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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Marvel Zombies Supreme

Title: Marvel Zombies Supreme

ISBN: 9780785151685

Price: $16.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2012

Artist: Fernando Blanco

Writer: Frank Marraffino

Collects: Marvel Zombies Supreme #1-5

Rating: 2.5/5

The Squadron Supreme, don’t worry if you’ve never heard of them, a lot of people have never heard of them. As far as I know they haven’t played much of a part in the Marvel Universe. Technically, they don’t play much of role in Marvel Zombies Supreme either considering these are clones of the superheroes. All you need to know is they’re an alternate universe version of the Avengers (because Marvel just loves their alternate universes) that spent a little bit of time in the Marvel Universe proper (Earth-616) before going back to their universe, taking over the United States of America for what they believed were good reasons, and then having to be deposed for becoming the tyrants they once fought against. They were essentially Marvel’s version of DC’s Justice League, with the heroes of the Squadron Supreme being based on heroes in the Justice League. Super strong flyer Hyperion is Superman, superfast runner Whizzer is the Flash, gadget loving Nighthawk is Batman, and Doctor Spectrum, who can create constructs out of light, is based on Wonder Woman, or maybe Green Lantern, yeah, probably Green Lantern. That kind of means that when you’re reading through this edition to the Marvel Zombies storyline you’re reading about a zombified Justice League, and let’s face it, each of us has wanted to see Superman brought down a peg at one time or another. Previously all we’ve had is him crying while he snaps General Zod’s neck in Man of Steel, kind of funny but not quite enough. Seeing him experience the never ending hunger of being a zombie though? Perfect.

This installment of the Marvel Zombie line brings us back to the universe we all know and love, the universe we’re used to otherwise known as Earth-616 (I know, it gets hard to follow sometimes). The P.E.G.A.S.U.S. Research Facility, or the Potential Energy Group and Alternate Sources for the United States, has gone quiet after someone hit a panic button and put the facility on lockdown. Because of this, Guardsman Alpha Team has been sent in with a little bit of back up in the form of Battlestar.

They are able to break inside with help from tech savvy team member Mainframe and head inside to find the place seemingly abandoned, but further exploration uncovers a small group of scientists hiding inside a locked off room. It doesn’t take long for the rescue team to discover why this small group is all that’s left, a zombified Squadron Supreme has taken over the facility, not the actual Squadron, but a version cloned from cells collected during their brief stay in our dimension. Now they hunger for the flesh of the living, and they’ll do anything to keep the meals coming. When they break into the small room the scientists are holed up in, they make quick work of the quivering researchers and turn their attention toward Guardsman Alpha Team and the teams’ superhero guardian.

Battlestar is able to get a few of the team out before the zombified Squadron make quick work of them but many are unfortunately slaughtered before he’s able to act. Things are even worse than they seem as not only is Squadron member Nuke able to escape the facility using the facility’s nuclear tunnels, but Hyperion is able to use stolen blueprints to find a way out as well. Everything seems lost but there’s still a chance in the form of a supposedly dead Avenger that was made of pure energy, the hero Jack of Hearts.

It’s been a little bit since I delved into the world of the Marvel Zombies, not that I was sick of them or anything, I love Marvel Zombies, just got sidetracked. Reading Marvel Zombies Supreme I’m reminded why I enjoy the series so much. It’s not the best to come out of the storyline, but it’s enjoyable none the less. I thought it was smart on Marvel’s part to come up with an entirely new story instead of keeping with the original zombies or their world. This one takes place entirely in the normal 616 universe, and the zombies here have nothing to do with the original Marvel Zombies. The Squadron Supreme zombies were created on Earth-616 from cloned cells in an experiment that went wrong.

I don’t want to give away everything but I’ll just say that Jack of Hearts reanimation has something to do with it. It gave a refreshing air to the Marvel Zombies by having something that had nothing to do with the original Marvel Zombie world take center stage, and it was a good move on Marvel’s part to take the series in a new direction.

I think the biggest problem was in using the Squadron Supreme as the comic’s villains. The story isn’t bad at all, as I stated, I loved that they took the series in a whole new direction and didn’t stick to the original Marvel Zombies. I enjoyed what they did by having the P.E.G.A.S.U.S. facility over run with zombies and a mostly human team having to get the situation under control rather than a group of superheroes. It was just that the Squadron has always seemed kind of boring on their own. Seeing them try to enforce their will in their own universe was interesting for their miniseries run as it was the story of a group of superheroes enforcing their will for what they believe to be altruistic reasons and ultimately subcoming to the power they’ve taken, but for the most part they’re just DC character knockoffs that I’ve never been able to get into. Seeing them as zombies did add a little extra to them, but they still felt like DC knockoffs, just undead ones.

