November 5, 2011

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Dust off the Panels: Marvel Zombies 2

Yeah, that's how many people
thought of Civil War.
Written by Robert Kirkman
Illustrated by Sean Phillips
Marvel

The Marvel Zombies are back!  After ravaging Galactus, the remaining members of this alternative Marvel Universe have scoured the entire galaxy for new things to eat.  There's only one problem:  They're all out!  It's time to return to earth for a desperate scheme to find a way to feed the hunger.  But do they really need to keep eating brains?  Or will Spider-Man's conscience, aided by the help of some willing humans, change everything?  It's a return home and a battle royale in Marvel Zombies 2!

I debated about whether or not I was going to review this one, especially since we're after the Halloween season.  But it's Robert Kirkman, one of my favorite writers, and Sean Phillips, one of my favorite artists, so I figured I'd give it a shot.

I was a huge fan of the first Marvel Zombies series, but I thought the Army of Darkness crossover was pretty lackluster.  As a result, I never bothered to read any of the others, even though Fred Van Lente is the primary writer.  This book didn't do a lot to change my mind.

While Kirkman tries his best to make this turn at the wheel interesting, the problem is this was a gimmick idea, and the further you try to make it go, the weaker that gimmick becomes.  It's silly and gruesome fun to watch the Marvel Heroes go completely immoral and murderous the first time.  The third time (for me) just doesn't pack any punch.  There's only so many times the idea of a zombie Hulk can provide dark comedy, for instance, and while there are a few good macabre lines in here, such as "I can't believe we ate the whole thing," it's far fewer and further between.

I know Kirkman tried hard to mix up the plot this time, but I actually think that made things worse.  Part of the fun of the first trade was Peter Parker being completely consumed by his hunger and showing a side to him we've never seen before.  Going back here to being a hero just didn't work for me.  I get the Parker hero all the time; if you're in a What-If world, why not give me one that kills for sport and food?

This is not to say the story was bad.  It has all the Kirkman trademarks that make him a solid writer.  There are twists and turns, things go from bad to worse to even worse still, and some of the decisions that are made or happen in the story are completely surprising, not unlike his work on Walking Dead.  I like that his characters are all flawed, acting in their perceived self-interest, and frequently make terrible, bloody choices.  It's great to see him using some more obscure characters here as well.

In terms of the artwork, this is top notch.  Philips may be best at working on noir series with Ed Brubaker, but his superheroes are amazing.  I especially love his Spider-Man, who looks like a cross between Mike Zeck's and John Byrne's versions of the character.  He manages to make the zombies emote, and despite all the horror and gore, never lets the whole thing devolve into a bloody mess.  There's taste in his horror, which is part of what made the original series so good.

Marvel Zombies 2 is good, but it's just not as amazing as the first run.   I think part of it is the natural problems a sequel faces and part of it is that I'm just zombied out at this point.  We've seen them over and over again in so many different places.  They have to be done well to really stand out for me now.  This just didn't have the pop of its predecessor.  If you like zombies and the Marvel characters, and wanted more after the first trade, give it a shot.  Otherwise, stick to the original.  This one's not bad, but it's okay if you let the dust settle back on its pages again.