Welcome to this week’s Comic Character spotlight! In celebration of spooky month, each spotlight throughout October we will be visiting the realm of harrowing horror. This week, we’ll be discussing the mythological, undead corpses – zombies. Interestingly, Marvel writer Robert Kirkman and illustrator Sean Phillips also had a taste for terror and created a five-issue limited series published from December 2005 to April 2006 entitled “Marvel Zombies.” This would later become only the first part in a series of Marvel zombie-related tales.
The story takes place in an alternate universe – Earth 2149 – where superheroes have been infected and overtaken with a deadly virus that spreads through a bite by an infected corpse – one which transforms them into undead monsters. This virus brought forth an undeniable hunger for human flesh, affecting a wide array of superheroes, from the Avengers to the Fantastic Four.
Although the zombies featured in the comics mirror the slow, mindless, unintelligent nature of the walkers featured in “The Walking Dead” (2003), there are also fascinating differences. Namely, the undead heroes harbor their original personalities, intellect and powers while existing as zombies, yet they are possessed and overtaken by their desire to consume the flesh of other beings. In line with the typical zombification trope, the series also contains gruesome elements that are notably absent from other Marvel projects.
The popularity of the first installment spurred multiple sequel series, including “Marvel Zombies 2” (2007) and “Marvel Zombies 3” (2008). As the Marvel Zombies universe continued to grow and a 4th installment was released, more characters beyond the typical superheroes were incorporated, such as Man-Thing, Morbius the Living Vampire, Werewolf by Night and Mephisto.
The zombies also saw increased incorporation into the Marvel universe, as they were featured in a “Secret Wars” miniseries in 2015. In this miniseries, the zombies battle Ultron for a multitude of years before teaming up in an alliance. Later, Black Panther also weaponizes the zombies and uses them as a distraction in his battle against Doctor Doom.
The zombies have since been introduced into the Marvel Cinematic Universe through the fifth episode of the Disney Plus series “What If….?” (2021), dubbed “What If… Zombies?!” In the episode, the infection or outbreak of the undead is caused by Dr. Hank Pym as he ventures into the Quantum Realm to search for his wife, Janey van Dyne. When the two are reunited, Hank is faced with a horrifying reality: his wife has contracted a deadly quantum virus that has contaminated her mind. This leads to Hank’s infection and the subsequent infection of many other heroes.
With the introduction of Marvel’s Zombies in “What if….?” (2021), I’m hopeful that it’ll open the door for more horror-inspired elements littered throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Imagine: the eerie ambiance, gore and harrowing soundtrack of a Marvel project filled with terror would definitely be perfect fit for the month of October.