Van Lente talks Marvel Zombies 3

In the original "Marvel Zombies," the titular characters showed the Zombieverse Galactus a thing or two about hunger. In "Marvel Zombies 2," the super-powered ghouls had their own Civil War, and soon they'll complete a horrific hat trick by trying to turn the real Marvel Universe into their own horrible buffet. This is the setup of "Marvel Zombies 3," a new four-issue miniseries by writer Fred Van Lente and artist Kev Walker, which kicks off in October.

"Marvel Zombies 2" ended with most of the remaining zombies being exiled into another dimension. "Marvel Zombies 3" doesn't pick up where the previous series left off, but it does begin with some new characters crossing over into another reality, the mainstream Marvel Universe. "The point at which the zombies cross over is the Man-Thing's Nexus of All Realities," Van Lente told CBR News. "This causes them to first come into contact with The Command, Florida's Initiative team."

Van Lente consulted with "Avengers: The Initiative" writers Dan Slott and Christos Gage as well as editor Tom Brevoort about The Command's membership. "I'm a huge 'Man-Thing' fan, so The Command is largely made up of supporting characters from that series," said Van Lente. "Jennifer Kale is on the team. The Aquarian is on it. One of the guys from the Fountain of Youth issue of 'Man-Thing' that Mike Ploog did is on it, and so is Siege, who has nothing at all to do with 'Man-Thing' but I wanted a cyborg!"

Van Lente couldn't reveal whether or not the Zombies' incursion into the Marvel U is accidental or deliberate. "I will say, though, that this takes place at a very specific time point in the Zombieverse," he added. "There's a five-year gap at the end of the first 'Marvel Zombies' in which Wolverine, Spider-Man and the other heavy hitters get cosmic powers from eating Galactus. Then, five years later, Black Panther and all of the people on Asteroid M come down and go, 'Where did all the zombies go?' Our series takes place between those two events. It fills in some of what happened between those two events."

The Marvel Zombies invasion of the Marvel U and encounter with The Command does not go unnoticed by Earth's non-undead protectors. The zombies attract the attention of the clandestine organization known as A.R.M.O.R., which makes its debut in "Marvel Zombies 3." "A.R.M.O.R. is the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response agency. It's the sister agency to S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.W.O.R.D.," Van Lente explained. "S.W.O.R.D. takes care of extraterrestrial threats and A.R.M.O.R. takes care of interdimensional ones. Their mandate is to protect the Earth from invasions by other realities. They were created by the United Nations Security Council's Invisible Resolution 121, to stop and suppress all interdimensional conflict before it reaches the public.

"They're run by sort of an obscure mutant from a Marvel series in the '90s, and I think the people familiar with this character would agree that he's an excellent choice to run this agency."

S.H.I.E.L.D. has the Helicarrier. S.W.O.R.D has The Peak, an orbital space station, and A.M.O.R. too has its own unique headquarters. "It's called the Hollow," Van Lente said. "The Hollow is a ridiculously top secret, underground location and it's only accessible via teleportation. It's a complete self sustaining biosphere."

After The Command's encounter with the zombie invaders, A.R.M.O.R. moves in and quarantines Florida. "They completely lock down the state while they attempt to develop a vaccine for the zombie virus," Van Lente said. "And as you know by the cover to issue #1, two of the people A.R.M.O.R. recruits to help them are Machine Man and Jocasta. They're dispatched into the Zombieverse to get a very important item that is needed to stop the zombie plague from totally over running the Marvel Universe. Machine Man, thanks to his sort of Swiss Army attachments and all his weaponry --the knives, corkscrews, flamethrowers and various other ordinance -- is the perfect choice to hack and slash his way through the Zombieverse in a mind numbingly gory fashion."

Working together may be a little hard for Machine Man and Jocasta, considering the mechanical beings have a history together. "Machine Man and Jocasta have a very complex relationship in that they sort of had a brief love affair but it was interrupted by Jocasta's 'death,'" Van Lente explained. "You can't keep a good robot down, though."

Indeed, Machine Man is very much the central protagonist of "Marvel Zombies 3." "As those who have been reading 'Nextwave' and 'Ms. Marvel' know, Machine Man has a lot of issues," Van Lente said. "He's been kind of acting out. So he's definitely going to be the same beer-loving robot we know from 'Nextwave,' but he's going to evolve over the course of the series. His arc is perhaps the most interesting."

