One of Marvel’s most infamous recent events comes together with one of its notorious franchises in the aptly named “Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies” #1 by James Robinson and Steve Pugh, although Robinson ensures that the story is more than just superpowered zombies slugging it out with an army of Ultrons. In fact, through the involvement of some unexpected characters from elsewhere on Battleworld, Robinson manages to put together a somewhat more complex story than the title of this “Secret Wars” tie-in might imply. Even so, there’s a strong disconnect between the three plot threads that make up the issue, all of which have completely different moods that don’t provide a very cohesive introduction.
The issue opens up in the Deadlands, home of the zombified Marvel characters, or at least several supervillains in this particular region. Yes, there is an Ultrons vs. Zombies skirmish early on, and Pugh’s double page spread alone gives many readers exactly the kind of scene they were looking for. The guts and severed limbs of the undead bad guys are everywhere, but the villains get their licks in as well in a mural packed with gory detail asks for a closer look. Pugh’s walking and flying dead are eerily rendered and look genuinely threatening, despite getting their insides handed back to them. Colorist Jim Charalampidis relies on a dark, earthy background that adds to the horrific atmosphere, which suits Robinson’s relatively serious atmosphere for the sequence.
This scene gives way to a six-page flashback sequence drawn by Ron Garney and Matt Milla, which explains Ultron’s domination of the world. There are not one but two additional spreads that are wildly different from not only Pugh’s spread, but also from each other. The first by Garney and Milla is colorful and impressive, showing an all-out battle between Marvel’s heroes and an array of Ultron robots; it’s filled with detail that’s a little cleaner than Pugh’s but fitting for the different setting. It almost comes across as a challenge issued to Garney by Pugh to top his preceding pages, and Garney shows that he’s more than up to it, all to the audience’s benefit.
The second, though, is more of the same; or more accurately, less of the same, as a far less crowded battle scene that’s intended to convey the near annihilation of the heroes instead comes across as padding. The near lack of story progression by Robinson on these pages only exemplifies that empty feeling. Despite two nicely constructed double pagers that preceded it, the third conveys little.
The final sequence takes place in another region of Battleworld not implied by the title, which initially makes for a pleasant surprise. Pugh’s interpretation of this region is more straightforward and more in line with the kind of clean, realistic look he delivered in his previous collaboration with Robinson, the now-cancelled “Invaders.” It’s a strong contrast to the more grisly look of the Deadlands chapter, demonstrating Pugh’s strong versatility. However, it’s not a very compelling demonstration of Robinson’s talent, as his attempt at period dialogue ranges from adequate at best to cringe-worthy at worst. Robinson does save the day somewhat with another surprise in the form of an intriguing cliffhanger that should thrill longtime Avengers fans.
“Age of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies” #1 is more of an artistic success than a scripting one; the artists involved collectively provide a diverse — if slightly uneven — look for the comic, even as Robinson struggles with the story.