[Note: Marvel hasn't released the cover for issue #4 to the public, and since this comic was reviewed via a pdf copy supplied by Marvel, you're stuck with the non-cover cover image until Marvel releases the supposedly spoiler-heavy image.]
I jumped off the Marvel Zombies train later than most -- I was still riding happily along until the end of the Fred Van Lente series, but after Van Lente's strong start was followed by an increasingly convoluted plot and a tone that remained irreverent but still took itself a bit too seriously, I had had enough of the Marvel characters thirsting for brains.
I didn't even end up reading the end of the Van Lente run until just a few days ago. It just sat there, taunting me, saying, "I am not as good as you thought I would be, and it's not like your standards were all that high to begin with." Yes, my comics talk to me sometimes. Maybe that's part of the problem.
So this "Marvel Zombies Return" series appealed to me not in the least. Especially since it kicked off with a Van Lente-written issue, and I thought Van Lente said all he needed to say about Marvel-characters-as-zombies during the last series, even if I hadn't yet read the finale. Even my Nick Dragotta love wasn't strong enough to compel me to glance through the first issue of "Marvel Zombies Return."
But Jason Shawn Alexander in issue #3 last week? That brought me in for a look. And then I picked up the first two issues as well, because I wouldn't want to be confused by the fine points of the seventeenth iteration the Marvel Zombies concept. (Okay, I know it's not really the seventeenth Marvel Zombies series, but it's a lot, and if you somehow don't know what the Marvel Zombies are all about, here a short summary: the Marvel characters are zombies. And they eat people.)
Guess what, though? I really enjoyed the first three issues of "Marvel Zombies Return," particularly issues #1 and #3, which not only had the best art, but had stories that had plenty of tongue inside the cheek (and that's not easy when the cheek in question is the rotting flesh of zombie Spider-Man.) The premise of this series is a bit different than the others. This is more of a "What If?" series, asking the question, "What if a bunch of Marvel Zombies showed up in past Marvel continuity?" So you get Spidey in the swingin' sixties, zombie-style. Or Wolverine and Kitty Pryde in Japan, zombie-style.
Well, you get the picture, and you see how one-note it is. But when a writer with a good sense of humor and an artist with an interesting visual style come on board, the results can be a lot of fun.
So issue #4 gives us perhaps the most intriguing writer of Marvel Zombies so far: Seth Grahame-Smith, author of "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," the only zombie book I've ever seen on display near the checkout at the local Target. (So he's gotta be big, right?) And artist Richard Elson may not be well-known, but he draws in a way that I can only describe as John Buscema-esque, so he certainly knows what he's doing.
Popular zombie writer meets more-than-competent artist and set loose in the zombie Marvel U? What more could you want? Well, honestly, you could want a whole lot more than you actually get in issue #4. It's "World War Hulk," zombie-style. And that's…it. Hulk smashes, and then gets turned into a zombie and starts eating stuff. There are the requisite gags, and he devours the one woman who means the most to him in the world, and it's all grim and comic and silly and self-mocking, but there's just not much here.
Nothing about this issue has any character beyond its concept as "World War Zombie Hulk." Unlike the previous three issues, it just wallows in its premise and never does anything interesting with it. Looks like the Marvel Zombie train is starting to stall again, even after an attractively vicious three-week ride.