Zombies have feasted on many things over the years, from brains to Simon Pegg, but now they've go a new target: fans of Marvel Comics. Announced earlier today at Wizard World Philadelphia, former editor and now writer, Mike Raicht will be writing "Zombie," a four-issue limited series under Marvel's MAX mature readers imprint. CBR News spoke with Raicht to learn more about the book.
"'Zombie' is basically a bank robbery gone about as far off the rails as humanly possible. It looks at greed from the robbers angle, and to what lengths people are willing to go for money," Raicht explained to CBR News. "Most people wouldn't kill but for money, but some would. And if someone is willing to risk their lives robbing a bank for money, how far would they be willing to take it if other obstacles got in the way? Like let's say raging Zombies eager to eat you alive. On the other end of the spectrum it looks at how far someone is willing to go in order to stay alive. Would you lie? Cheat? Kill? Lots of things change when your life is in the balance. And I'm assuming things change a bit more when you throw an undead horde on top of that.
"This whole thing began in late 2004 right after I had done a few things for Marvel from the writing end. Some 'Marvel Age' stuff and a few different 'X-Men Unlimited' stories. I approached Axel to see if it would be cool if I pitched him some projects. He knew I had a huge love for the Zombie genre and suggested coming up with a new take on the Zombie character. To start the whole thing from scratch. So that's basically what we did. We looked at the current climate and thought of what would scare people. Where would Zombies come from today? From there Axel, his associate Warren Simons, and I, started putting the story together."
Working with the X-Men would require any writer to be comfortable with a diverse array of characters and Raicht's used that passion to create the cast of "Zombie." "This is an ensemble piece, but our main character is Simon Garth who is an Assistant Bank Manager. He is nothing special at the beginning of the story. Just a guy caught up in a bank robbery trying to survive. He makes a few semi-heroic choices that lead him into a Zombie nightmare of pretty epic proportions. Layla is a teller at the bank. Simon, and just about every other guy at the bank, has a crush on her. She's probably a bit too much woman for all of them though. She's also tough as nails and pretty opinionated. Not things that would endear you to a bank robber.
"Gyp is a bank robber. He hates Simon. He wants this money and he wants to get away. When the Zombies show up they're just another obstacle to him. He had to get away from the cops and now he has to get away from these things. The only difference to him is that the cops don't bite.
"Shorty is Gyp's sidekick and getaway driver. Not the smartest guy, but he's loyal to Gyp. And Gyp likes that. He also wants to be rich but his instincts are a bit baser. Survival being the top one. From there we meet some more characters but this is where we begin."
With the popularity of Robert Kirkman's "Walking Dead" series at Image, and the popularity of films such as "Shaun Of The Dead," zombies seem to be the new pirates (or monkeys or whatever is hyped at Hot Topic stores). "Zombies are just cool," asserts Raicht. "I think it's our fear in being surrounded by something that won't stop. I think the best Zombie stories involve Zombies that are pure instinct. They keep coming no matter what. That's some scary stuff. I've always loved them. Ever since I watched 'Return of the Living Dead' on HBO way passed my bedtime back in the day. To me they've always been popular."
Invariably, there will be comparisons to "Walking Dead" or Kirkman's Marvel series, "Marvel Zombies" (to which this book is not connected), but Raicht says all the series stand alone, and strong, on their own unique merits. "First off, Kirkman's book is awesome. I wish I could have a whole Zombie world to play in for that long. I pick up every issue. Zombie is a bit different just because we're dealing with Zombies that are a bit fresher and quicker. It's more '28 Days Later' and the new 'Dawn of the Dead' than Romero's original stuff. Running Zombies give the action a more immediate feel."
Moreso than vampires, werewolves or any other "horror" creature, zombies have represented both physical and psychological horror. There's something frightening about any of these soulless creatures, but Raicht feels that zombies stand out for an important reason. "I think they work so well psychologically because it takes the idea of being surrounded and trapped and pushes that to extreme levels. I think, especially today, people look around and realize, hey the world isn't such a safe place. Vampires and stuff are scary but we've all been to funerals. We've all stared at the body in the coffin and expected to see them moving a bit. Or is that just me? And we all kind of expect there to be something after this life but we don't know. It makes the dead a whole unexplored world to play with. And it's coming for all of us eventually, right?"
Going from editor to writer isn't always the easiest transition, but for Raicht, it was made easy by working with such talented co-workers. When he decided to step into the writing spotlight, he admits that he also had to give up some benefits, explaining, "I loved being an editor but eventually I wanted to tell my own stories. I think the hardest part is pitching. I definitely have an advantage because people will return my calls, but I still have to come up with something compelling. I miss the people the most. The Marvel staff and the freelancers. Being involved in all those stories is a blast. Now I'm just focused on my own pitches and ideas. It's a different, much lonelier beast. Having to come up with ideas that other people like enough to actually pay you to write is kind of crazy if you think about it. But it's fun. And it is going well right now so that makes it feel right."
Joining Raicht on the book will be artist Kyle Hotz, who will be handling penciling and inking, and has Raicht's full endorsement. "He kicks serious ass on this book," exclaims Raicht. "He loves Zombies maybe more than I do. If for no other reason you need to pick up this book to see what Kyle has done. It's pretty impressive Zombie craziness. And the colorist Dan Brown is awesome. We just started seeing some pages from him and he has added a whole other level to Kyle's work. The book has a great texture and vibe which sets it apart. I'd live to think I was a part of that but I'm pretty sure it was Kyle and Dan."
Not content to sit idly by, Raicht is pursuing a plethora of projects at other companies, including some more at The House Of Ideas. "Time to push the wares, right," he laughs. "Right now I've got a couple things on my plate and a few things coming out. First off, I have a book coming out from the Dabel Brothers this month which I adapted for them. It's a sci-fi sea adventure written by screenwriter Michael Lent called 'Prey: Origin of the Species.'
"I'm working on a book called 'The Pack 'with Paul Azaceta which should hit early next year. It's from a new publisher call Th3rdworld Studios. It should be pretty cool. I'm also co-writing a book called The 'Insaniteens' with Brian Smith. It's got pretty sweet art by Alberto Ponticelli and should be early next year as well.
"As far as pitches go, I have one in at Marvel right now which is superhero based. But it's a bit of a ways off so I don't want to jinx it. I'm hoping my next MAX book will be a sequel to 'Zombie' if this does well enough. We'll see.
"And I'm also writing the Annihilation bios in back of all of the 'Annihilation' books."
Finally, with a big military conspiracy at the forefront of "Zombie," the books seems ripe for sequels and spin-offs…and Raicht has it all planned out. "I have ideas for tons of stories in this Zombie universe. Warren, Axel and I have discussed the idea of a sequel, especially if this one does well. So if Marvel and the readers want me to keep going you can count on it happening."