Marvel Zombies: Ash’s Chainsaw and Other Beginnings

July 21st, 2007 by | Tags: , , , , , ,

A couple weeks ago, Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness finished off. Marvel Zombies 2 has just been solicited for October. With that in mind, it’s about time I laid out my thoughts on the whole Zombieverse.

It all started back in 2005. Mark Millar was in the midst of his Ultimate Fantastic Four run and he started making some hints at a certain special story arc. From the looks of things, the Ultimate Marvel Universe was about to make a crossover with the mainstream universe Marvel 616. I wasn’t paying attention at the time, since I wasn’t reading Ultimate Fantastic Four, but I can only imagine people were annoyed as hell. Not only did this defeat the purpose of the Ultimate continuity, but Millar probably didn’t garner all that much faith going into what would be such an important story.

But the evidence was there. The story was titled “Crossover”. One of the variant covers for the first issue showed Ultimate Reed exchanging a shocked glance at an older Reed with snazzy white hair tufts. The second issue of the arc showed a more mainstream version of Magneto manhandling the Ultimate Fantastic Four. The first issue builds up to this meeting, including a scene where the two Reeds discuss the differences between their worlds. Older Reed — shown via hologram — mentions the Avengers and his children Franklin and Valeria.

Truly, this had to be the Ultimates/616 crossover we’d been dreading.

Or not.

With our final image of zombified versions of the Fantastic Four, Marvel had opened up Pandora’s box. The story continued to show Magneto as the last hope for humanity, fending off against zombified superheroes while trying to protect his remaining human friends. The scenes involving the Zombie Fantastic Four (also known as the Ultimate Frightful Four) fighting the remaining members of the Ultimate Fantastic Four in the Ultimate universe didn’t even rank against the rest. Seeing all these newly introduced zombie superheroes in this decrepit world was far more entertaining.

Greg Land’s zombies were some of his better work and really gave the three issues (really, just several pages and two issues) a reason to be read a second or third time over. Unfortunately, once you get over the shock of “oh shit zombies”, there isn’t really all that much to the story. Ultimate Reed and his new friends escape with the help of Magneto, while giving us a brief fist-fight between Ultimate Thing and Zombie Hulk and giving me a newfound fear in the concept of a giant zombie.

With the exception of a couple little quirks, there wasn’t much done with the zombie heroes. In fact, the most we got was confusion as to how several characters got turned. On paper, guys like Juggernaut, Luke Cage and Thing shouldn’t be able to be infected. Vision, himself a synthetic android, really stretches the idea of what could and should be able to become a zombie.

If anything, the general reaction to the Crossover story was that it was pretty cool, but didn’t cover enough ground. We got the gist of the origin of the plague, but there were certain details that needed a going over or two. It also raised questions of where a world like that would go from there? If Magneto was still uninfected, who else was out there with a pulse?

Mark Millar’s original idea was to use Frank Castle as the last man on Earth, fighting off the zombies himself. It’s more or less already been done.

Then Robert Kirkman stepped in, obviously given the chance to continue the story based on his hit zombie opus the Walking Dead. He had two different ideas for stories. One was about Hawkeye as the last survivor, hiding out in the arctic. Another was Luke Cage, immune to infection, pretending to be the savior of what’s left of humanity, only to sell them out so that the zombies won’t turn or eat Jessica Jones or their baby. Both ideas had to be deep-sixed due to the fact that Greg Land had shown both Hawkeye and Cage as zombies in the Millar arc. Plus the Hawkeye idea was admittedly boring.

Let’s take a step back and examine just why Marvel Zombies was such a fun and interesting series. What was the appeal?

The gore may be somewhat appealing and the goofy Arthur Sudyam covers were fun for a while until he just ran out of dead jokes, but obviously there’s much more to it. I think it just comes from the belief that just about anything could happen in this world. This world is in a horrible freefall. A terrible amount of bad has just happened and very little good can follow up, but yet we have five issues ahead, so there’s got to be some crazy shit on the way.

The whole hero concept has been turned on its ear. Whenever heroes go bad, it’s usually due to some kind of epic emotional stress or just mind control. The stress, they can get over. Mind control can be conquered. This is something different.

I always thought the real horror of the Marvel Zombies was not the insatiable hunger, but their inability to do anything about themselves. I don’t mean try not to eat flesh. That’s obviously out of the question. I don’t mean try to fix themselves. Lord knows Hank Pym tried. The real hideous evil comes from their inability to destroy themselves. Spider-Man remains the only one with anything resembling humanity, but even at his most sober, he doesn’t try suicide. And don’t give me that, “zombies don’t know how to fully die,” crap that Iron Man feeds Peter. They watched Zombie Dr. Strange get blown up. If you were slightly less fucked up from this virus, you’d do the same in the name of decency.

