Guggenheim & Gonzales on Bringing 'Super Zombies' to Life
Guggenheim & Gonzales on Super Zombies
Heroes and villains, working together against zombies.Think you’ve heard the story before? Not this one – this is Super Zombies, written by Marc Guggenheim and Vince Gonzales with art by Mel Rubi, and launching in March from Dynamite. The opening story will be five issues to start, and will act as a lead-in to an ongoing series. But before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s step back a moment to Guggenheim's co-writer, Gonzales. If you’re thinking that you’ve heard the name before, but can’t figure out where, put his name in front of “CBS News” and say it out loud. Prior to joining forces with Guggenheim, Gonzales was a well known correspondent for CBS News, covering any number of stories, from the Michael Jackson trial to professionals with bogus degrees and dozens more stories. Go on – click the link. You’ll recognize him.
So back to the zombies with super powers...yeah. We spoke with the writing team about the story, where it came from and what readers can expect.Newsarama: Let’s start with you Vince - if you could, give us a little of your background that landed you here? Your name is familiar in almost that unconscious way from hearing it attached to your CBS reports, but how in the world did you make the journey from working with Dan Rather to working with Marc on super-powered zombies? Vince Gonzales: I’ve been a comic book reader since I was a kid. In fact, while covering the Michael Jackson trial for 8 months, one of the best ways I found to get away from that madness was to visit the local comic shop and pick up the latest issues or a good graphic novel. It was surprising how many other reporters I bumped into there. Over the last couple of years I’ve started to focus more on some personal writing projects. One of them was a comic book idea involving zombies that I described to Marc. He remembered that story when Dynamite called him about “Super Zombies” and asked if he could bring me in on the project. And, while I don’t want to give away too much, I think it’s safe to say the most annoying “zombie” in this story is a TV News anchor. Whether she’s actually been infected or not is another question.
NRAMA: Let’s get into how you wound up how did you wind up at Dynamite with Super Zombies? Marc specifically - you've got a fuller plate than most in comics...Marc Guggenheim: I had breakfast with Nick Barrucci and he pitched me a title -- “Super Zombies” -- and asked if I’d be interested in working on it. As you noted, however, my plate’s been a bit full. Nick, of course, understood that, so he was open when I suggested working on the book with Vince -- who has a real passionate love for zombies. In a literary sense, I mean.
VG: It’s purely platonic. Honest. Actually, Marc called me up and said something like, “Remember that zombie idea you had? There’s another project I’ve been asked to consider and I thought your ‘zombie expertise’ might come in handy.” I’ve been called a lot of things in my career, but zombie expert was not one of them.NRAMA: So give us the high concept here. You've got a campy-ish/grindhouse style name and from the little bit of information out there, it sounds like you're not going to be backing away from the fun the title implies? VG: I think there’s an element of humor and fun in this. Marc and I were talking about it one day and decided we wanted to tell a story on an epic scale that still had room for a little laughs. When I think about the movies I like the best, they are the ones that take you on a roller coaster ride. You’re laughing one minute, stunned the next, and then scared. Hopefully we achieved even a little bit of that. MG: There are going to be obvious comparisons to Marvel Zombies and I think one of the things Vince and I were most concerned with was crafting a story that could not -- in any way -- be mistaken for MZ. Not that MZ isn’t a kickass comic, but we wanted to make sure we weren’t copying it. The truth is, the whole project’s a bit subversive because I don’t think it’s what you’re expecting from the title -- and I mean that in a good way. NRAMA: So are there established heroes on this world before the plague hits, or does the vaccine make them supers, and later makes them zombies? VG: On this Earth, there were a series of plagues and, after they passed, there was an event we call “The Emergence” – and a small fraction of normal people (good ones and bad ones) began exhibiting amazing powers. It’s unclear at first what causes this. Is it a mutation in the human genome as a result of the plagues or is it a combination of the genetic vaccines used to try and cure the disease? That’s a central mystery in the series. Whatever the cause, however, The Emergence throws this world into turmoil and then, just as an age of heroes and villains is about to begin, another plague strikes – the Reviver Plague. As the number of people transforming into zombies (or “revivers” as we call them) explodes, the heroes and villains come together to fight this threat. Then one of them is bitten and the first Super Zombie is born. Things go downhill from there. Eventually, every powered individual on the planet is infected. One group manages to stay clean by taking refuge in a remote location. One of the strongest uninfected heroes is in a coma, locked away by a government who fears what would happen if he woke up and was bitten. MG: And... now you don’t need to read the series. Kidding. Actually, I think this little synopsis shows (a) how well thought out this series is and (b) how different it is from your standard “it’s zombies with super-heroes” pitch. NRAMA: That said, what's the world that the story is set on like in regards to super powered people and regular people when the fun starts? VG: Since only a small number of people suddenly begin to exhibit strange powers, this world has heroes, villains and normal people. Marc and I spent a lot of time before we started writing creating an entire world with a pretty-well developed history. We have bios for each of our characters which include back stories and major events in their lives that help determine their actions in the story we’re telling. One storyline we have follows a regular family as they try to survive in a country overrun by revivers, Super Zombies, and the general chaos of a worldwide disaster. Once the Reviver Plague breaks out there are a lot of flesh-eating revivers and a smaller group of Super Zombies running around. MG: The scope is pretty friggin’ epic. I give Vince a huge amount of credit here. I threw in some ideas, but he really did the heavy lifting when it came to creating an entire superhero universe. That we could then destroy. VG: Yeah. That was fun. Like building that city out of blocks when you a kid and then rampaging through it Godzilla-style. We all did that, right?
