Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Review: Marvel Zombies 5

You know, I think Marvel may have published too many Marvel Zombies comics. I say this for two reasons. First, looking at this page on Wikipedia, I realize that they published about three times as many of the damn things than I would have guessed they did. Second, they published so many of them that I actually lost track of which ones I read.

Last week I was at Half Price Books, and found hardcovers of both Marvel Zombies 4 and Marvel Zombies 5 for less than $5 apiece. Those were both written by Fred Van Lente, a favorite writer of mine, and both had solid artists attached (4 was drawn by Kev Walker, while 5 had a different artist attached to each issue, including the likes of Kano Michael Kaluta). I snapped them both up, took 'em home and read them both.

The first, a direct sequel to Marvel Zombies 3, features Morbius, The Living Vampire's new A.R.M.O.R.-sponsored Midnight Sons strikeforce of Werewolf By Night's Jack Russell, Son of Satan's Daimon Hellstrom, Man-Thing's Jennifer Kale and Man-Thing himself trying to foil the zombified head of Deadpool and his leg-man Simon Garth (from Tales of The Zombie) from spreading the zombie virus further...or letting it fall into the hands of The Hood or the dread Dormammamu. So basically, the stars of all my favorite Marvel Essentials editions (minus Godzilla) teaming up to fight zombies. Sold.

The second, rather randomly, features Howard The Duck and Machine Man, the latter the hero of Marvel Zombies 3, here being written along the lines of Warren Ellis' winning Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. characterization, traveling the Marvel multiverse in search of blood samples from various zombie incursions.

It wasn't until about five minutes ago, when I prepared to write a review of Marvel Zombies 4, that I realized I had actually already done so, having previously bought and read it in trade paperback! That was in 2010, but apparently I had no memory of ever having read it. While I was in the act of reading it, the only thing that struck me as particularly familiar were the godawful Greg Land covers, which I was positive I had seen and written about before, but I just assumed I did so during the regular looks at Marvel solicitations, where my eyes would have first been assaulted by them, and my belief in a just world would have been insulted by the fact that the biggest comic book publisher in North America had paid Greg Land actual money in exchange for a drawing of a woman whose breasts were each as wide as her thighs.
So either it was a terriblly unmemorable story, I have a shitty memory or Marvel has published way too many Marvel Zombies comics. I'm going to go with the latter.

Anyway, Marvel Zombies 5. This is the third and final of the Van Lente-written Marvel Zombies books dealing with A.R.M.O.R., a S.H.I.E.L.D.-like military organization whose acronym stands for Altered-Reality Monitoring and Operational Response); they are at least conveniently numbered 3, 4 and 5, since Marvel also apparently published some other Marvel Zombies material between 4 and 5. (Seriously, the franchise is getting X-Men complicated here).

Due to a "Planestorm," A.R.M.O.R. has banned its agents from traveling between realities, for fear of spreading zombie infections, but our protagonists Machine Man and Howard The Duck are breaking regulations to travel into different zombie-afflicted areas to collect samples from each form of ghoul, each of which is given the designation of a particular director of a zombie movie (a Romero, a Boyle, a Raimi, etc). The reason for their mission is that Morbisu, The Living Vampire hopes to discover a cure for the virus by comparing alternate strains. As to what brought these two together, Machine Man is immune (being a robot) and Howard...maybe it was just time for Marvel to put Howard The Duck in another comic, before people forgot they owned him...? He says in-story that he needed a new job after his Avengers Initiative team was shuttered; Howard, a Clevelander, was part of the Ohio Avengers, a team I sorely wanted to know the roster of ever since Marvel first introduced the Fifty State Initiative plan, one of the few good ideas to come out of Mark Millar's Civil War.

The format of the five-issue series finds the characters traveling to a different reality in each issue, interacting with the inhabitants there as they fend off a different form of zombie, and then moving on to another world.

The first reality is the Kano/Tom Palmer-drawn Earth-483, "designated The Territory,'" where all of Marvel's Western heroes apparently live. Or lived. A mysterious green meteorite passing over Boot Hill in Rango causes the dead—all of 'em Marvel Western heroes—to rise from the grave to seek the flesh of the living. A "Romero" infestation, some of the zombies have enough muscle memory from their years among the living that they can still work their guns, and it's up for the old, bitter, besotted Hurricane and his super-speed to re-kill them all.

Before he dies, he passes his powers on to his daughter, Jackie Kane, who takes the superhero name "Swift Cloud." She's rescued by Machine Man and Howard, who arrive only on the 22nd page of the 23-page first issue. Van Lente's entrance line for Howard falls pretty flat, as it doesn't really make any sense, but he recovers immediately with this in the very next panel:
The premise of this series is a pretty good one, even if the execution varies widely from issue to issue. As far as Multiverses go, Marvel just doesn't have a very big or very interesting one...or, at least, many of the more exciting and familiar locales aren't visited during this particular jaunt. This first Earth benefits from some great art and from being chock-full of Marvel heroes, albeit some of the most rarely scene ones.

