While superhero comics have blended with horror for sometime, most of these stories take place outside of mainstream continuity to allow the creative team to depict terrifying situations that often result in death and dismemberment for beloved, fan-favorite characters. However, Marvel Comics has recently doubled down with its horror-tinged stories set in the main Marvel Universe with the current crossover event Absolute Carnage and now new weekly miniseries Contagion. Written by Ed Brisson and illustrated by a whole host of rotating artists, the story sees the Marvel Universe face a strange new disease.
The opening issue shows the ailment's origins in the mythical city of K'un Lun, the East Asian locale traditionally associated with Iron Fist. Upon the horrifying discovery that the mysterious disease has escaped to the wider world outside the remote location, the story quickly hits the ground running. It shows the disease infesting New York City, home to many of the Marvel Universe's most familiar faces, including a certain super-team that first encounters the titular contagion with escalating, terrifying results.
Brisson is no stranger to penning both street-level superhero stories with Marvel and more grounded horror stories through his extensive creator-owned work. Here, he blends the two with a tale that's part mystery and part body and zombie horror. The mystery comes in the form of an investigation into the contagion's origins and true nature. Meanwhile, the body and zombie horror comes from the grotesque arrival of those infected. There is a slow, creeping tension that permeates through this inaugural issue culminating in the inevitable explosion of the threat festering under the streets of New York, surprising readers and the characters alike as the tension mounts to match the horror on the page.
This is offset by Brisson using The Thing as his primary P.O.V. character in the issue. The escalating terror is purposefully undercut by Ben Grimm's usual temperament as a good-natured curmudgeon. Brisson has an excellent grasp on The Thing's voice and his interactions with other characters are arguably more fun than the horror elements of the book; this is more a testament to how well Brisson writes the rocky superhero than a dismissal of his horror staging. The selection and execution of The Thing as the opening issue's protagonist helps shock readers when Ben stumbles into a situation far more gravely horrifying than he anticipated.
The first issue of the miniseries is illustrated by Roge Antonio, with Veronica Gandini as the color artist. Much of the issue is shrouded in darkness, as the insidious new threat festers in the shadows before rearing its ugly head. This helps lend to the horrific nature of the story, while the more colorful superheroes contrast with the other darkened visuals. And the requisite action is rendered well, especially when the heroes are shocked to discover the full extent of the new, ugly disease threatening the Marvel Universe and the story smoothly and quickly shifts gears from superhero action sequences to full-on horror.
Contagion offers a fun, if potentially inconsequential, horror-tinged story set in the Marvel Universe. In the debut issue of the miniseries, Brisson blends superhero action with body horror effectively , capturing the various voices well as they confront a new kind of terror. While heroes are certainly put at risk, the story's stakes don't carry quite the same weight as some of its contemporaries. That said, the creative team delivers a pleasant side-story that promises to showcase how the various superheroes in the Marvel Universe react to a threat that isn't simply something they can punch into submission.