You know what they say: We'll all be loved and famous when we're dead. Well, maybe they don't say that, but most artists starve in obscurity, and your funeral is probably the one time when everyone you know has something good to say about you. That's part of why zombies get the best of both worlds. Speaking of things being cooler after they've started to rot, let me introduce you to the amazing joy and tedium that is "Marvel Zombies." If you've looked to the left (and how could you not?), you've pretty much figured it out already. From December 2005 to last April, the Marvel Zombies miniseries has been churning out spandex-wearing undead heroes left and right.
Marvel superheroes...as flesh-eating zombies. It boggles the mind. Is this a joke? The answer is sort of. The idea of zombified superheroes is actually from a legitimate "real" Fantastic Four story. None of this alternate reality crap. Well, of course these superheroes ARE from an alternate reality, but it's a reality where the normal comic characters can visit if they ever want to have Captain America eat their face off. The reason it's sort of a joke is that the term "Marvel Zombies" has for years been some sort of insult to fans of Marvel comics, calling them mindless zombies because they keep buying Spiderman and X-men/force/factor/caliber books....or so I'm told. So while the name might be a joke, there's really no better name for super heroes of the living dead. Then again, this might also just be a bizarre hyper-acceptance of an insult. You know, like when that guy on the subway asks you if you were gay and your response was "Yes, I'm totally gay and love having sex with men. Thank you for asking." That's not as cool as the zombie thing, but it's the same breed of defense mechanism.
The Marvel Zombies miniseries is actually started off in the issues of The Fantastic Four. So as goofy/weird as the idea of undead heroics is, it's all part of a nefarious comic book plot that the heroes have to foil. In case you don't remember the Fantastic Four and don't want to read that other article, let me at least give you a visual starting point.
All smiles and happy poses, right? What a cheerful lot. I'm sure nothing could....
Sweet MOTHER OF GOD.
That's almost bad ass. We're also rapidly approaching new territory here, zombie-wise. Invisible zombie? Stretching zombie? Brain-eating zombie that's ON FIRE?
Now the evolution of the zombie menace has been a rapid process in the last few years. It's been faster if you're into Japanese cinema, but here's a quick and mainstream walkthrough showing the supposed evolution of the super-zombie. Because I've already mentioned my thoughts on film's influential relationship to comics (many of the early genres of action comics being literal translations of movie storyboards), we're going to use film as our map. Movies influence comics a lot more easily than the opposite. Or so says the biased guy with a degree in cinema.
Night of the Living Dead (1968): The ground rules are established. I really shouldn't need to say any more. Zombies were already in comics and horror movies at this point, but this is the one that really got the ball rolling.
Return of the Living Dead (1985): While this zombie film is a horror/comedy and sort of a parody of the original Night of the Living Dead, this movie (and its sequels) all feature zombies doing rather cunning things to get people's brains. This includes driving cars, calling people, and other general mischief. While it's meant to be funny, this kind of crap is exactly why Marvel Zombies ends up being sort of spooky. I'm getting ahead of myself, as such let's make a big jump.
28 Days Later (2002): Now even if you don't think this is really a zombie movie, it's pretty damn close, and that's how Hollywood hyped it when it came out. Here, the "zombies" learn how to run. Running zombies might not be a big thing, but what we're talking about is ravenous mindless killers that are MOTIVATED. Sure they don't have any special abilities, but hell, they're just as capable as you or me.
Resident Evil (2002): Video Games have had super-zombies in them for a while now, mostly because eventually slow-moving rotting cadavers just aren't going to be that challenging after level 3. Resident Evil did a good job of introducing the general populace to the idea of a mutant zombie that's been genetically modified to swallow your brain whole right after it chews your skull open. And, if you look at the sequel, you finally get zombies with guns. Well, a zombie with a chain gun and a missile launcher, but whatever. Of course all this American Zombie action is actually a little behind the time. Check out what was doing insanely well in Japan two years earlier:
Versus (2000): Ryuhei Kitamura's hardcore film is almost literally an hour and a half fight scene. It's got samurais and gangsters fighting with swords, guns, and kung fu. When they die, they come back as zombies with swords, guns, and kung fu. So we've got super zombies with over-the-top martial arts madness. The actual plot of the film is better than that, but if you have to simplify it, that's how it sounds. Kitamura's a great director and if you follow Japanese cinema, this one ended up being pretty influential to films both with and without zombies.
So why is this evolution important? Marvel Zombies is scary for two reasons:
1. We've got zombies with superpowers.
It's one thing to try to barricade your house and have a shotgun around the house for when the zombie infestation finally comes. It's a completely other matter when zombies can punch holes in your house, turn themselves into pure energy, or make you explode if they think about you. There's really no "being prepared" when zombies are allowed to pick up buildings and throw them at you. It's not fair, but horror scenarios rarely are.
By the way, the ultraviolence you're going to see today is actually a little weird, traditionally speaking. Horror comics got into all types of trouble back in the day, and it wasn't until the 1980's that zombies were finally even allowed to show up in comics. It was all about saving the innocence of children. Now, we've got a comic book for 13-year-olds that features the Incredible Hulk decapitating someone with his teeth. God damn it, it's a wonderful time to be alive, isn't it?
But this isn't really that new or different. Hell, zombies with superpowers is just another name for a monster. So what makes this kind of scary?
