In 2005, writer Mark Millar and artist Greg Land launched what would become a publishing phenomenon with issue #21 of Marvel Comics' "Ultimate Fantastic Four," introducing the world to Marvel's Zombieverse, which is home to undead, flesh hungry incarnations of Marvel characters. Since then the "Marvel Zombies" have gone on to star in several miniseries and have become a separate franchise. The latest installment of the franchise kicks off on April 7, with the release of "Marvel Zombies 5" #1 by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Kano. CBR News spoke with Van Lente about his plans for the five issue miniseries, which aims to wreak gory havoc in a number of different realities.
Van Lente is no stranger to "Marvel Zombies," having written both the third and fourth installments in the franchise. He also wrote the first and last issue of the recent "Marvel Zombies Return" miniseries, which featured work by some of the biggest names in the zombie genre of prose novels. The reason Van Lente keeps coming back to the "Marvel Zombies" franchise is because each subsequent miniseries is totally different than the last, with the writer finding "Marvel Zombies 5" to be an especially compelling assignment, because each issue of the series is designed to be completely different from the rest.
"They're all self-contained and they all tell the same story of Machine Man's return to zombie killing, but he is going to be doing it in different parts of the Multiverse," Van Lente told CBR News. "There will be a different setting, genre and type of zombie in every issue."
Machine Man's first stab at zombie killing came in "Marvel Zombies 3" and "Marvel Zombies 5" picks up on some of the plot threads Van Lente introduced there as well as in it's follow up miniseries, "Marvel Zombies 4." "In 'Marvel Zombies 3,' the zombies crossed over from the original Zombieverse and into the Marvel Universe proper," Van Lente explained. "A few slipped through Machine Man's fingers and they were pursued by Morbius and his Midnight Sons in 'Marvel Zombies 4.' In that series, Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night, got infected by the zombie plague; thus motivating Morbius to find a cure.
"So, Morbius has figured out that by gaining samples from different zombies from different parts of the multiverse, he might actually be able to create a cure," Van Lente continued. "He's deployed Machine Man to go off and do this. This time Machine Man is partnered with a surprise sidekick, a short, registered superhero. And given the nature of the agency they work for, A.R.M.O.R., the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response agency, folks will find this character to be pretty appropriate."
Van Lente is excited to again have the chance to turn Machine Man loose on the flesh hungry undead. "He's a terrific character. I would absolutely love to do a Machine Man ongoing series. Perhaps he could become a brewmeister or revel in his love of beer that we both share. He's definitely a character I can relate to in that matter. That, and I'm a robot. So that also helps," the writer joked.
The plot of "Marvel Zombies 5" could be best thought of as a blending of the gory action and black humor of the "Marvel Zombies" franchise with the dimension hopping aspects of Marvel's "Exiles" series. "There's definitely a lot of ethos of that going on here. It's sort of appropriate because after all the Marvel Zombies first appeared in Mark Millar and Greg Land's 'Ultimate Fantastic Four,' where Reed Richards travelled from the Ultimate Universe to the Zombieverse," Van Lente remarked."So dimension hopping has always been sort of part and parcel of the whole 'Marvel Zombies' franchise. So we're definitely taking it to the nth level here."
Over the course of "Marvel Zombies 5," Machine Man and his partner will visit several very different realities. "In issue #1 they go to a world with Marvel's Old West characters. They will also go to Killraven's universe-the 'War of the Worlds' reality where Earth has been conquered by the Martians," Van Lente stated. "They'll go to Camelot and meet up with the Black Knight and possibly Mordred the Mystic and all the other Arthurian stuff. They'll go to a cyber punk world that is actually from the Barry Windsor Smith 'Machine Man' miniseries. And the fifth issue is kind of a surprise."
Each different reality in "Marvel Zombies 5" will also have its own distinct feel. "One of the fun things about this go around of 'Marvel Zombies' is that there's a zombie element in every issue, obviously, but the zombies aren't necessarily the antagonists in every issue," Van Lente explained. "Sometimes we'll have threats that are worse than zombies, like H.G. Wells's Martians who have conquered Earth because they like to eat people. And if you recall, in the original H.G. Wells novel they were knocked out by a virus. So there may be some interesting resonances there between the common cold that attacked the Martians and the zombie plague.
"In the case of, say, your more 'Evil Dead' magically animated zombies, that's a part of the horror genre that's always dealing with repression and the return of the repressed. So you've got that going on there as well in the Camelot story," Van Lente continued. "And of course, in the cyberpunk story, where you have the unexpected consequences of technology, there are all these techno zombies. In the Old West, there's the fact of the isolation and that the West has been conquered and people have forgotten about the old gunfighters until - they crawl out of their grave! So, sometimes the zombies are caused by a virus, sometimes it's radioactivity like from 'Night of the Living Dead' and sometimes it's magic. This is a salad bar of zombies, if you will, for the undead connoisseur."
Beyond his obvious excitement for the various planetary venues he'll be working in, Van Lente also couldn't be happier with the work Kano is doing to bring those different undead infested worlds of "Marvel Zombies 5" to life. "We just put the first Western issue to bed. It's amazing and he's blowing me away with the Killraven stuff and all of his renditions of the supporting cast from the old P. Craig Russell and Don McGregor series," Van Lente said. "He's such a versatile artist. I've long admired him. This is the first time I'm working with him and I'm very excited."
With action unfolding across several different realities, "Marvel Zombies 5" is the biggest entry in the franchise in terms of scope, and Van Lente has had a blast working on it. "There are lots of unexpected surprises in every issue and we'll be exploring certain parts of the Marvel Universe and eating them. The worlds will be presented in ways that I think fans haven't seen in awhile, or definitely have not seen with these characters and villains hanging off of them," Van Lente stated. "This is my fourth 'Marvel Zombies' series, and like I mentioned earlier, as long as there are fresh ideas to keep me interested, I'll keep coming back for more. I love all the fun, gory humor of these stories."