Then there is the whole Marvel roster checklist. We had a pretty thick list of zombie heroes in the Millar story and we knew of Magneto remaining his normal self. But what about the guys who haven’t shown up yet? There’s still some hope. Colossus, being metal, could be immune to the virus. Maybe he and Kitty are hiding out in the Morlock tunnels. Wolverine succumbed to the virus, but maybe Deadpool’s still around with enough healing factor to deal. Where are Nick Fury, Punisher, Dr. Doom and Wyatt Wingfoot?

Just kidding. Not a single person cared about Wyatt Wingfoot in Marvel Zombies.

The story was very basic and could have easily been condensed an issue or two if they wanted. They eat Magneto, they see the Silver Surfer, they eat the Silver Surfer, they get overwhelmed by Galactus, they come up with a plan to beat him, they destroy the zombie villains in a one-sided fight, eat Galactus and go to space. Plus some stuff with Black Panther, Zombie Wasp and the Acolytes. Not exactly the deepest story in the world, but it was a fun ride.

People have criticized the ending of Marvel Zombies for the pointless goofiness mixed with the lack of closure for the survivors. The subplot of Black Panther, Cortez, Zombie Wasp and the rest skews out of the main plot and doesn’t make its way back. Looking at it again, I can see something of a point to this ending. The point is that Earth is given some sliver of mercy.

When the zombie heroes fight Galactus, we root for the former heroes. This doesn’t make much sense, since Galactus is a neutral force of nature and these guys are evil failures who deserve nothing but our detestation. Chalk it up to us being used to siding with them, the fact that they’re the protagonists and they being underdogs. In the end, though, there is an actual reason why we should rally for the Marvel Zombies and not the innocent Galactus.

As the Zombie Galactus Corps, the surviving Marvel Zombies fly through space like locusts, eating any living creature they encounter. While this is indeed pretty ghastly, it may be a lesser evil than what Galactus does. When Galactus eats a planet, he not only kills everything on the planet, but makes it impossible to inhabit after eating. No plantlife, no bacteria and no insects. Nothing.

Had Galactus won the final confrontation, the survivors would have been stranded on Asteroid M for the rest of their lives. There would be no hope. Instead, Black Panther has a kid and humanity has some semblance of promise. The world is rich in vegetation. Humankind can live on.

You can argue whether or not this is better for the universe, as the Zombie Galactus Corps doesn’t seem to devour the life energies of the planets it encounters and therefore doesn’t work into the great cosmic plan. Plus there’s the possibility that they consume life on planets faster than Galactus ever had, thus making them far worse than Galactus ever was. At this point, we don’t really know the truth.

I figure having the power cosmic and not eating planets Galactus-style is what Zombie Hulk is talking about in Black Panther #28 when he yells that they’ll still be hungry and that the others don’t get it.

After Millar did a follow-up story arc with the Zombie Fantastic Four in his Ultimate Fantastic Four run (more of a finale story that incorporated all his past subplots), Marvel took a bit of a break from the zombies for a while. They still made the rounds a bit. Zombie Wolverine showed up in an Exiles arc where the joke was that since Wolverine’s on so many teams already, why not make an Exiles roster made entirely out of alternate universe Wolverines? The two-issue story was pretty fun and has no real ties with the Marvel Zombies world. Especially because 1) Zombie Wolverine doesn’t immediately try to eat or infect his teammates and 2) Zombie Wolverine gets beheaded and blown up, showing that he’s not THE Zombie Wolverine we’ve been reading.

The story did involve Snikt the Clown, who deserves his own miniseries.

Spider-Ham also made an appearance in the zombieverse, but that Spider-Ham one-shot was about as unfunny as Paula Poundstone’s dental records.

(proof-reading note: I’m sure that made sense to me when I originally typed it.)

On Halloween, Marvel made two major announcements about the Marvel Zombie franchise. First, the creative team of Kirkman and Phillips would return for Dead Days, a one-shot that would act as the prequel to Marvel Zombies. Second, and far more interesting in the fanboy sense, Ash Williams – Bruce Campbell’s character from the Evil Dead movies and Army of Darkness comic – would star in a crossover with the Marvel Zombies in a five-issue series. Being that John Layman was writing it and not Kirkman, plus the usual stink that comes with most comic company crossovers, there was an underlying sense of dread that came with this title.