2. We've got zombies who can think, plot, and devise exactly how and when they want to eat your brain.
One large difference between vampires and zombies (pop culturally speaking) is that vampires can think, while zombies pretty much will just run at you. Vampires usually win, but when sentience gets thrown into the mix, suddenly that whole "feel no pain thing" becomes much more important that it used to be. Marvel Zombies is a little different because here we have traditional good guys suddenly all types of into flesh-eating. The original story arc from the Fantastic Four features the zombie Fantastic Four tricking the good guys into building a dimensional gate so that they can invade our reality. You know, because the super-zombies ate everyone on the planet in their dimension. Whatever. That's not the kind of plotting I'm talking about. I'm talking about superheroes casually sitting around talking about how they can find survivors and feast on their bones. Well, maybe I paraphrase a bit too much:
I've seen a LOT of zombie movies and I've never heard such an eerie monologue of the undead before. On the plus side, some things don't change when they die.
Yes, Spiderman is still a whiny Emo bitch. Only now his LiveJournal is filled with poetry about braaaaaains.
Here, let me just share a few of the highlights I found while reading this weird marriage of zombie and spandex.
"Can't I just puncture my legs and drain them"? For the love of crap, We've got guy casually talking about putting a spigot in his calf. Also, it's best not to think too much about the heart thing, as the implication is that Daredevil was a living zombie until his heart stopped. You know, because now he's dead. Seriously, stop thinking about it.
Speaking of not thinking about it:
Captain America, the zombie, showing us exactly why it's important to get a good, clean headshot when eliminating a member of the undead horde.
And now for something completely different, or: Monty Python, anyone?
I'm glad to know that, even though his body's been scissored in half, Tony Stark/Iron Man is ready to "gnaw his opponent's knees off," when his torso gets thrown back into the fray.
Finally, before I walk you through the finale and a brief glimpse of what the future holds for super-zombie fan everywhere, let's look at the single most disturbing image found in the entire mini-series:
Yes, this panel is wrong on so many levels. For example, try to say those lines aloud and not come across as quoting some sort of bizarre porno. Secondly, that's supposed to be Zombie Hercules (that fact that you're looking at Zombie Hercules itself is pretty screwed up stupid) peering into the mouth of the Incredible Undead Hulk. I don't know about you, but that image takes me to an unhappy place.
For those of you wanting to put your own dialogue in the Hulk's Incredible orifice, you'll find a "blank version" at the very end of this article. You know, because you're just as sick as I am.
So where's the real suck within Marvel Zombies? I've already admitted I kind of dug this little creative adventure. The problem is that ultimately any good horror story in a superhero comic gets corrupted back into it's primary genre. This means bad science fiction that's super-retarded to everyone who's over the age of twelve.
So apparently super-zombies get the powers of people they eat. Either that or they get COSMIC powers. I don't pretend to understand comic book physics, but I do understand what's coming up next. Now that they've eaten the Silver Surfer, Galactus shows up. If you don't know comic books, don't worry about it...I'll simplify it: A giant Alien God (dressed in pink) shows up to eat the Earth. The zombie-heroes end up eating him....
....becoming super-zombies in space.
That's how the mini-series ends. The super-zombies eat the giant, get his incredible God powers, and fly around the universe eating every single creature on whatever planet they come across. Sort of spooky in theory, but I think it's just kind of weird to see flying super-zombies in cosplay mode. I only wish they'd eaten a monkey or something so that they'd become super-monkey-zombies in space. But I'm weird like that.
Every ending is a new beginning. While there's no telling how it will actually turn out, take a look at the promotional art below and see if you can't tell me what Marvel and Dynamite Comics are going to be producing at some point in 2007:
Yes, it's Army of Darkness vs. Marvel Zombies. Ash of Evil Dead fame fighting name-brand zombies. I don't know what to think, but I do know there's no way it'll be as cool as it is in my mind's eye right now. You know, because in my version it's a scratch 'n sniff book....and no one wants to read a scented zombie book even if it means having a forbidden noseful of Bruce Campbell. Not that I...um...never mind.
In closing, I do want to at least plug the artist that's painted all these great zombie pieces you've been looking at. In case you haven't noticed, all the covers to the Marvel Zombies books are just revamped classic comic covers with the Undead theme heavily inserted. I might not be the best comic fan, but I do appreciate good Zombie art when it comes my way.
The painter behind these covers is Arthur Suydam and he really disappoints me by not painting the entire damn comic book. Arthur's one of these rather rocking people trying to bring classical art standards to comic books, something that might break it out of the superhero "guy with big muscles" rut that keeps me from diving head-first into it. That and my geek pride is weak. Oh and I know that "high art" comics aren't anything new...but I wish there was more high art in the lowbrow section. If that makes sense.
But hell. Any guy who can turn this:
...is freaking awesome and you already know why I like him. Plus he's apparently insane in that healthy artist way. To quote him from his website:
"I've been known to tie models to the chimney on our roof to find the correct muscle positions that indicate struggle and force. My wife should get an award."
There's so much implied there.
So. Marvel Zombies. I really recommend going to the local comic store or checking out ebay if you're into this. They keep having to reprint the series (and the hardcover collection) and each time they do, they throw a new cover on them by Arthur Suydam. So people are actually out there collecting specific printings to own specific pieces of zombie art. In many ways, the word is a much cooler place because of that. There needs to be more limited-edition zombie art out there.
Well, there you have it. Marvel Zombies is something I actually like, though maybe I'm missing the point by grooving on the intelligent zombie thing and not the whole super space zombies in spandex crap. So, did I miss anything?
Um. Yeah. Thank you and goodnight.