My introduction to Marvel Zombies (MZ) started at a Megacon several years ago when I used to attend regularly. My first and only issue was Dead Days. I most likely bought it for chump change compared to the cover price of 5 bucks. No way I would’ve ever paid anywhere near that much for it even when it was first released. That’s way too much money for a fucking comic book that still has advertisements in it. At the time, I didn’t really know shit about MZ. I saw the comic, probably for sale on the super-cheap, thought it might be something completely different from what I’ve ever read before, and indeed it was. It can be read as a stand-alone (something you don’t wanna do) but what I also didn’t know was that it was a snippet into a larger story.
Publication order and chronology/read order are two completely different things. The zombies first appear in Ultimate Fantastic Four (FF) #21. By itself, that storyline really ain’t nothin’ special but it was the beginning of something that would go on to be legend. Dead Days by itself was incredibly funny and well-written and that’s to be expected from Robert Kirkman. He’s a damn good writer. After reading it, I let the comic sit in a short box for years (because I didn’t have any long boxes at the time) before I decided to revisit the zombies to get the full story from start to finish and that required some research because I would say online forums and answer sites aren’t that reliable. They all say something different. The Pirate Bay (that’s right, THAT Pirate Bay) had the most reliable read order list. No, you don’t start with Ultimate FF. You don’t even start with MZ vs. Army of Darkness (AoD). Or even the first MZ limited series. Surprise! You actually start with Army of Darkness #13. Who knew?
I’ve learned that sometimes it helps to let big stories play themselves out before jumping onboard because the industry likes to publish shit later on to fill in holes or to capitalize on a book’s popularity after its initial run is complete. Reading MZ in publication order would be convoluted as hell (don’t do it) so I’m glad I was years late to the party. Some comics I had the physical copy of. Others, I downloaded. AoD #13 is essential reading in the fact that if you don’t read it, you’d be wondering what Ash has to do with anything. If you’re not an AoD fan, you won’t get much out of reading the comic as a stand-alone. It ain’t that good of a read to be honest but it does lead directly into MZ vs. AoD.
Ash’s involvement is question one as you start reading and that involvement only has relevance with this crossover. Outside of that, he doesn’t matter. Question two is how the whole thing got started to begin with and that does get answered further into the storyline. There’s a third question but I’ll dig into that later on. I bought a hard copy of MZ vs. AoD from an online comic shop and lemme tell ya, that book is entertaining as hell! I don’t say that about too many comics but that one has definitely earned it. It’s written by John Layman. He’s good. You start reading Dead Days after reading several pages into chapter 2 of MZ vs. AoD. The two comics are directly related. If you read one, you’ve gotta read the other. There’s so much good stuff in both books. It’s not even the excessive gore that makes the books awesome. It’s the writing, plain and simple. Reed Richards, Doctor Doom, and Henry Pym in particular but Doc Doom’s characterization was what really stuck out. Layman took him to the extreme of his arrogance. All of the art for both books was appropriate and a good fit for the material. There is a trend in almost all of the MZ books where for a few pages, a different artist would take over. Why they did that, I have no idea.
One thing I noticed while reading these was how underpowered the characters from zombie Earth (2149) were compared to those in the regular Marvel Universe (616). Hulk and Black Bolt being the two that stuck out most. Black Bolt can destroy planets with his voice yet he gets infected somehow? Let’s fast forward to Ultimate FF where 2149 Hulk gets owned by Ultimate Thing. Not just owned but pwned! Such a thing (no pun intended) could never happen in 616. That lead me to conclude that there was a reason the zombie plague spread so fast (which was explained) and did so much damage in that world: these characters simply aren’t as powerful as those in the 616. You do have to suspend your disbelief when it comes to that one aspect. You really do, especially when you start reading MZ2.
What are Marvel Apes, you ask? They’re another book that’s essential to the storyline. You don’t have to read all of the Marvel Apes comics. Just Evil Evolution which continues the main story, answers more questions, and summarizes events from the other Marvel Apes comics (which is why you don’t have to read them all). And you know what? The writing quality by Karl Kesel was on par with the other books although it was poorly edited with many grammatical errors. Those errors aside, it was still a high-quality, entertaining read. I bet you’re wondering, by this point, where does Ultimate FF fit into all of this? NOW is when you’d read issues 21-23.
