The Zombies - This Time, With Literate Roots

Rosemann and Van Lente on Marvel Zombies

What started out as a slightly humorous turn into horror has turned into a full-blown subsection of the Marvel Universe. And this September, some of the original Marvel Zombies bite back in the five-week Marvel Zombies Return event. Hercules/Hulk scribe Fred Van Lente, the writer who handled Marvel Zombies 3 & 4 will be at helm, but he won’t walk alone. Joining him are some of the biggest names in undead fiction: David Wellington, Jonathan Maberry, and Seth Grahame-Smith. Van Lente will write the first and fifth parts, respectively Marvel Zombies Return: Spider-Man, and Marvel Zombies Return: Avengers. In the intervening three weeks, readers will also see Wellington on Marvel Zombies Return: Iron Man, Maberry on Marvel Zombies Return: Wolverine, and Grahame-Smith on Marvel Zombies Return: Hulk.

In terms of art, it’s a veritable feast of talent there as well. You’ll see Nick Dragotta (X-Men: First Class) on Marvel Zombies Return: Spider-Man, Andrea Mutti on Marvel Zombies Return: Iron Man, Jason Shawn Alexander (Dead Irons on b]Marvel Zombies Return: Wolverine[/b], Richard Elson (2000 AD) on MZR: Hulk and Wellington Alves (Nova) on MZR: Avengers.

We spoke with editor Bill Rosemann about how the decomposing ball got rolling with the new approach, and he gave us the full autopsy.

Rosemann says, “A couple months ago a few of us in the office were talking about Marvel Zombies and about where we could take the story next. Our head of Sales David Gabriel brought up the fact that we hadn’t seen the most famous zombies – such as Spider-Man and Wolverine and Colonel America – since the end of Marvel Zombies 2. That led me to a conversation with fright master Fred Van Lente, who quickly dreamed up the creepy question of: Just where did those flesh-eaters disappear to after they were teleported into oblivion?

“We then had our main story idea – and our format (one issue for each week of September) -- but not our creators. Fred, who has taken the Marvel Zombies saga to horrific new heights, is quite the in-demand scribe, and could only commit to writing the beginning and ending of this latest chapter (as well as lending an evil eye to oversee the middle chapters). As a major zombie fan who has been enjoying the recent resurgence of zombie fiction, I thought it would be fun to invite some of today’s top zombie novelists to try their hand at our crazy comics. A couple weeks of scouring my local book store and the ever-helpful internet led me to the darkened doorways of David Wellington (Monster Island), Jonathan Maberry (Patient Zero) and Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).

“As luck would have it, all three were interested, available, and true-blue comics fans. Better yet, they were all a pleasure to collaborate with, and all knocked their chapters right out of the park with the first swing! These three might not just be the next three great Marvel Zombies writers, but the next three great Marvel writers, period!”

So, with that in mind, let’s look to Van Lente himself, a writer that’s covered a good deal of the Marvel Universe in recent years. Since he brought the scourge to the 616 in the first place, let’s see what he has to say.

Newsarama: As a writer that's worked in several areas in comics (books focused on younger readers, super-hero fare, fairly humorous super-hero fare, horror), do you have a particular way in which you approach each genre?

Fred Van Lente: Each one has its own unique challenges. All of them involve surprising the reader in some unique and interesting ways. Marvel Zombies is unique in that there's always a certain degree of morbid humor to it -- these pop culture icons in colorful costumes devouring one another. To a certain extent, I started Marvel Zombies 3 with the idea of making it more of a straightforward horror book -- likable protagonists against impossible odds. But the inherent ridiculousness of the concept just kept creeping in. Some by the end I had Zombie Morbius proclaiming he was a "Vampbie" -- half vampire, half zombie. Stuff like that.

NRAMA: Were you a zombie fan before taking on the MZs? If so, what were some of your favorite examples of that sub-genre, and what about them captured your imagination?

FVL: I sincerely believe Night of the Living Dead is just about the perfect independent film, and one of the best horror movies ever made -- just the right balance of character, tone and technique. For a change of pace, I'd recommend people check out the "supernatural zombie" genre, which has always played second-fiddle to Romero's more science fiction-based ("virus-based," I guess you could call them) undead. I just saw the Hammer movie Plague of the Zombies, which was a lot of fun. The Serpent and the Rainbow is an overlooked Wes Craven gem and I Walked with a Zombie is justly praised for its moody beauty.

NRAMA: For Marvel Zombies, you came in after a couple of successful takes. Why do you think that the MZs have resonated so much with the readers?

FVL: The combination of Marvel icons and gore has proved to be a winning combination. I keep comparing it to punk rock, this joyful obnoxiousness of thumbing your nose at the established order.

NRAMA: By MZ3, the book began to have real consequences for the 616. Is that a tricky balancing act, making the threat feel real, yet sort of knowing that Marvel probably wouldn't allow their main universe to be overrun by flesh-eating monsters (though it might make a great third act for Dark Reign)?

FVL: It is a very difficult balancing act -- you have to make the threat credible enough for people to fear for the heroes, yet still somehow come up with a plausible way that the Marvel Universe won't be completely overrun. Mark Millar set the bar pretty high when he introduced the Marvel Zombies in Ultimate Fantastic Four by proclaiming they devoured their world in a day. But I think we've been pretty successful so far at working within continuity.

NRAMA: Say you had a reader that's a big Marvel fan, but hasn't given the zombie books a whirl yet. What would you say to that reader to get them to give the concept a try?

FVL: Hopefully, the appeal is the same as any other good horror work -- likable protagonists, a seemingly impossible threat, a relentless pace of tension and action, some very imaginative gory violence, and not really taking itself all that seriously.

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