombies in other alternate realities, leaving the tales of the original walking dead superheroes to linger untold.

Comic Archive: Marvel Zombies Return (2010)Fortunately, “Marvel Zombies Return” comes back home, so to speak, and finally gives us a sense of closure for the story concerning the “original” Marvel Zombies. Marvel was also 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, Rot and Ruin, 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 issue

When we last saw these zombies at the end of “MZ2,” they were surprised by a small group of survivors and teleported off of their original home world 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 home world 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. In terms of realism, there are a couple of nagging questions here, 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 was generally displeased with Van Lente’s work on “MZ3” and “MZ4” – that’s a story for another Comic Archive! – 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).

All in all, “Marvel Zombies Return” is a welcome addition to the ever-growing MZ library, and it’s a read I can easily recommend to fans of the Marvel Zombies or folks who like the walking dead in general.


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