What are you more sick of: Skrulls or zombies? What about zombie Skrulls? Those would be pretty cool, eh? Well, we don't find any of that in this comic, I'm glad to say, but what Fred Van Lente does manage to do is to make me excited about a "Marvel Zombies" comic, long after I've stopped being interested in any and all things zombie-related.
I thoroughly enjoyed Robert Kirkman's original "Marvel Zombies" series, with its deranged look at a Marvel Universe gone bad. The bizarre fun of Captain America with half a skull, or Black Panther being used as a regular snack, more than made up for the ridiculously one-dimensional nature of the "Marvel Zombie" concept. And when Kirkman brought the Silver Surfer and Galactus into the series, it became even sillier and more fun than ever. The escalation from issue to issue left the series at such a cosmic high point that it seemed impossible to duplicate. Where could Marvel possibly take the concept from there? The answer came back, in "Marvel Zombies 2," as a "not very far." "Marvel Zombies 2" was a significant step down from the first series, and although the main creative team was still intact, Kirkman's writing seemed less inspired and Sean Phillips's artwork seemed more rushed. If "Marvel Zombies" was a surprise hit -- and it was -- crafted with twisted heart and soul, than "Marvel Zombies 2" was what everyone assumed the first series would be like -- soulless and predatory, cashing in on its own popularity without a genuine reason for its own existence.
But don't judge "Marvel Zombies 3" by the sins of its predecessor, because this one's by Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker, and it takes the "Marvel Zombies" franchise in a brand new, invigorating direction.
This issue begins with a declaration that the series takes place on "our Earth," better known to Marvel fans as the Earth-616, the mainstream Marvel U. And like any good little Marvel comic these days, it fits into post-"Civil War" continuity, with Florida's Initiative team scouring the swamps, investigating trouble. Immediately we know what kind of comic this will be, because Florida's Initiative team, called the Command, is an oddball Steve Gerber-by-way-of-Fred Van Lente concoction. Team leader Siege (a sort of Deathlok variant) is joined by Aquarian, Jennifer Kale, and the Conquistador -- certainly not the elite superhuman strike team you might expect to be patrolling the Everglades. And Van Lente plays up their strangeness right away, with Siege shouting, "Witch girl! Space hippie! Look alive!" And when the attacking zombies try to eat the flesh of the Conquistador, they find that the fluid of Ponce de Leon is not nearly as tasty as good, old-fashioned blood.
The Command doesn't fare too well against zombie Deadpool and his infected brethren, and we learn that the Nexus of All Realities and some other multi-dimensional mumbo-jumbo has led the Marvel Zombies into the Marvel Universe proper. It's bad news for everyone, and when Morbius and Machine Man are part of the solution, it's probably not going to end well either.
Van Lente hits all the right notes here, as he balances the sick humor with an engaging plot, providing a few twists and turns in just a single issue. And Walker's art is streamlined an effective, with a kind of blocky Steve Dillon vibe that I haven't seen from him before.
"Marvel Zombies 3" #1 is just what the franchise needed: and injection of Van Lente, straight into the brain. It's continuity heavy without being the least bit inaccessible. It's sleek and violent and funny, and I can't wait to read the rest of the series.