Thursday, February 28, 2008

Zombies Are So Played Out

I don't know about you but I'm tired of zombies. Take MARVEL ZOMBIES 2 as a case in point.

You might not be familiar with MARVEL ZOMBIES, but in brief:

Spun off from ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR, this five-issue miniseries shows a world where a zombie virus has run rampant, turning the superbeings of that Earth into ravening zombies. Humanity is reduced to a tiny remnant; the zombies-- including Giant-Man, Luke Cage, Iron Man, Hawkeye, Spider-Man, Wolverine and more-- are distracted from squabbling over the last few survivors by the intrusion of their biggest challenge yet: Galactus.

The first miniseries has plenty of great moments. The heroes, gathered into a bickering collective who fight each other over food, are driven by their need to feed. Once that need is sated, they are (briefly) once more in command of their faculties-- and their reactions run the gamut from self-loathing (Spider-Man) to pragmatism (Colonel America) to cold-blooded ruthlessness (Giant-Man). Robert Kirkman brought out the true horror of these heroic individuals trapped in circumstances that reduce them to monsters... and they do monstrous things anyway.

MZ2 picks up the story decades later, as the most powerful zombie-heroes (augmented by Phoenix, Firelord, Gladiator and others) are returning to Earth, where Black Panther, Forge and a few remaining Acolytes lead what's left of the human race. There are power struggles within the human and zombie camps both, as well as treachery and a sick recreation of a bygone hero. What will the zombies do when they find the last source of food in the cosmos? And do the handful of humans, mutants and allies have a prayer against them?

I liked the first miniseries a lot and gave it a great review. Dark, disturbing and yet blackly humorous, it was everything-goes-bad in concentrated doses of nastiness.

The new mini? Not so much. I don't know if writer Robert Kirkman got bored with the premise or I've just seen one too many Arthur Suydam zombified cover recreations, but I'm disenchanted with the concept. The heroes are less vividly drawn, with only Spider-Man reflecting any sense of regret at basically having eaten the universe; they're basically sick of each other and long only for new universes to devour. The humans and mutants on Earth don't have much going on, either, with Black Panther resorting to truly drastic means of preserving his rule. But there's something missing-- maybe the story is pushed too far into the future, maybe the stakes are too all-or-nothing, but it feels flat compared to the original.

Or maybe I've gotten my fill, and my appetite for undead savagery has been satiated.
Here's hoping Marvel puts the zombies back in the box and moves ahead to new ideas. Frankly, it's time for the dead to stay that way.

UPDATE: In thinking it over, I figured out what part of it is. The first miniseries ties into a key Marvel moment: the coming of Galactus. How it's resolved is gruesome but entirely in keeping with the story's premise--especially given that that world's Fantastic Four was being detained in Ultimate Marvel's Earth at the time. They can't fall back in Reed's genius (or the Ultimate Nullifier) to save the day.

In short, the storyline is something we've seen before but with a very horrific twist.

The story we see in MZ2 is NOT something that ties in to a key Marvel moment-- reinterpreting Marvel history the way Suydam has reinterpreted classic covers-- and that may be why it falls flat. It's not like a "zombie replay" of Days of Future Past or the Kree-Skrull War or the Korvac Saga or Civil War or World War Hulk... anything like that... so there's no emotional resonance. Just the sight of a pitiful remnant of humanity and a few zombie heroes facing a turning point. In other words, meh.

Artwork by Arthur Suydam, copyright Marvel Comics, all rights reserved

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