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Marvel, with its finger oh so close to the pulse of popular culture, let an idea fester in the minds of their bullpen, slowly creating a deadly infection through the titles of the Marvel Universe. We can trace it from an original source, the strain of the disease that would later spread, to one man: Mark Millar.
As much as I would love to chase him down with a bunch of dudes in HazMat suits, Mark Millar is our Patient Zero in the visual juggernaut that is ‘Marvel Zombies’. Who know where he got it from, the end of a bottle of alcohol, the late night viewing of one too many George Romero movies, some internet clicks and a savvy mind for a play on the not-so affectionate terms for the True Believers, but it is here and it’s here to stay. What Millar wrought, Kirkman forged and Arthur Suydam perfected, three men taking us on a wild ride since 2005 and it shows no sign of stopping. As long as zombies entertain the pop culture brain, someone’s going to want to eat those brains.
So, in no particular order, here are some simple signs and helpful tips to the wide multi-universal world of The House of Undead Ideas.
Rule 1) <strike>Cardio</strike> Covers
If it wasn’t for covers, we would not be discussing this because if there is nothing the cover is there for, it’s to judge the book. Mr. Suydam was handed over the official title of Marvel Eye Catcher and the man has completely out done himself at every turn. The depth and breadth to which he has gone to recreate our history, just in a sloppy, oozing mess, and yet still retain that charm of the original work is just astounding. Marvel has a gallery of covers here and, please, do take a moment and look back (at least until 2006, since the gallery hasn’t been updated in awhile) and see what works have been done. You might have seen these on the shelves, even bought one or two for the Wow! factor, maybe you even complained when the undead and underage Mary Jane variant was released, but even if you didn’t slavishly collect each one or groaned at the sight of yet another unrelated book sporting an Zombie veneer, you remember these covers. They stick in your brain like the infection itself and they stay there in all their flesh-eating glory. Marvel’s Zombie covers are why we’ve just ended our unofficial fifth installment of the Earth That Went Bad.
Rule 2) It Ain’t Over
Much like the classic zombie flicks, Marvel’s zombie comics always end with a red-paint dripping “The End?”. After reading the first original Marvel Zombies in what is coming up on four years ago, seeing the Zombies devour and then become Galactus, I thought to myself, ‘Now that’s an ending!’. Once you’ve converted yourself into a Galactic Devourer of Worlds, there’s no going back, right? WRONG! You can do anything you want once that tag’s been torn off and Marvel proceeded to then do so for the years to come. We’ve seen Ash fight Marvel’s undead hordes, Black Panther officially brought them into the universe proper as a real-live alternate dimension for the Original Universe, the Frightful Four have met both their Ultimate and their Original counterparts. Doom threw himself into their dimension, never to be seen again looking that way in particular. We’ve had Zombies fighting Robots, Living Vampires becoming Zombies (Vambie!), anything goes and will go until the market says otherwise. A undead talking head from the Zombie-verse even has a co-starring role in a major ongoing series (Deadpool and Zombies is like printing money in 2009!). Nothing is impossible because the best of this absolutely abusurd.
Rule 3) This is Not Serious
The Goon: Chinatown has a great opening page where it is stated with absolute clarity that “This Ain’t Funny.” Exactly the opposite in Marvel Zombies; remember the undead talking head? Yeah, there’s no angst here about the loss of life or social comentary on how we’re all just a little dead inside. While zombie movies can have that metaphorical edge that film students can observe from their desks about how the zombie is a replacement for the cultural homogenization of society where the mall is a centeral hub of power, the single minded need for brains relates the short sightedness of man, how we become our own Dangerous Game at the top of the food chain… You get the idea.
Marvel Zombies wants nothing to do with that. And couldn’t! They make a point of joking about it as Spider-Man, satiated in his hunger for flesh, would resort to angst over the brutal murder of those he loved most. Marvel Zombies is at its best when it is outlandish and over-the-top. Dead Days is the weakest in the series in my personal opinion because it tries to understand the cause of all this monstrosity and terror when, bottom line, we do not care. This Ain’t Serious. Time Magazine had a list of Top 10 Graphic Novels of 2007 and at #4, above Jack of Fables vol. 1 and below All-Star Superman vol. 1, is Marvel Zombies 2. He describes the series in Times Magazinian fashion by noting that the most popular heroes of this universe eat flesh, understand their eating flesh, but just can’t stop. “The result is a genuinesly subversive orgy of Sadean cruelty, wherein most of the living beings in the universe perish,” says Lev Grossman. “Good clean fun.”
Let me say that again: Good clean fun. Not ‘Woe be to the heroes that subside of the people they once protected!’. Not ‘This reflect the change in society where we no longer trust the forces of good to be the clean cut heroes we remember from our youths.’. This is fun, plain and simple.
And so it has been and so it shall be. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, Marvel Zombies are a new staple of the House of Ideas and for this spooky season, I raise a glass to what they’ve done and where they’ll go.