I’m as surprised as you are about giving four stars to “Marvel Zombies 3” #2.
I knew Fred Van Lente was capable of the kind of devious fun needed to reinvigorate this series after the perfunctory dullness of Volume 2, and I’ve always been keen on Kev Walker’s edgy minimalism, but I never expected “Marvel Zombies 3” to be one of the best Marvel comics on the shelf. Even after giving a rave review to issue #1, I expected that issue #2 would be a bit of a let down. I thought, perhaps, I was just delighted to see someone finding new life in the desiccated carcass of the franchise, and that even Van Lente’s novel take would wear thin sooner rather than later.
As of “Marvel Zombies 3” #2, that hasn’t happened yet. This one’s as great as the first issue, and that’s largely because of who Van Lente has cast as the lead here: a certain Machine Man by the name of Aaron Stack.
If you don’t already know, the premise of “Marvel Zombies 3” is that the Zombieverse has begun to spill into the mainstream Marvel Universe via the swampy Nexus of All Realities. The first issue was Steve Gerber-influenced, to be sure, but there was more than a bit of Warren Ellis too — a definite “Nextwave” vibe could be felt in the gleeful absurdity of the Florida-based Initiative team. And since issue #1 ended with Nextwave’s own Aaron Stack commissioned to lead a two-man (well, one robot man/one robot woman) strike team into the heart of the Zombieverse, it’s easy to believe that the Ellisian tone would continue in issue #2. And, indeed it does.
This is Aaron Stack and femme robot Jocasta vs. the assembled Zombie hordes. Imagine the zombie Falcon, zombie Angel, and zombie Vulture descending upon our intrepid heroes. Imagine the sarcastic wit and sadistic joy with which Aaron Stack realizes that he can “eviscerate all the fleshy ones” he wants. We certainly get that here. Along with a plot which hinges on a zombie Kingpin and zombie Jackal. If you know anything about either of those characters, you know that the most important things in their lives are, respectively, Vanessa Fisk and clones. Van Lente uses them wisely here.
With Van Lente at the helm, the Marvel Zombies franchise has transcended its status as a one-joke potential cash-grab and has become a natural successor to the brilliant but short-lived “Nextwave.” Van Lente puts his own spin on it, of course, but his “Marvel Zombies 3” is in that same winking, manic, completely-over-the-top mode. It’s not all blood and jokes, either, with a real “human” moment leading to the climax of this issue.
But a little sentimentality never hurt anyone. Especially not a robot with a built in laser array and a mean-on for anyone wearing flesh.