Vince Gonzales is adding the title "co-writer" to his resume as he joins comics scribe Marc Guggenheim on Dynamite Entertainment's five-issue "Super-Zombies" miniseries. But ask the former CBS news reporter and he'll tell you that his background in the non-fiction side of the media landscape has primed him as a storyteller.
"Well, truth is always stranger than fiction. It may be a cliche, but that's because it's always true," Gonzales told CBR. "There are plenty of 'reporter stories' I could tell that you could never put in a comic or TV drama. People just wouldn't believe that such bizarre things actually happen."
Gonzales' background in science reporting informed his and Guggenheim's approach to the "Super-Zombies" material. "We just took reality and 'tweaked' it a bit for our purposes," he said. "Some of the story elements came from information I'd found while working on news pieces about genetic research, biological weapons, and government preparations for a pandemic.
"I love to tell a good story, but I want it to feel 'real.' By that I mean the world the story is set in should be based on rules that everyone and everything obeys. The easiest way I know to achieve this is to take real-world facts and give them that tweak that helps create a new place and time."
With a plot revolving around a world of over 40 superpowered heroes and villains who succumb to a flesh-eating plague of the undead, Gonzales has a point. However, for fans wondering whether or not this miniseries (and a proposed ongoing follow up) will skew too close to Marvel's tongue-in-cheek horror franchise "Marvel Zombies," Gonzales stressed that the tone he and Guggenheim have set out to capture in their characters makes for a more serious exploration of the genre combo.
"Maybe it's the Catholic school boy in me (I went for one year before I was asked not to return), but I think the theme at the core of this first 'Super-Zombies' miniseries is 'The Fall,'" Gonzales said. "We have a world where normal people suddenly became super human. Some chose to use that power for good while others chose evil. Then another strange event turns that world on its head. The 'Icons' of good in this world suddenly find temptation and lust are much easier to accept when all the rigid structures of society they depended on (and built their codes of ethics on) are collapsing.
"The zombie epidemic (or the 'Reviver Plague,' as we call it) is just the catalyst that turns most of humanity into a true silent majority and leaves the rest of humanity (powered and non-powered) to decide how to live in this new world."
At the core of the comic's storyline stands Neuron - a scientist whose genetic testing may have cause the reviver outbreak to begin with, who now struggles to find a cure. "If the core of 'Super-Zombies' is 'The Fall,' then Neuron's story is one of a fight for redemption. I don't want to say too much, but in our world his superpower is his huge brain," said Gonzales. "He's supposed to be the smartest man in the world, but what happens to a giant ego like that when he not only can't seem to save the world - he can't figure out at first why any of this happening? And if he is responsible for what happened, he's certainly not sitting in some cave crying about it. He's trying to fix it. "He's not however, some great scientist/uniter/leader using the peaceful means of science to try and change things. Just like everyone in this world, he's forced to make some horrible decisions and he's committed some terrible acts, in his quest for a cure."
Riding shotgun on that quest are super-types Promethean and NANO, the latter of whom is an artificial intelligence grafted to Neuron's body. "Neuron, Promethean, and NANO are our Father, Son and Holy Ghost (thank you Catholic School again)," Gonzales said. "They're tied together. Both NANO and Promethean owe their 'lives' to Neuron in a way. NANO is bound to Neuron (his creator) but is rebelling against him. As for Promethean, he really doesn't 'help' Neuron much. Let's just say their interests coincide. While NANO and his creator move apart, Promethean and Neuron become more closely allied."
Of course, the titular super-zombies play a major role in the series, specifically a hero-villain pair that go by the name of Solid Citizen and Blowtorch, the former of whom will be the first "super-zombie" transformed in the series. "They have a history," the writer explained. "In the history we created, before the plague they were on opposite sides and couldn't have been more different. Solid Citizen was a deputized member of New Jersey and New York law enforcement. Here's an excerpt from the pre-plague bio we created for him:
Solid Citizen is opinionated, loud-mouthed, homophobic, and even a little racist... [redacted]... In the pre-power days he was gold-chain wearing mook, a premier member of New York's "bridge and tunnel" crowd.
He was on his best behavior after gaining his abilities. He sailed through the government training camp and... [redacted]... Then he became an arrogant, insufferable glory hound.
BUT the public loved him. And he's not bad guy, just really insecure. He's not a coward and he's not stupid.
And as the hero of the two holds a number of flaws, the villainous member of the pair carries with him at least a glimmer of respectable humanity. "Blowtorch, also from New Jersey, was part of a powered criminal gang before the plague," Gonzales said. "But he was never a murderer or sadist. He just took the easiest path for someone who had an advantage over normal humans.
"While they fought each other before the plague, these two find themselves on the same side when our story opens. That's when Solid Citizen does something that causes Blowtorch to question his decisions.
"As for the roles they play in this five-issue miniseries, they are pivotal in their own way, but they don't have as high a profile as I might like. With so many story lines and such a wide scope, it was hard to give some characters the space they deserved. Maybe we can do more in the future, but that's up to the readers now."
As a final piece of the "Super-Zombies" puzzle, Gonzales teased the shades of grey areas the series will traffic in draw in a multitude of characters, and not all of them play the roles one would expect. "Several other characters make brief appearances in the story and, I think, they steal the show sometimes. Check out Lasher, Ghoster, and a super-soldier codenamed OneShot," said the writer. "As for the factions or alliances that have emerged out of the plague, I don't want to say too much, but the old 'super teams' - with one notable exception - are gone. Infected heroes and villains are working together. Some are just taking advantage of the situation. Some are trying to find a cure. Others are actively fighting any attempts to end the plague. Stuck in the middle are any uninfected humans, left cowering in shelters and basements around the globe.
"At its most basic level, the main mission for every character in the series is survival. That's what everyone is trying to do. For some, that means finding a cure. For others, the key is to dominate the landscape. Their motives aren't black and white though. Not everyone working for a cure wants it for the right reasons. In fact, what do you do if the cure is worse than the disease? And if you get a cure, what happens then? How do you go back to the way things were? Can you?"
Vince Gonzales' involvement with "Super-Zombies" came about thanks to a story idea for a totally separate zombie comic he shared with his friend Guggenheim, although the newly minted comics creator was quick to note that his original pitch held little in common with March-launching, Mel Rubi-drawn series. "The idea was really nothing like 'Super-Zombies.' I think Marc and I talked about it six months or so before [Dynamite Publisher] Nick Barrucci called Marc about this project," Gonzales explained. "I'd like to think it was a unique idea, but that's a hard thing to say with the workout the zombie genre is getting these days. Nothing came of it, obviously, but I did see that a comic with a similar premise is about to be launched by another company. The Bible had it right, I guess, that there's nothing new under the sun.
"That having been said, there is one aspect of that original pitch, that Marc and I discussed as a future 'Super-Zombies' story arc. By the way, let me be clear, I am not a zombie expert. I'm not sure where Marc got that idea, but he's been spreading that rumor all over. I'm not sure why. So I have a lot of books about zombies -- way too many books about zombies -- is that a bad thing? This alleged 'expertise' is an especially funny notion when it comes to 'Super-Zombies' because this is not your traditional zombie story."
"Super-Zombies" #1 hits comic shops this March from Dynamite Entertainment, and features covers from Mel Rubi and Fabiano Neves.