How important is it? Very. Not only do you see an example of the underpowered Hulk pwnage that I was talking about earlier (and let’s not forget how well 616 Grimm fared against 616 Hulk in FF #535) but it leads directly into MZ1 which I managed to get the oversized hardcover in near mint condition on half.com for 4 bucks. Man, I was ecstatic about that shit. That book culminates in one of the most absolutely absurd things you’ll ever see in any comic book. Massively over the top and completely unexpected but that’s what makes it great. You thought the likes of Hulk and Thor were underpowered, well my dear reader, you ain’t seen jack shit yet! Trust me on that. It’s from the same creative team as MZ vs. AoD so you know it’s good.
Oh no, the saga ain’t over. You switch on over to Ultimate FF 30-32 to see a possibly overpowered Ultimate Dr. Doom dispatch some zombies. One thing that was never talked about in any of these stories is the differences in power levels of each universe’s version of a character but if you’re paying attention, you can see it for yourself which is good enough, I guess. Everything so far has been a must-read but Ultimate FF 30-32 isn’t. You can skip it if you want unless you’re a fan of the Ultimate series or you want it for completeness’ sake. I bought volumes 5 and 6 of the trade paperbacks online because they were much cheaper than buying the individual issues. Plus I like Mark Millar. The Namor and President Thor stories were decent although written for a less mature audience. Like Doc Doom, they sure made Ultimate Namor pretty damn strong. But you can check that out for yourself. It’s not called the Ultimate universe for nothing. For the rest of the storyline, I read it digitally. I even bought a tablet primarily to read comic books on it. A 10.1 inch is sufficient for comics reading. Any size lower and you’ll be straining your eyes and constantly resizing pages. I got a cheap Chinese Android one (a chablet) that works perfectly fine although I’m still waiting for tablet sizes to get into the 13-15 inch range. I’m patient.
Next in line was Black Panther 27-30. It is related to events at the end of MZ1 and it’s a fun ride but it’s not vital to the storyline. I’d say read it anyway. You won’t regret it. What is vital is MZ2. It picks up where MZ1 left off and it’s from the same creative team. You’d think by now the story would be getting long in the tooth but it doesn’t. A particular characterization I can’t mention (because I don’t wanna give too much away) is done so well in parody that you can’t help but laugh at their dialogue. I can’t think of anything to compare it to. It was unique to say the least. One of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in any comic is within the pages of MZ2 and the image you see below is a tease. When you read it and if you’re not busting a gut when you get to the end of that page, you need fucking therapy! One thing you’ll definitely start realizing is why that entire universe was so easy to become fully infected. I mean, Dark Phoenix is supposed to be boss, ain’t she? Ain’t she? You’ll see.
MZ Return is the next read and it wraps everything up nice and neat and explains pretty much everything. It doesn’t have the level of humor of most of the comics before it but it’s an essential read that basically concludes the story of the original MZ universe. It follows the classic technique of ending a story where it began. You really don’t have to read anything MZ related beyond these stories but you know you’re going to. I’d highly recommend getting the essential comics from AoD #13 to MZ2. You won’t get bored.
Going forward into MZ3, you could say it’s a continuation of the other books but for the most part it just begins a new series of books featuring A.R.M.O.R. characters from our 616 Marvel Universe (yep, that includes Howard the fucking Duck) and some from the original MZ universe. What’s good about it? It portrays Machine Man as a total bad-ass, I’ll give them credit there. You’ve never seen that character used like this before. And if you’re into robosexuality, you might get your kicks out of seeing Jocasta’s shiny lady parts. What straight male doesn’t? The main story here is about keeping the zombie plague out of the 616 and finding a cure for it if it ever did. MZ3 is less humorous and becomes mostly serious when you get to MZ4. Power differences become evident once again.
MZ5 is completely skippable along with MZ Supreme. MZ5 is mostly a bunch of connected one-shots showing an A.R.M.O.R. team (featuring your favorite Marvel talking duck) collecting samples of different strains of zombieism from different universes in an attempt to find a cure to prevent zombieism from ever becoming a threat to the 616. Now, how come 2149 never thought of any of this? One story even shows zombieism in the real world. Yeah, the world where you lose a quarter tank of gas by just idling in traffic. Where hot chicks have selective hearing. Where ER wait times are displayed on highway billboards. THAT real world. Does the name Superboy Prime mean anything to you? The story was ridiculous and probably should’ve used actors instead of art (probably would’ve been good if they tried that) but it had a good ending.
