The biggest surprise hit of the comic world in 2006 has to be Marvel Comics' "Marvel Zombies." The series spun out of a story in "Ultimate Fantastic Four," written by red-hot scribe Mark Millar, in which he introduced readers to an alternate Marvel Universe filled with zombified versions of Marvel Super Heroes. Writer Robert Kirkman and artist Sean Phillips picked up the ball and crafted the highly successful mini-series. Each issue was graced by a fully painted Arthur Suydam cover which paid homage to a great Marvel cover from the past. No one could have predicted what came next - every issue saw at least a second printing, with some issues seeing third and fourth printings, and continued demands of more Marvel Zombies stories from excited fans.
Their demands were answered when it was revealed a "Marvel Zombies" prequel one-shot was in the works by the same creative team. But, the excitement doesn't stop there.
The Marvel Zombies will cross-over with one of the most beloved cult franchises of all time, "Army of Darkness." "Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness" is a new five-issue cross-over series to come from Marvel Comics and Dynamite Entertainment in March of 2007, bringing the highly popular hero Ashley J. Williams of "Army of Darkness" and "Evil Dead" fame into the Marvel Zombies world. The cross-over is a rather unusual and special event for both Marvel and Dynamite. For one, it's bringing together one of the most beloved horror properties in "Army of Darkness" with one of the hottest horror properties in comics, "Marvel Zombies." In addition, this is the first time Marvel has participated in an inter-company crossover with the fledgling Dynamite Entertainment and is also the first multi-part cross-over Marvel has participated in since the 2003 "JLA/Avengers" cross-over, making this clash of the undead exciting not only for fans, but also for comic book historians.
"Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness" (MZvsAOD) is written by John Layman with art by Fabiano Neves, colors by June Chung and Arthur Suydam is back on covers once again. Robert Kirkman will serve as story consultant for the series.
CBR News caught up with writer John Layman to learn more about the series, the story he's cooked up, and how this unusual cross-over event came to be.
As fans of "Army of Darkness" know, Ash is no stranger to jumping around different times, places and worlds, and "MZvsAOD" begins with Ash doing some traveling once again, this time to the Marvel Zombies universe, just as the zombie plague is unleashed. "Of course, the first challenge is to survive," Layman told CBR News, "but that's not enough for Ash, who is used to dealing with weird supernatural threats, deadly monster armies and impossible odds. Ash decides he's going to take on the Marvel Zombies, and stop them. Along the way, there's going to be a few uninfected heroes (and villains!) to help (and hinder!) Ash on his quest. Unfortunately for him, there's a whole universe of people against him - super-powered people with an insatiable need to eat flesh, who have super-strength, metal claws, and laser beam eyes - and a million other crazy powers. An entire universe of heroes, vs. a chainsaw, a boomstick, and a helluva lot of attitude!"
Layman explained the story in "MZvsAOD" is set prior to the events of the "Marvel Zombies" mini-series because, well, it sort of has to be. "Let's face it, Ash may be a bad-ass when it comes to defeating Deadites and various weird monster threats, but he doesn't really stand a chance again your average super-hero - let alone your average zombie super-hero - let alone an entire universe of 'em," explained Layman. "If the story was set concurrent with 'Marvel Zombies,' it would be about 2 pages long - and that's with decompressed storytelling!
"So, instead, it is set prior to the zombie infection, so Ash gets to interact a little bit with various Marvel characters before they become flesh-eating monsters," Layman continued. "And, through Ash, we have a front-row seat to seeing exactly how this viral plague was unleashed, and how it spread throughout the Marvel Universe."
Layman explained that the line-up for "MZvsAOD" is still being settled on in part because as they're working on this series, Robert Kirkman's hard at work on his "Marvel Zombies" one-shot and everyone needs to make sure they're on the same page. "This story needs to compliment what Robert's working on, not contradict it," said Layman. "Both of Kirkman's zombie sequels featured literally dozens, if not hundreds, of Marvel characters, so I need to figure out exactly who is available and how I can use them (the biggest question, of course, is figuring out exactly who got zombified and when.) Kirkman's story has featured a lot of Marvel's A-list and heaviest hitters. And while I am using them, too, we're also going to see some of Marvel's quirkier characters, cult-favorite and b-listers. For instance: Can I tell you how badly I want to see a Zombie Power Pack? And that's just the start!"
A cross-over of any sort is rarely a simple thing, especially when it involves multiple companies who all have a stake in the final product. Layman said the development of this series has gone very smoothly and is enjoying the process immensely. "I've been surprised by how all parties have been receptive to my ideas, especially the crazier ones, such as the ending to this series," admitted Layman. "Everybody on all sides is working to make this mini as funny and wild as it can possibly be. Kirkman's been on-hand for everything, from long, meandering phone calls, to short 'can I use so-and-so?' four sentence emails, and has helped me out with the various 'rules' he's set out for the universe. 'Do Zombies need to breathe?' 'How exactly does the Zombie plague spread and who can get it?' It's Robert's world, so I'm trying to be as respectful as possible - as I tear through, murdering, mutilating and infecting as many heroes and civilians as possible.
"I think the sole goal for both Dynamite and Marvel is to write a kick-ass story, that's funny and gory and full of surprises, that lives up to the high standards set by the previous 'Marvel Zombie' stories. And I'm confident that we've cooked up a story that if you are a fan of either 'Marvel Zombies' or 'Army of Darkness,' you are going to love.
Both properties come with a lot of pressure and expectations. As we noted, "Army of Darkness" is one of the most beloved horror franchises of all times, with most fans able to recite full sections of dialogue from the films. "Marvel Zombies" was the surprise hit of 2006 that keeps finding new fans through the collected editions now available. So, did Layman hesitate at all about stepping into the Marvel Zombies universe, especially one so closely associated with mini-series writer Robert Kirkman? "No hesitation at all, though I'd like to throw some of the credit Mark Millar's way as well. Mark created this universe in a wildly entertaining 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' storyline, and then Robert fleshed it out with one of the craziest and funny mini-series to come along in years. I'm thrilled and honored to even be allowed to follow in the footsteps of two of my favorite writers in comics (as well as two guys I consider to be good friends.)"
As Layman told CBR News, the series got off the ground when someone at Marvel ("I think Marvel publisher Dan Buckley," said Layman) threw out the idea of this crossover and everyone ate it up. From there, the mini-series was quickly put into motion. "Naturally, they approached Robert first, but he's writing everything under the sun at the moment, and opted to just serve as consultant," explained Layman. "By wild co-incidence, I was working on another (as of yet unannounced) 'Army of Darkness' project for Dynamite. Every so often I work at the Seattle library with Ed Brubaker, just to keep from getting bored working at home all the time, and Ed was getting a first-hand look at how much I enjoyed writing Ash. He mentioned this to Kirkman, about the same time Kirkman was looking for somebody to write this crossover with his blessing. Kirkman recommended me, I was already working for Dynamite, and had been on-and-off with Marvel for the past couple years, and everybody seemed to think it was a good fit. And so, lo and behold, it happened."