NRAMA: Marc, not to be overly blunt, but you work in the Marvel U, and you brought it up earlier. How is this not an iteration of Marvel Zombies, just set "over here" instead of in the Marvel Universe?MG: That’s an incredibly fair question. I think Vince’s synopsis of the story provides the best answer. I mean, you read that and I think it’s self-evident that this story could never be done with the Marvel Universe. The whole story hinges upon plot turns and mysteries that are extremely universe-specific -- and that universe just isn’t the Marvel one. Can I be honest? You think I wouldn’t like some of the royalties that would come with a Marvel Zombies 4? I mean, I just bought a house. But the fact is that the story that Vince and I have come up with just couldn’t be done in the MU. (Why do I suddenly have this mental image of the comments page of this article being filled with “Well, HERE’S how you do it...”?) Also, like I said earlier, we went the extra mile to make sure that this project couldn’t be seen as an MZ rip-off because we knew the comparisons were inevitable. So, no, you’re not being overly blunt at all. NRAMA: So how many super zombies are we talking about? Who came/comes/is coming up with them? Any favorites so far? VG: We’re talking about a pretty large cast. We actually came up with around 40 “powered” characters. Some of them show up only for a little bit, but many have stories we’d like to explore in the future. MG: It’s a little ridiculous. A huge amount of creative development was done for a mere five issues. Of course, the hope is that this universe will, in success, live on beyond the initial five-issue series.
NRAMA: Who are your leads among them?VG: Our leads are Neuron (the scientist whose vaccine saved the world from the plagues and may also have given some super powers), Promethean (one of the few plague victims Neuron could not completely cure), and a machine intelligence we call NANO. They’re our Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. MG: Hey, I didn’t realize that! You were trying to sneak something past the Jew, weren’t you? Jeez... (Kidding, folks.)
NRAMA: The concept sounds solid, the cast is...large and interesting...so what's the story? Is there a resitanceresistance looking for a cure and a return to normalcy?VG: Actually, the reviver plague and the rise of the Super Zombies has so twisted this world that there is actually a resistance fighting any attempt at a cure. MG: That’s how backwards and upside-down everything in this series is. The cure might even be worse than the disease -- if you can imagine that. VG: Becoming a Super Zombie has changed the old relationships between heroes and villains here. Some “heroes” have embraced the hunger for human flesh the transformation brings. Some “villains” are horrified by what has happened are working with their old enemies to protect humanity. The “super teams” that had formed in this world’s Golden Age have fragmented and new groups have formed. Some work for a cure and for humanity. Others, pushed by the hunger, enjoy being at the top of the food chain and are looking for way to cultivate humans as a source of nourishment. They don’t want a cure.
NRAMA: Zombies have been done many times - and many times well given Romero's body of work, and even the 28 Days/Weeks movies and Kirkman's Walking Dead. Given that the path seems well trod - how do you come up with an original zombie story?VG: The great thing about zombies (or revivers) is they are a blank slate. They can represent so much. In our story, the non-powered revivers, as a group, are really the “silent majority.” They don’t speak. They don’t show emotion. They don’t react much to anything but their hunger. They are like a virus. But, as individuals, they are each also a bit like suicide bombers. Anyone can become a reviver, at any time. There is no safe place to hide from them because your loved ones or even you may become one. That’s the dread normal or “un-infected” people have – that they could be the greatest threat to those they love -- not some stranger shambling out in the dark. The Super Zombies on the other hand know exactly what they’ve become and they are forced to make a lot of hard and awful choices. And that’s a big part of our story – how do you fight an overwhelming compulsion, a survival instinct, when you have powers that make it almost impossible for anyone to stop you from satisfying your hunger? MG: Exactly. The zombie genre may be, as you say, “well trod” but the super-powered zombie sub-genre isn’t. And, in any case, I think from this interview you can tell that we’ve come up with a story that’s pretty original -- that takes some tried-and-true elements and combines them in original ways in service of a unique story.
NRAMA: So what are your zombies like? What are the rules for them? Are they quick? Dumb? Social?
VG: There are really two sets of rules. The non-powered revivers obey the general zombie rules. They are, for the most part, mindless killing machines (although they sometimes exhibit strange behaviors that make you wonder what’s really going on in their decaying craniums. The Super Zombies, however, have their own set of rules. They have all their mental faculties. They know what they are doing and they still have their powers. The one thing both groups have in common is they need to feed. If they don’t, then they begin to decompose and rot away.
NRAMA: And finally guys, what gets the ball rolling in the first issue?
VG: Issue one starts with a bang as members of the anti-cure forces attack the lab of the one man on Earth who might actually come up with a cure: Neuron.MG: Plus we get a good look at how the whole plague started. It’s good stuff. But don’t take my word for it -- pick it up and read and judge for yourselves.