MZ Supreme is a stand-alone story with the original Squadron Supreme and showcases its own form of zombieism. I didn’t do too much research into these before reading them because I didn’t wanna spoil anything for myself. I went in thinking it was gonna be a story set in the Supreme Power universe. I’m here to tell you if you’re thinking the same thing that it in no way, shape, or form takes place there. The best thing to come out of the Supreme book was a character named Pioneer: a female who survived going toe-to-toe with zombie Hyperion. Most notably, she didn’t back down from his ass even after he did something we’ve seen in other comics like what Colossus did to a train in Ultimate X-Men #10. The crazy bitch put up her dukes against him and was ready to fight. It would seem that the story takes place during the Avengers Initiative and she’s repping her state but it’s a shame that it seems this is her only appearance in a comic book. Even after seeing what Hyperion had done to the team she was with, there was no turning tail on her part. Perhaps there was more power to her than what was on display in her brief appearance. Wonder Woman-level power perhaps? Maxima maybe? Time will tell if we’ll ever see her again.
MZ Destroy is the last big story and is more of a continuation of MZ5 because it features A.R.M.O.R. and the duck again trying to stop another form of zombieism. It’s like World War II alternative history Marvel Universe style. I recommend MZ Destroy because the writing quality is much better than the other A.R.M.O.R. tales and it does have surprises similar to the way they were presented in Ultimate Power (another recommended read). There are many other MZ tie-in comics with Deadpool probably being the most significant one (and I do have his story arc sitting on my hard drive) but I’m not much of a fan of that character and what happens in it isn’t anything important to the progression of the storyline. I’ll read it and some of the other tie-ins someday but they’re not on my list of priorities.
Remember that I mentioned that there was a third question about these books? What’s the origin of the original zombie strain? It seems to be the most dangerous one but where did it come from or who created it? With such a powerful infection, and after seeing what it did in the Earth 2149 and Z universes, I think Marvel should bring it back and treat it with utmost seriousness in the 616 universe. It should have higher stakes than in MZ3 which should be treated as a precursor to a future, bigger, company-wide crossover. It could be the next event comic. It could be as big as something like Annihilation which was a huge, epic story. I’m okay with them going the slapstick route too; to maintain the flavor of the first parts of the series.
I feel the zombie strain chose the 2149 universe because it knew it’d be an easy takeover. By saying this, I’m saying that it’s sentient. I can’t talk too much more about that without spoiling your reading but the books do mention how the virus prefers hosts with superpowers and that part made sense. The 2149 universe may have similar characters to other universes but they’re weak and that’s why they not only got chosen but also why they got fucked up so quick. The number one reason they got chosen, in my opinion, is because they had a dimensional portal. To spread itself to other universes, the plague would need backdoor access to them. It certainly would’ve failed if it came full-frontal to the 616 or Ultimate universes looking for a portal but with 2149 characters being so weak, it could gain access to theirs with ease. And if it managed to succeed in infecting 616 or Ultimate, characters with those power levels would’ve made the plague all but unstoppable when it came to infecting other universes. 2149 characters didn’t get the job done for it. Could the whole thing have been an experiment? When the plague got to 616, it didn’t go far. With the Ultimate universe characters being even more powerful than 616, the plague did even less damage. As you read the series, like any virus, it mutates. That mutation is what could contribute to the creation of that big story I’d like to see.
Why wouldn’t Marvel do it? Because they’d just undo the damage like they did with Spider-Man/Mephisto and Magneto/Xorn, for example. Such a plague would certainly kill popular characters and ravage other planets BUT…remember that A.R.M.O.R. was seeking a cure. Just keep that in mind. If the plague has a creator, couldn’t it send the plague elsewhere, like the Shi’ar Empire or other worlds with suitable hosts instead of straight to Earth? I suppose it could but Shi’ar and Skrull couldn’t stop Avengers and X-Men. You know what? I think it’s way past time for a Marvel Zombies What If. I’d really like to see an in-universe story bringing back the original plague but I’d also be happy with a good What If. A few of them actually. One wouldn’t be enough. Anyway, you’ll have your own questions as you read these stories. Get to it and prepare for some hysteria. Once you start reading, you’ll have a hard time stopping. The original MZ universe stories really are that good.