To close out our Monstrous Comics series, we’re heading back to the mid-2000s for an examination of an incredibly popular zombie comic by Robert Kirkman.
Marvel Zombies launched in late 2005, kicking off a new take on the Marvel Universe that would launch sequels, spinoffs, a crossover with Army of Darkness, and more. It’s written by Robert Kirkman, drawn by Sean Phillips, colored by June Chung, and lettered by Randy Gentile. The concept is brutal in its simplicity: most of Marvel’s superheroes have been turned into zombies. Now, going in, I had my expectations – I figured we’d see a select few heroes fending off hordes of their former friends and foes, who have been turned into mindless but still super-powered undead killers. I was right, but for one aspect… these zombies aren’t mindless at all, and therein lies the horror.
The first issue follows Magneto as he tries and fails to not get eaten by the Avengers. He fights valiantly, attempting to destroy the zombified heroes in gory ways, but even a headshot that scalps Captain America from the eyebrows and up doesn’t stop the star-spangled Avenger. Magneto is cornered, ambushed, and consumed by the ravenous Avengers who, upon eating his flesh, regain some of their senses. They’d been reveling in the hunt, hitting him with their trademark battle-banter, but upon filling their bellies with the mutant’s flesh, they seem closer to their human side. Spider-Man laments devouring Mary-Jane and Aunt May, while the other urge each other to focus on the issue at hand. They’re new to dealing with their condition and don’t know how the biology of it works, which leads us to some gory scenes and dialogue. Bruce Banner isn’t digesting the entire leg he ate as the Hulk, so his stomach bursts and a bone juts out. Daredevils legs are filling with blood because his heart has stopped beating. Tragically aware of their situation, the Avengers are now torn between their insatiable hunger and their desire to set things right – or to do the seemingly impossible and just die.
I didn’t know what to expect with this series, but I enjoyed this first issue quite a bit. It’s a lot grosser than I expected, and I love how Kirkman plays the situation humorously and seriously at the same time. We can empathize with Spider-Man in one panel, and laugh at the reaction to this intense gore in the next panel. Kirkman doesn’t walk a tightrope with the tone, either – he’s throwing it all out there, and letting the book get really weird, which I like. It doesn’t settle on being a serious horror comic, an emotional superhero book, or a comedic send-up of the Marvel universe… opting instead to be all three. Sean Phillips, who I know from his crime comics with Ed Brubaker, is also a terrific superhero and horror artist, hitting the things I like about both of those genres. He gives these characters their hero moments and big reveal panels even though they’re rotting monsters, and he shows just enough gore to gross readers out while never making it seem like torture porn. Instead, it’s just pretty damn fun.
Marvel Zombies surprised me with its unique feel, and kept me around for an interesting and surprising take. It’s almost as if Robert Kirkman has a knack for writing zombies.