Dead Man's Party: Kirkman & Phillips talk "Marvel Zombies"

Tue, October 11th, 2005 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Dave Richards, Staff Writer

Being chased by a pack of hungry zombies is terrifying, but being chased by a legion of the undead armed with mystical hammers, the proportional strength of a spider, and razor sharp adamantium claws, is a nightmare. This is the hellish world originally presented in Mark Millar and Greg Land's story "Crossover" from "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #21-23. This December, in the five-issue mini-series "Marvel Zombies, writer Robert Kirkman and artist Sean Philips revisit this post-apocalyptic world where Marvel Comics' superhumans have all been turned into cunning, flesh hungry undead. CBR News spoke with Kirkman and Phillips about the series.

Kirkman, who has proven he knows how to write thought provoking and terrifying zombie tales as writer of Image Comics' "The Walking Dead" was Marvel's first choice to write "Marvel Zombies." "I love Marvel Comics and I love Zombies... I couldn't really pass this up," Kirkman told CBR News. "I said yes immediately and then sat patiently waiting to hear who the artist would be. When I found out it was Sean Phillips, I nearly flipped out. I've been a fan of Sean's stuff for some time now and I absolutely loved his work on 'Sleeper' (with Ed Brubaker). I am thrilled to be working with him. I'd do 'Marvel Clowns' if Sean was drawing it."

Readers who may have missed the first appearance of the zombie plagued Marvel Universe in "Ultimate Fantastic Four" won't be lost reading "Marvel Zombies." "You should read it because it's kind of cool, but you don't have to," Kirkman said. " 'Marvel Zombies' stands on it's own fairly well, I think. But readers of 'Ultimate Fantasic Four' will have a little more insight into the characters, especially Magneto, who plays a large part in this mini."

"Marvel Zombies" begins just moments after the conclusion of "Crossover," which ended with Magneto destroying the device that created the portal between the zombified Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe. "Magneto, as stated before, is a large part of the book," Kirkman said. "The Marvel heroes and villains themselves, though zombies, are also main characters. We'll be seeing tons of the Marvel characters as zombies and we'll see how they interact. It's important for zombie fans to understand that these aren't the slow moving, mindless Romero style zombies I use in 'The Walking Dead.' These are flesh eating Marvel characters driven to do horrible things by their hunger. They're very much the same characters we all know and love. They're still smart, they still have their powers... they're just cursed with the hunger for human flesh and have to deal with that."

The hungry ghouls of "Marvel Zombies" may not be the typical mindless style zombies, but like all walking dead there is a specific way to kill them, which Kirkman establishes in the mini-series. "That will be revealed in the context of the book. It's part of the plot, so I really don't want to give it away here," Kirkman explained. "But rest assured that will be explored in the series and I think I've got some cool stuff planned."

"Marvel Zombies" will primarily focus on what passes for life in the zombie infested world. "They're hunting for food, fighting over food and hunting down Magneto, who is pretty much the last man on Earth," Kirkman explained. "Then the Silver Surfer shows up and the shit really hits the fan."

Kirkman's story is first and foremost a horror tale, but there are moments of sick and twisted humor. "There's some pretty horrific stuff going on in the series," Kirkman said. "I'll admit I'm actually a little shocked that Marvel is letting Sean and I do a lot of things we're doing. There's a bit of gore in the book. I mean, all the characters are zombies, you can't really get around that. There will be a small amount of black humor, though, unless you're really sick and then you'll think the whole thing is kinda funny."

"Marvel Zombies" artist Sean Phillips has enjoyed bringing Kirkman's horrific and occasionally humorous scripts to life. Philips said the most enjoyable part of the process thus far has been playing around with the huge cast of Marvel characters Kirkman's given him to draw. Drawing superheroes was the most fun, but it was also the most difficult part of "Marvel Zombies" for Phillips. "I've spent the last few years drawing characters in street clothes, so drawing all those muscles in spandex again has been a challenge," he explained.

Phillips's art style for "Marvel Zombies" is similar to what he used on his acclaimed Wildstorm collaboration with Ed Brubaker, "Sleeper." "Heavily photo-reffed, inked mostly with a brush, but more gridded, less free-form than 'Sleeper.' As this story is a sequel to 'Ultimate Fantastic Four,' I have to keep the look of the characters consistent, so they wear the same costumes Greg gave them, but drawn in my style," Phillips said. "I just based my zombies on Greg's versions. Zombie Thor and Captain America have been my favorites so far."

If "Marvel Zombies" does well, Phillips wouldn't mind returning to illustrate the undead Marvel Universe, but would only do a sequel if Kirkman returns to write it. Kirkman warned that readers shouldn't automatically expect a sequel. "Well, let's see what kind of state I leave the world in first," Kirkman said. "There may be no going back. I wouldn't entirely rule it out just yet, but I'm not writing this with a sequel in mind."

"Marvel Zombies" has been a fun project for Kirkman. It's an assignment that allowed him to combine his passion for "The Walking Dead" with his love of characters from the House of Ideas, but it seems like, for Kirkman, the real appeal of "Marvel Zombies" was a chance to work with the book's artist. "Sean Philips, baby. If you buy this book for nothing else pick it up for him," Kirkman said. "His pages are stunning."

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