It shouldn't have worked. By all accounts, it even started as a joke, punning off of a long-time term for Marvel fans. And even though they seem to have become ubiquitous in marketing, Marvel has actually not overplayed the existence of the Marvel Zombies, at least when compared to all the other golden egg-laying geese they have.
In fact, with Marvel Zombies 2 #1 hitting the stores on Wednesday, the publisher shows signs of actual restraint, letting writer Robert Kirkman and artist Sean Phillips simply tell a good story that will reach a logical conclusion. Though a couple of other titles have played around with different places in the Zombies continuity, most recently in Dwayne McDuffie's Fantastic Four run, Marvel is willing to give us the end just a year or so after they gave us the beginning.
At least forty years have passed since the events of the first series, which left six undead Marvel heroes with the power (and mission, perhaps) of Galactus. Marvel Zombies 2 begins with growth in their ranks from Marvel's cosmic characters - okay, so Marvel cleverly leaves that story untold for now.
They've reached the end of space, and decide to return home to Earth. Within their ranks, however, some have noticed something - they think they are no longer driven by rapacious hunger, but habit. Naturally, Peter Parker notices this first, being the easily manipulated but at heart true moral compass of the group.
Shifting back to Earth, it turns out that he's absolutely right, for the zombified Wasp has assimilated with the few survivors. In turn, T'challa's children have found another zombie who has survived and lost the urge, in yet another of Kirkman's sly tweaks on the big events of the last few years. We are gearing up for Civil War, undead style, but the great thing about this possible parody is that Kirkman isn't sacrificing the drama in order to make us at best smile knowingly.
While the whole Zombie saga has had its goofy moments,
it has also had some absolutely horrific ones which have
compromised the characters - or carried them to a terribly
logical extreme. Reed Richards knowingly infecting his teammates
in order to work through his own grief, Colonel America
proving to be a ruthless zombie leader, and Hank Pym feeding
off of T'Challa come to mind.
At last, though, some will be given redemption. Peter's
eating of Mary Jane and Aunt May have clearly gnawed at
him. Logically, the guilt will only grow as he realizes
that if he could have resisted long enough, he might have
been able to save them instead. But who else among "the
Galacti" will figure it out and embrace good again? Just
for the irony, my money is on Dark Phoenix.
This is how Kirkman keeps luring me back. He really has me wondering. And Phillips remains the secret weapon of this book. An artist best known for realistic stories, Phillips clearly relishes his shot at the larger Marvel Universe, making it simultaneously glorious, horrific and believable. The jawless undead Firelord sums it all up.
So Marvel has done it again, but this time without making
us shell out for a bunch of other books in order to feel
complete. If they keep up this good storytelling in a finite
series, they might convert a few more Marvel Zombies.