I liked that they didn’t use mainstream Marvel characters as zombies since that’s what we’ve had for a while now, but there are a lot of other heroes and villains they could have chosen to showcase as the undead, even minor ones that have never had much of a part would have worked better than the Squadron Supreme. Battlestar was a good edition though. He’s not as well-known as many other heroes, but being Captian America’s protégé he’s the perfect person to step into a role that Cap would have worked great in himself. Plus, with our team trying to contain the zombies being comprised of regular humans (and one robot) it made sense to have someone who wasn’t a superpower himself.

It would have cheapened the team to have someone that didn’t really need them there which is why I’m not sure the addition of Jack of Hearts worked out so well. I’ve always loved Jack and his attempts to prove he can be the hero everyone expects him to be, but he’s such a powerhouse that once he came into play I had to ask myself “Why is anyone else even wasting their time when Jack can just blast the zombies away.”

I’d prefer to see what a team of normal people could do to handle the situation. They were able to balance it a bit by having Jack be a mess when he’s first woken and needing the Guardsman team leader to bring him back to sanity, but once he’s up and running no one else is needed. How he plays into the creation of the Squadron zombies was interesting, just would have preferred seeing the regular team handle the zombies themselves.

The artwork isn’t bad in the slightest, in fact it’s very good, it’s just kind of bland for what I’ve gotten used to with Marvel Zombies. It’s much more in line with artwork from many other Marvel titles instead of being something unique like most of the other Marvel Zombie stories. Most of the other ones have taken their artwork to a different level so that it stood out from everything else while this seemed to fall in line. That being said, it’s not in the slightest bad work and showcases some of the talent Marvel has in their artists, it simply doesn’t stand out.

Where they definitely succeeded was in making sure the art was at least more adult themed. There’s no holding back as the blood and guts fly. Heads explode, people are ripped apart, and blood flows freely. I would think that this may be the end of the Marvel Zombies titles. We'll see.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Marvel Zombies Destroy!

Title: Marvel Zombies Destroy!

ISBN: 9780785163855

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013

Artist: Mirco Pierfederici, Al Barrionuevo

Writer: Frank Marraffino, Peter David

Collects: Marvel Zombies Destroy! #1-5

Rating: 3/5

My initial reaction to this book was to make a joke about the fact that they have now made so many Marvel Zombies comics that they decided to quit numbering them, but looking at that Wikipedia page, I see this is hardly the first Marvel Zombies-branded book to be published sans a number (That would be their third outing, Dead Days, and Destroy! was also preceded by the non-numbered Return, Evil Evolution and Supreme).

This five-issue, 2012 miniseries seems to follow Marvel Zombies 5 rather closely in that it features Howard The Duck fighting zombies in an alternate dimension, but it is not the work of Marvel Zombies 3-5 scribe Fred Van Lente; rather this miniseries rather unusually has two different writers, with a Frank Marraffino (Marvel Zombies Supreme) writing the first two issues, and veteran writer Peter David taking over for the final three issues. The unusual change seems to suggest a problem of some kind, or at least a story behind it, but perhaps it was a schedule thing as much as anything else; there's a little editorial in the back by editor Jake Thomas that mentions the difficulties the team went through in getting it out, and how the project was a dream come true for him, and how heavily involved he was.

The art team is more stable, but it still required a fill-in artist, which is, again, pretty unusual in a miniseries, and the fill-in falls on issue #3, which is right where the writers change. A Mirco Pierfederici draws all of the issues save for #3, which is penciled by Al Barrionuevo and inked by Rick Magyar. It's worth noting that the change isn't terribly disruptive; I wouldn't have noticed a change in either writer or artist while reading if I hadn't read the credits page first.

I think that says less about the styles and skills of the creators than the fact that they were working on a franchise with such specific sensibilities. Does it have zombies in it? Are there a lot of jokes, a dark sense of humor and a great deal of horror? Okay, fine, it's Marvel Zombies then. Like a few other offerings to date, this one doesn't really feature the "real" Marvel Zombies, the ones from that alternate dimension first introduced by Mark Millar which was basically just the Marvel Universe if all the superheroes had turned into zombies, but it does feature plenty of zombified Marvel superheroes (from another alternate dimension full of zombies), and cast is split between Golden Age characters and the most obscure Marvels this side of Woodgod. Howard the Duck gets top bill (Ha! Bill!), and Dum Dum Dugan is the next biggest star, if that tells you anything about the cast.