And again, how much longer could they go on with this for? Have they beaten the joke too far into the ground yet? It wasn’t long after that solicitations showed that Black Panther and the New Fantastic Four would be visiting the Marvel Zombies universe for several issues. Maybe they were going too far.

The fun of not knowing what’s next was for the most part taken away. We’ve read Crossover and Marvel Zombies. We know how this ends. We know what will become of the outbreak and despite the covers, we know that Ash is not going to have any epic confrontation with Zombie Wolverine. That’s four covers based on a single fight that we never got.

Luckily, Layman knew what he was doing. See, Millar created the zombies as a twist. Kirkman took the ball and had a little fun. Layman, though, took the ball and had so much fun with the concept, I envy that he got paid for it. Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness is probably my favorite of the different zombie storylines. The major guys like Hulk, Iron Man and Spider-Man either get a quick scene here or there or just get ignored from Ash’s story for survival. With the big guns out of the way, Layman plays around with the lesser heroes and villains like Thunderball, the Runaways, Nextwave, Winter Soldier, Doctor Druid and Goliath.

Not only does Ash kill off Druid, but he makes a snarky meta joke about Quesada. This shit is great!

Other major characters like Punisher and Dr. Doom get their due as well. We see Punisher get his long awaited payback for Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe by having his would-be meta-human targets overwhelm him with relative ease. Doom plays a major role through the second half in a way comparable to Magneto in the Millar arc, only he comes across as much more of an ass.

It was about halfway into the miniseries that Dead Days was released. As much as I love Kirkman’s work, this was easily the bottom rung of the zombie comics. It was a phoned-in cash-in. The basic story is that the Zombie Avengers spread the virus, Fury tries to get every uninfected hero to stop them, they fail and Reed Richards purposely fucks up everything for everyone. For the most part, the story is stuff we already expected and knew. It’s just that it was handled so badly.

When you do a prequel, you have to try and add new revelations to the story. Anakin Skywalker created C3PO. Boba Fett is a clone of his “father” Jango Fett. Elderly, Animated Batman has a limp because the Joker stabbed him in the leg and the Joker’s dead because Tim Drake shot him. That kind of shit. Dead Days had two major revelations.

First, Reed Richards is both behind the infections of the Fantastic Four and the downfall of saving any survivors on the SHIELD Helicarrier. Losing both his children to Zombie She-Hulk causes Reed to lose his mind and decide that the zombie virus is merely a form of evolution. He gleefully lets it spread in the name of science, more or less making him the ringleader of the zombie fraternity.

That, I liked. It was the highlight of the comic. You might be saying, “Hey, Gavok! Sue didn’t die, so Reed should still be sane! What do you say to that?”

It’s simple math. Franklin and Valeria are the children of Reed and Sue. That makes each of them 50% Sue. You take two kids who are half-Sue, put them together, kill them and now you have one dead Sue. Hence, crazy Reed. It makes sense to me.

The second surprise revelation is that this is all Magneto’s fault. Somehow. In his latest plan to mess with the homo-sapiens, Magneto has made a deal with something in order to get the virus to his Earth. He figures that it will only affect the humans and will shave some of their numbers. Not so. Mutants are also threatened.

That begs the question of who Magneto dealt with. Was it the creator of the virus? Was it Zombie Sentry himself? Mephisto? What?

This helps me realize that I think Robert Kirkman has a beef with the Sentry. He’s one of those guys who is just annoyed by the very existence of our mentally-complicated golden hero. Though not named, Zombie Sentry appears in both Crossover and Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness. Not only is he never shown or mentioned in Marvel Zombies and Dead Days, but Kirkman steps around his very existence. Look at his intro explanations. The only information we get is that there was a ripple in the sky and suddenly everyone’s infected.

To add fuel to the fire, I only recall the Sentry making one single appearance in a Kirkman comic. This.

Oh, Kirkman. You’re just jealous because Sentry would whup Omni-Man’s ass across the galaxy.

In Dead Days, Kirkman dips into the pool of B and C-list characters to fill out the story. Unfortunately, unlike Layman, there’s no love. Guys like Gravity and the Thunderbolts are shown zombified, but that’s it. They’re there. In the big group shot of surviving heroes in the Helicarrier, we see Scarlet Spider hanging out in the background. The guy hasn’t made a comic appearance in ten years! Do something with him! If Layman thought of it, he probably would have had a gag where Zombie Scarlet Spider gets pissed because every idea he gets of who to eat, Zombie Spider-Man’s beaten him to it ten minutes earlier.

