Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Marvel Zombies 3 (comics)

Writer: Fred Van Lente
Artist: Kevin Walker
Collects: Marvel Zombies 3 #1-4

So did you hear the one about those wacky Marvel Zombies?

Here's the problem with Marvel Zombies; in some ways it's essentially a joke in comic form. It's popularity was borderline ridiculous for a while there and they've since turned it into a franchise. The original appeal, however, rested largely on the novelty and giggles gained from seeing a bunch of zombified heroes eat things.

But the reality of comedy is that if you keep telling the same joke over and over, eventually it's just not funny anymore. How many jokes do you know with sequels? Even the second volume seemed almost cognizant of this; the dark humor was dialed down and while it was generally more of a real story, it also seemed to make it quite clear this concept couldn't sustain itself forever without an overhaul.

So overhaul it they did. This time, the regular Marvel 616 Universe is involved*. The result leaves me thinking that just maybe there's a little life left in this quickly rotting husk.

The last volume pretty much picked up where the first left off and it ended on a cliffhanger, presumably for this volume to pick up on. It doesn't. Actually, this volumes story doesn't even take place after the events of volume 2**. The 616 universe we all know and love is clearly set in present continuity while the time period of the Zombieverse they encounter is actually the time between the cosmic seven leaving and returning. This takes a bit of retconning, really***, but whatever, I can roll with it.

The story opens with a mission gone horribly wrong. Floridas Initiative team, the Command, combs the swamps of Citrusville after a distress call, quickly finding themselves confronted with a grisly scene. Before they can realize what's happened, they're wiped out; only one survives, while another goes into hibernation for an uncertain amount of time to try and purge the virus. One of the zombies from that troublesome universe managed to make it over using the Nexus of All Realities; no one knows how many infected are roaming the swamp, which is, of course, a problem, especially if they make it out of the swamp. Before you know it, the "fleshy" hating Machine Man is sent into the zombie universe to get a sample to help come up with some manner of vaccine.

You can probably guess how smoothly that mission goes.

The new approach actually does wonders for extending the life of the flagging franchise. For the first time, we've got a pretty distinct set of characters for our main cast. It feels more like they're trying to tell an actual story - with, of course, the dark humor - instead of constantly trying to outgross themselves. The zombies are now an element, not the sole driving force of the series, and it makes a bigger difference than you'd think.

Van Lente's style is a fair amount of why this works. He brings back the comedy elements that had been toned down last time, but it's no longer about the joke or hearing about Daredevils blood bloated ankles needing to be punctured. The chief character, Machine Man, actually shows character growth over the course of the volume.

Starting as the distinct NEXTWAVE version Warren Ellis introduced us to, he changes a bit as the volume goes on, especially when confronted about his dickery by an old robot flame. By the end, he's even accepting of a name he long denied. That's a pretty big jump in actual storytelling for a series that mostly subsided on things like Hulk eating a human and then having the bones explode through his stomach when he reverts to zombie Banner.

We even get a pretty decent addition to the Marvel universe out of ARMOR, an organization dedicated to handling inter-dimensional threats. In a way, it completes the circle in some way. It's not just the acronyms - you know, armor goes with sword goes with shield - but the fact that it makes sense that the Marvel world would have an organization each dedicated to different threats. With SHIELD handling most Earth based problems, SWORD dealing with space and ARMOR handling threats from other dimensions, they're pretty much covered.

I hope this is the last of these though. If I see HELMET or BOOTS, I'll be unable to keep from laughing uncontrollably. As it is, we still have HAMMER lingering around as a villain organization when it really should have dissolved entirely at the end of Osborns time at the top.

This time, we have Kevin Walker on art. His work is a bit cleaner, but when it comes time to illustrate the yuck, he doesn't shy away. Check out the image of the zombie Kingpin, champagne glass full of blood and eyeballs, bloody human bones on the table behind him. It's ridiculous, but a fun ridiculous. I wonder how much of the little touches were Walkers idea and how much was actually in the script. Either way, a good job all around.

One last thing to note. This volume does come complete with a cover gallery, one that goes the whole nine and collects all the zombie variants that were on books while this series ran. I'm always happy to see a full cover gallery in volumes, but good grief these zombie variants. Can we nix these whenever a Marvel Zombies miniseries shambles around? I'm tired of them. The joke - you know, taking iconic covers and zombifying them to disgusting effect - is just not funny anymore. See above about telling the same joke too many times.

The Score: 8 out of 10

I actually really enjoyed this one. Moreso than both of the preceding volumes. Van Lente and Walker revitilize a concept that was withering on the vine. Worth checking out; hell, despite the number three on the cover, you don't need to read the previous ones. Skip 'em, if you're so inclined. Originally I thought this would be the last volume for me, but I'm going to stick around, especially considering the next one is going to have Man-Thing and the Midnight Sons.

I am always down for teams of ridiculous super movie monsters.

* Interestingly, this is probably the first time there's been any kind of actual link between the Main universe and the Ultimate universe. Both have come into conflict with the Zombieverse by now, which is the closest the two ever came to crossing over. Whether Marvel will stick to their guns on the determination not to let the two directly meet remains to be seen.

** I don't believe the story and characters of the first two Marvel Zombies are wrapped up within the numbered line. MZ4 is apparently a direct sequel to the events of this volume. I'm pretty sure they got around to tying the original plots off in one of the numerous offshoots.

*** The end of the first volume had the remaining members of the main zombie crew we followed assert dominance over the right to eat Galactus. They were, quite simply, the alpha zombies. I recall it being pretty clearly implied they wiped out the rest of the zombies who tried to get in the way of their cosmic meal. The events of volume 2 - where aside from the docile Hawkeye, Wasp and Colonel America there isn't a zombie to be found on Earth - backed it up. As you can probably guess, this volume shows us that there's still a pretty damn big contingent of zombies floating around after the cosmic zombies left. Doesn't make much sense, but the first two miniseries were riddled with odd contradictory moments, so it's not worth thinking on too much.

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