When Mark Millar first wrote a story that took the term “Marvel Zombies” to its logical extension, no-one could’ve predicted what a juggernaut the property would become. Its popularity is surely on the wane now, but “Marvel Zombies 3” — the previous appearance of the characters — actually surprised everyone by being much better than anyone expected.
It’s with trepidation, then, that I approach the fourth outing for Marvel’s flesh-eating superheroes. The direction was well established at the close of the previous series; if the, er, “high” concept for that story was “Robots Vs. Zombies,” the high concept for this one is “Magic Vs. Zombies,” with a cast encompassing all manner of mystical types brought in to track down the zombies that have escaped into the Marvel Universe. If you remember the “Midnight Sons” line of the mid-90s, you’ll be glad to see both the name and some of the characters popping up here. If you don’t, well, Van Lente works to ensure that by the end of the issue, you know who you’re dealing with.
While Volume 3 used Machine Man to inject humor into the proceedings, Volume 4 falls back on that old reliable character Deadpool to act as the voice of comic observation. It makes sense to stick to the formula since the concept, already inherently ridiculous, gains little weight from being played straight. There’s also a little extra riffing on the “zombie” concept, harking back to the voodoo history of the phenomenon with the appearance of Marvel’s more traditional zombie, Simon Garth.
It’s all entertainingly fresh again — the series is more about the new “Midnight Sons” than the titular Zombies, and as a result it feels like a wholly original book. Whether it succeeds or not will probably depend on how well Van Lente wrangles these C- and D-list characters into a leading bunch. The effort isn’t complete as of this issue, and not every idea hits the mark. Jennifer Kale’s “Witch Armour” is particularly grating an idea, and there’s some rather clunky foreshadowing that one of the cast is going to get zombified by a Sword of Damocles-style vaccine which prevents us from getting too attached.
Even so, all things considered, it does feel like Van Lente has once again found a story with promise that can be told using the Marvel Zombies — and that’s just enough to make it worth reading.