Howard, Agent of ARMOR, recruits Dum Dum, Agent of SHIELD, to be a part of his crack strike force nicknamed "Ducky's Dozen." It appears that ARMOR, the acronym for government agency Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operationl Response, has discovered a reality where the Nazis won World War II (like DC's pre-Crisis Earth-X, then), and they accomplished this by becoming zombies. Worse yet, the Nazi zombies are preparing to invade the Marvel Universe, unless Howard's team can journey there first and wreck their mode of conveyance. Dugan has been recruited specifically for his Nazi-fighting expertise, but he suspects there's some other reason Howard wants him along and isn't telling him...and he's right!

As for The Dozen, they're a huge group of totally awesome-weirdos, only a few of whom I had ever even heard of, or could tell you much of anything about: Battlestar, Blazing Skull, Breeze Barton, Red Raven, Dragoon, Dynaman, Eternal Brain, Flexo, Gur and Taxi Taylor. How many of these guys are super-old, super-obscure characters, and how many were invented specifically to be killed off in this series? There's only one way to find out, and it's a good 15 minutes of Wikipedia-ing fun!

Spoiler alert: 3/4th of them don't make it back home, but somehow I doubt some of these deaths will stick, given the tongue-in-cheek nature of the entire series.

The dozen heroes journey into Nazi zombie-controlled territory and attempt to fight their way up a Mount Rushmore-style Nazi base with the heads of Hate-Monger, Zola, Red Skull and Baron Von Stucker, and they immediately find unexpected heavy resistance in the form of the zombified, Nazi-fied Invaders. And then they get some unexpected assistance from some lady superheroes going by the name "The Sufragists," and lead by Miss America, who has picked up this world's fallen Captain America's shield and legacy.

As the story progresses, new unlikely allies and unlikely enemies join the fray, with Loki siding with Earth-616's good guys and a zombified Thor and the rest of a zombified Asgard siding with the Nazis whose ancestors used to worship them.

There's a nicely strange aura about the entire book, owing in large part to its big, odd-ball cast, almost all of whom are completely disposable on account of their being either created specifically for this book, so rarely seen it's hard to imagine they would be missed (I had no idea Red Raven was even still alive to be killed!) or alternate reality characters, in which case anything goes, as we've got our own perfectly good Thor or Zola or whoever back in the "real" Marvel Universe.

Some gags work a lot better than others. I thought the riffs on Namor's catch-phrase didn't really work, as they were coming from Namor—well, a Namor—himself, but I did sort of love the armband worn by Dum Dum's alternate dimension, Nazi zombie doppelganger:

Yes, that's a handlebar mustache where the swastika should be and, yes, they did think to rename him Dead Dead Dugan, which is the title of this particular issue's story.

Marvel Zombies Destroy! certainly has its moments and, I think, more moments than many of the other Marvel Zombies efforts. It appears that there's still some life in this franchise after all.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Marvel Zombies 5

Title: Marvel Zombies 5

ISBN: 9780785147442

Price: $19.99

Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2011

Artist: Kano, Felix Ruiz, Fernando Blanco

Writer: Fred Van Lente

Collects: Marvel Zombies 5 #1-5

Rating: 3/5

Marvel Zombies volume 5 continues the saga of saving the multiverse from many strains of the virus that causes a zombie apocalypse. Each world has it’s own strain of the virus, which in turn, creates it’s own very unique set of zombies with slightly different traits.

The team charged with finding blood samples of each zombie strain consists of Machine Man, Howard the Duck, and a new recruit from one of the worlds they visit, Jacali Kane (Quick Draw).

Honestly, this story started bring the Marvel Zombies world back into what I consider “Worth” reading. Volumes 3 and 4 were starting to get a little dicey. Bringing Howard the Duck in seemed to have solidified the story for me. How a duck can do that for me, I have no idea.

Essentially, the goal is to get the strains of each virus so Morbius (vampire) can find a cure.

The art was, and always has been solid. I love zombie art, so I’m probably biased, but I really felt Michael Kaluta and Kano did a great job with the illustrations and penciling.

It wasn’t the most profound story or even the best Marvel Zombies story I’ve read, but it was a solid one. I would have liked to have seen some of our favorite Avengers or X-Men zombies come back, but alas, that wasn’t in the cards for this book. The star of this book was Howard the Duck, and I’m not at all ashamed to admit it.

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