In the next chapter, still drawn by Kano and Palmer, but with Alvaro Lopez joining Palmer in inking, our threesome visits the near-future world of Kilraven, Earth-691. There they fight against, with and then against again Kilraven and his crew and their Martian-sponsored foes. The zombies here aren't actually undead zombies, but "Infected;" that's right, this type as known as a "Boyle." (The grandest, grand guignoil scene involves zombie fetuses exploding out of pregnant zombie ladies' bellies, which strikes me as more of a "Jackson" kind of thing, but why split hairs?).

From there it's off to somewhere medieval, where Kaluta presents a four-page story of Marvel's Black Knight character which involves an evil book that makes evil dead, and here our heroes naturally faced the loud-mouthed, giggling, wise-cracking type of zombie known as a "Raimi." Van Lente does a pretty good Army of Darkness pastiche here, although by this point, the artwork is getting a little unfocused—after Kaluta's contribution, we get 10 pages of Kano/Palmer and six by Felix Ruiz, whose work looks nothing like theirs—and it's becoming clear that the book is all premise and not plot.

Kano and Fowler disappear for the rest of the book. The fifth issue is drawn by Fernando Blanco and Felix Ruiz, and sees our heroes in a cyberpunk future where zombie infection spreads via data (and a grown-up Amadeus Cho and his gorgon girlfriend Delphyne from Incredible Hercules meet a gruesome end (and Swift Cloud wears Matrix drag). This issue deals most heavily with Machine Man's heartbreak over losing Jocasta, who is a bad guy in this future world, but that was really only interesting in that it generated this image earlier in the series:
And, finally, the series just sort of peters out in the last issue/chapter, drawn almost entirely by Blanco (save for one page by Frank Brunner), which is apparently set in "our" world, and allows Marvel to make fun of two of its favorite targets: DC Comics and Marvel Comics readers.

The jab at DC Comics is just this, which appears at the top of the top of the first page of the story:
That's...interesting...? It's also how the zombie infection is spread in this particular reality, as a fanboy stereotype character who reads superhero comics just so he can constantly complain about how terrible they are ("If I don't keep following 'em," he tells his local comic shop owner, "How will I know when they stop sucking?"). We spend the majority of this final section with this character Wendel, who is thoroughly annoying and unlikeable, and yet still not as annoying and ulikeable as Van Lente, Blanco and company spending so many pages erecting this particular straw man to beat on.
There's a sort of neat twist near the end, where this zombie, occurring as he does in the "real" world, suffers from rigor mortis, and Howard rattles off a whole list of reasonable questions about zombies that are perfectly logical reasons why they wouldn't really work in the real world, but rarely if ever get raised in zombie narratives, as the point of such stories is to have zombies in them, rather than be realistic.

Does Morbius come up with his zombie cure? The story leaves us hanging, but then it turns out to not have ever really been a story at all. Sure, it had all the component parts, and there are plenty of interesting ideas in there, but ultimately Marvel Zombies 5 read like an illustrated and published version of a story meeting between writer and editor, a first or second draft that somehow went to press instead of a final script.

Or does saying so make me sound too much like Wendel, who, you won't be surprised to learn, also reviews the comics he reads on the Internet!

...

I just hope I remember reading this one, so I don't accidentally buy it again in a few years...

3 comments:

Jer said...

Interesting. I like van Lente's work but even his name couldn't get me to read a Marvel Zombies book.

. As far as Multiverses go, Marvel just doesn't have a very big or very interesting one...or, at least, many of the more exciting and familiar locales aren't visited during this particular jaunt.

I guess the more interesting worlds would be off-limits because you wouldn't want to destroy them with a zombie plague for a one-off mini-series.

Though I honestly can't think of too many worlds that are all that interesting in the Marvel multiverse - Marvel was always better about filling their primary universe up with interesting locations than DC was (Savage Land, Blue Area of the Moon, Monster Island, the various Space Empires, etc.) while DC was always better at coming up with (or acquiring) interesting alternate Earths - most of Marvel's alternate Earths are What If universes that are nearly indistinguishable from the mainline MU right up until something horrible happens and Wolverine/Spider-man/the Punisher/the whole planet dies horribly.

(They could have crossed over with the Ultraverse or the New Universe, I guess, but the former would require Marvel acknowledging that they purchased Malibu once upon a time and I'm not actually sure that the New Universe counts as interesting in 2015.)

Wayne Allen Sallee said...

Don't kick yourself, Caleb.I've bought several books on Amazon twice, thankfully at very cheap prices so in effect I was simply paying the original price.

The Marvel Multiverse annoys me more because they don't have an Earth-4 or Earth-11, it is always Earth 900,902 or something. Grant Morrison handled it well in MULTIVERSITY by having the Ultimate Universe analogue as Earth-7 and the regular Marvel Universe analogue as Earth-8. I really have no interest in a Multiverse with 900,000 Earths, though I've been enjoying Hickman's Avengers storyline.

I agree with Jer. Marvel has been better with creating great geographical content than DC.

Caleb: I STILL have two copies of EMPOWERED#1, and will GIVE it away to you if you want.

Akilles De Picosekunti said...

I do wonder why people read follow stories they don`t like that much. But I don`t wanna write a story like that last chapter, ever.