There is one part early on that really hits me as something that had potential to be great.

Dead Days doesn’t really have a main character to revolve around. It bounces from Nova to Nick Fury to Reed Richards to Hank Pym like one of those TV karaoke balls. Daredevil should have been that character. He should have lasted longer and he should have played the center of gravity to this whole mess.

Why? To us and most of the characters in the story, the zombies aren’t physically all that different from the heroes and villains we know. They just have nasty teeth, white pupils and splotches of blood and dirt here and there. Someone like Spider-Man or any other hero that looks down on killing would try to incapacitate the zombie or even try to get through to them verbally.

To Daredevil, these guys are nothing like the men he knew and fought alongside with. It’s more than just teeth and dirt. There’s no heartbeat. There’s no blood-flow. No movement in the lungs. If there is anything going on biologically inside their bodies, it can only add to Daredevil’s horror. It takes the man without sight to truly understand what kind of demons they’re dealing with. No wonder he’s going gung-ho against one of his best friends.

The ending bugged me too. It seemed like Kirkman had only a couple pages left and needed to finish up the story best he could. Nick Fury is locked in a safe room with the remaining heroes and Tony Stark’s portal device. He has the device destroyed right before the Zombie Fantastic Four barge in. Without showing us anything, all the heroes are turned and Fury is eaten. Zombie Reed plans to rebuild the device himself, setting up the Crossover arc. Why they don’t just ask Zombie Stark to make it again, I don’t know.

So the heroes Fury was with? Thor, Dr. Strange, Colossus, Storm and Nightcrawler. I’ll concede that Storm is pretty worthless in this situation. Even without Dr. Strange, there should be at least two destroyed Fantastic Four members by the time the smoke is cleared. Nightcrawler should have BAMF’d the second Thing tore a hole in the wall. Thor and Strange themselves can teleport the survivors elsewhere. It’s just lazy.

Back to the Army of Darkness crossover. The second half mostly deals with Ash’s misadventures in Latveria. The flaw is that while the first half of the story has a lot of Ash (and his zombieverse counterpart) kicking ass with a chainsaw and boomstick. The kind of stuff the covers suggest we’ll see. He doesn’t really do that once the plot swerves into Latveria. He takes a backseat to Dr. Doom and does little else than bicker with the Necronomicon and run away from things.

All right, all right. That part ruled.

The art gets wonky by this point. Fabiano Neves, the miniseries’ main artist, was easily the most fitting. He has a realistic look like Greg Land, but easier on the eyes and with less of a “hey, that’s just Owen Wilson with a British guy’s teeth!” factor. I’m sure his work takes plenty of time to complete, so it’s no real surprise that there are fill-in artists.

One fill-in artist is Fernando Blanco, who does the art for the Army of Darkness series itself. Makes sense. His style contrasts with Neves’, but he mostly only does scenes that are mainly just Ash. The art is easier to handle during his final few pages of the last issue.

Sean Phillips, the regular Marvel Zombies artist, took care of some of the zombie-centric pages, such as the Marvel Zombies being attacked by the literal Army of Darkness. I’ve heard people complain about his style since the day the preview of Marvel Zombies #1 was released. I didn’t mind it too much. Seeing the story go from Neves’ detailed, scabby zombies to what Phillips churns out really gave me some frownage.

The story ends better than I could have expected, with Ash getting his ultimate revenge on the Necronomicon while escaping his fate of being a main course thanks to the judgment of Doom. Dr. Doom himself, while somewhat short-sighted and slightly a parody of himself, still stands as a badass when the scene calls for it and his final acts definitely call for it. Not counting Zombie Thing beating on him out of spite.

The last couple pages are the perfect way to end the Marvel Zombies experiment and I even look forward to the next Army of Darkness comic just to see the follow-up and explanation for how the hell Ash is still alive to fight more Deadites.

One thing that bothers me about Marvel Zombies is the continuity glitches that plague it, especially in the prequel stories. These things are the norm to comics, of course, but when there are so many in a continuity that has less than 20 issues to its name, it sticks out more so.

Here are some examples:

Reed Richards getting infected in his Ultimate Fantastic Four flashback vs. him getting infected in Dead Days.

He is smiling. I’ll give you that.

Zombie Dazzler appearing in Ultimate Fantastic Four despite being vaporized seconds after being infected.

I knew Dazzler was going to get turned at some point in Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness. Doom refuses to let continuity get in the way.

Iron Fist gets infected by Black Cat in Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness, while Luke Cage infects him in Dead Days.

