Grossly heroic. Epically undead. Cannibalistic champions.
No matter how you put them together, smashing superhero ideas against zombie tropes makes for some oddly engaging ideas, and Dynamite Entertainment's March-launching "Super-Zombies" aims to combine brain eating and bravery in ways yet unseen in comic shops. Scripted by "Amazing Spider-Man's" Marc Guggenheim and CBS News' Vince Gonzales with art from Mel Rubi, the five-issue series explores a world where the genesis of superheroes similarly birthed a plague of undead "revivers," and it wasn't too long before the two groups intermingled.
"How the outbreak started and who started it is a mystery at the opening of the book, so I don't want to say much that will spoil things," Guggenheim told CBR with cards firmly against vest. "There may be a solution to the zombie outbreak, but the solution might have consequences that some people aren't willing to live with. Therein lies the central conflict of the piece. Who's going to win? What's going to happen to Earth? I won't spoil those questions here, but I will say that you'll get answers by the end of issue #5."
Guggenheim did reveal how his collaboration with Vince Gonzalez broke out onto the comics page after striking up a friendship at a Christmas party years ago - the on-screen reporter previously shared his own zombie pitch with the writer. "Vince's own zombie project was relevant [to 'Super-Zombies'] only insofar as it was symptomatic of his love of the zombie genre," Guggenheim explained. "What can I say? The guy knows his zombies. That's really why I wanted him for this project - I wanted to work with someone who had not just a familiarity with the ins and outs of the genre, but I genuine affection for it."
When asked whether or not his partner's zombie expertise labeled him "the superhero guy," Guggenheim admitted his experience at Marvel and DC came to bear in crafting a strong superhero world. "I'd say that both Vin and I have affection for superheroes and zombies. But you're right, I'm more of the superhero guy while he's the zombie guy. He's the chocolate and I'm the peanut butter.
"I've had a fair amount of experience writing the superhero genre. Obviously, if you're going to get experience working with those archetypes, there's no better place than Marvel and DC. The trick is to create a world where superheroes believably exist (and I don't mean believable in the suspension-of-disbelief sense, but rather in the sense of being tonally-appropriate). We worked very hard to create a cohesive, fully fleshed-out super-hero universe without merely Xeroxing some bastard stepchild of the DC and Marvel universes."
To that end, the flesh-eating capes-and-tights set who populate the series follow their own metaphorical guiding principals in the same way that DC operates with classic icons and Marvel with "feet of clay" characters. "All our heroes - and villains, we've got those, too - are very human in the sense that they're fearful, selfish, out for their own agendas, etc," said Guggenheim. "That kind of humanity is the cornerstone of the piece and, yes, it's impacted a great deal by the zombie epidemic. And might even be the key to ending it. Oooh. Mysterious."
In specific story terms, the cast of "Super-Zombies" breaks into three groups who are each faced with their own set of apocalyptic dilemmas. Fighting against the revivers both super and normal alike is the man who may be responsible for their existence - a scientist called Neuron.
"Neuron is a good choice for our main character - or, at least, one of our main characters - because he's a guy who has a super-power - the world's smartest man - but doesn't fly or have super strength or what not," the writer explained. "In other words, he can't solve this problem with his fists. He can't swoop around the Earth and scoop up all the zombies. He has to apply brainpower to the problem - while navigating a lot of political minefields."
Standing against Neuron's quest to cure the super zombies are a group of remaining heroes who haven't been infected by the plague, although Guggenheim promised that "there's a group of superheroes who protect Earth by not being on it. They're the superheroes you're scared of. For our story, they're the bull we're afraid is going to enter the china shop and break everything. We're afraid they'd burn the village to save it. Because they would."
A scorched earth policy may be humanity's only hope as the world runs rampant with nearly 40 powered characters who Guggenheim and Gonzalez developed from the ground up, including zombified New Jersey supervillain Blowtorch and his former foe Solid Citizen. Although all of the characters created won't get so much time in the spotlight. "You'll see all 40 over the course of five issues. Some will only get a mention in a double-splash - yeah, there are a few of those, but not too many. Others you'll meet and come to know quite intimately. Then there are ones who fall somewhere in the middle. We have various groups of characters - heroes, villains and non-powered people - whose storylines intersect and dovetail over the course of the series."
The last of these characters is a so-called "hidden hero" kept in cold storage by the government free from the reviver outbreaks. "Basically, he's the most powerful man on Earth. What that means is that of all the people on the planet, he's the last one you want to see get infected," Guggenheim revealed. "So it's probably not a great development when he escapes from cold storage. Of course he escapes. I don't think I'm spoiling anything here. You don't put the gun over the mantle if you don't plan on firing it over the course of the play, y'know?"
And guns firing (along with ray beams...they are super after, all) will overtake the series, which Dynamite hopes will prove popular enough to roll on into an ongoing comic. Of course, that's also contingent on the characters surviving the first wave of carnage. "Well, let's put it this way: Sometimes the cure is even worse than the disease," concluded Guggenheim.
For more on "Super-Zombies" check back to CBR in the coming days for a character-driven chat with co-writer Vince Gonzales.