Not to mention that Iron Fist and Black Cat are two of the earliest zombies in the Army of Darkness crossover while they’re both shown to be on the SHIELD Helicarrier in Dead Days.

Zombie Vulture shown three pages before Zombie Daredevil overwhelms and infects him in Dead Days.

Now come on! That one’s just ridiculous.

There are others that I won’t get too into. Spider-Woman and Wonder Man change their costumes. Scarlet Witch has Wolverine Syndrome, where she’s everywhere at once. Thor helps waste a decent amount of zombies, yet Zombie Iron Man isn’t so sure that they can die. Black Knight having a jaw despite the fact that Thor knocked it to New Jersey. Scarlet Witch and Dr. Doom make it a point that there are no elderly survivors in the Latverian fortress, but in the final issue, we see a couple protected in the dungeon anyway. I’m not even going to touch the cliffhanger to Army of Darkness #13.

So far the current Black Panther arc isn’t doing all that much for me. Unlike the Ash crossover, this one just looks strung together and pointless. Now with Marvel Zombies 2 announced, I guess it’s nothing more than a prologue, much like the Crossover story. There are still three issues, so we’ll see where it goes from there.

I do like how between Ultimate Doom and the New Fantastic Four ending up in the zombie world, we are one degree away from the Ultimate/616 crossover we’ve been dreading from day one. Funny how that works.

As for Marvel Zombies 2? I said to myself that the whole Marvel Zombies thing would be dead to me (no pun intended) by the end of the Army of Darkness storyline. Seeing the solicitation, the feeling that you can only guess what kind of crazy shit is next to happen returns. I’ll give it a shot. But come on, Kirkman. Do something with Zombie Sentry.

One last thing. Just to prove that there are worlds worse than Marvel Zombies…

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12 comments to “Marvel Zombies: Ash’s Chainsaw and Other Beginnings”

  1. I’ll be happy when the whole stupid thing finally gets shuffled aside and forgotten. Hopefully MZ2 will be a giant no-selling bomb and that will FINALLY put down this waste of paper…

  2. I read through Marvel Zombies, but it seemed pretty pointless in the end; I didn’t really *care* who won, the world-devouring scourge or the world-devouring scourge. The only other one I’ve read is the Army of Darkness crossover, which I thought was much better.

  3. I feel rather cheated by marvel zombies/army of darkness.

    The whole series was supposed to reveal the origins of the marvel zombies to us, yet instead it’s just ash fumbling from point A to point B while encountering superheroes about to die. Right up to the every end.

    Plus, we’re talking about the guy who singlehandedly taught an entire european kingdom how to use mideval weapons, learned how to make gunpowder using high school textbooks, and invented a helicopter/car hybrid deathcoaster, all in the phase of one badly edited montage. A montage that was so powerful, in fact, that it helped drive back the army of darkness and save the day, and now you’re going to tell me he didn’t deserve a little more action in this series?

  4. Wait, you expected continuity in a intracompany crossover event?

  5. “That begs the question of who Magneto dealt with.”

    Ahem. Grammar Nazi would like to point out that it poses the question.

    It’s too bad about the zombieverse. It sounds like it could have been a hell of a lot cooler had it been in better hands.

  6. This series really SUCKS!!! BIG TIME!!! I really don’t like the idea of heroes becoming zombies. Cmon!! Thor being infected?!! He’s the god damn GOD OF THUNDER for crying out loud!!! Aside from other irrelevance bullshits, Kirkman the author of this crap should be kicked out of his wits BIG TIME!!!

  7. Based on his constant use of the term “BIG TIME!”, Stormrage is either Peter Gabriel or Dick Cheney. Either way, I don’t trust him.

    And Kevin? Please don’t send Nazis after Magneto. It’s in bad taste.

  8. I just thought the ending with Galactus was neat because Galactus is the Devourer – he eats everything. It makes perfect sense that the virus, having infected a universe, would take over the role.

  9. I agree with you on everything except one thing. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker was awesome in my opinion, as was Joker’s death.

    Oh and eventually the zombies consumed the planet Galactus style.

  10. When did I say that Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker wasn’t awesome?

  11. My bad, I TOTALLY misread that.

    “Elderly, Animated Batman has a limp because the Joker stabbed him in the leg and the Joker’s dead because Tim Drake shot him. That kind of shit.”

    I read “That’s kind of shit.”

    Sorry, stupid eyes. Carry on. And I’m loving all these articles.

  12. @ Gavok
    “Based on his constant use of the term “BIG TIME!”, Stormrage is either Peter Gabriel or Dick Cheney.”

    Belly laughs here!