Machine Man and Jocasta won't be traveling into the Zombieverse alone; they'll be accompanied by a number of characters including a Marvel hero who knows a thing or two about "feasting" on people. "The Initiative happens to have a registered hero who is also their resident blood expert. His name is Dr. Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire," Van Lente revealed.

In the Zombieverse, Machine Man and his cohorts will find their way blocked by a number of familiar undead faces. "With the absence of the cosmic powered zombies, other zombies have an opportunity to take over," Van Lente explained. "One of them you might even be able to say is kind of a 'Kingpin' of sorts. He's got some serious willpower and knows how to organize a group."

Previous appearances established that much of the Zombieverse's undead population is made up of 1970s incarnations of Marvel heroes, but "Marvel Zombies 3" will feature ghoulish versions of characters from many eras of Marvel Comics history. "I'm sort of set by what was established in the previous series but I will tease this; in the first issue the phrase 'The Merc with a Mouth' gets a whole new meaning," the writer revealed.

The protagonists of "Marvel Zombies 3" will also encounter characters from previously unexplored parts of the Zombieverse. "We'll see groups from places like say the Blue Area of the Moon, who were not necessarily on Earth when the zombie apocalypse occurred," Van Lente said.

Readers of "Marvel Zombies 3" will also learn more about the mysterious virus that created the Zombieverse in the first place. "The nature of the zombie virus, what it's trying to do, its general and specific effects on the zombies and their behavior, is definitely a major part of this series," Van Lente confirmed. "One thing that was definitely set up in 'Ultimate Fantastic Four' [the Zombieverse made its debut in "Ultimate FF" #21] is that the virus specifically targets super powered people in order to spread itself more efficiently, which is why the Zombies went after the Ultimate Universe and is also why the Marvel Universe has been targeted. We know there's way more super powered people in the Marvel Universe than there are in the Ultimate Universe, and it seems to me that there's even more super powered people in the Marvel Universe than there was in whatever the Zombieverse was before it became the Zombieverse. So let's just say the virus's tactics have changed."

Though "Marvel Zombies 3" is not created by the pioneering team of Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips, the miniseries promises to feature the same mixture of horror and humor as the other entries in the franchise. "My main interest with 'Marvel Zombies 3' is to make it a scary horror comic but with all the humor and gore we've come to expect from a book with the words 'Marvel Zombies," Van Lente stated. "There's always going to be humor in my work that's just sort of the way I look at the world, but I definitely wanted that sense of being scared for the characters and wondering what new and horrific things the creators are going to assault my eyes with when I turn the page of the comic."

In fact, Van Lente has challenged himself to outdo Robert Kirkman when it comes to gore. "The opening scene is without a debt the most disturbing thing I've ever written," Van Lente laughed. "Or at least it was until I wrote the second issue."

The gore was just one of the subversive elements that made the first two "Marvel Zombies" books a hit with a tremendous number of readers. Another was the fact that rooting for the hero usually meant cheering on a flesh hungry ghoul. "Marvel Zombies 3" may feature a cast of non-zombie heroes but Van Lente feels the series still maintains some of that subversive feel. "The whole thrust of the heroes' attempts in this series is definitely to prevent the zombies from succeeding, but that doesn't necessarily mean the zombies won't succeed," Van Lente remarked. "And as totally strange as this may sound, that doesn't mean the zombies are totally unsympathetic, since after all they are just trying to survive. They didn't ask to eat human flesh. It was thrust upon them."

Van Lente is delighted with the way his collaborator Kev Walker has brought to life all the diverse elements of "Marvel Zombies 3." "The great thing about Kev is that he's terrific at drawing the Man-Thing's swamp and the high tech environment of the Hollow," Van Lente said. "We've also got cyborgs, zombies, spell casters, robots and vampires. And he draws them all spectacularly. It's a great genre mash up and he brings this realism to the book that just looks fantastic."

The success of the two previous "Marvel Zombies" books have made the title a publishing phenomenon, so Van Lente does feel a little intimidated by following in Robert Kirkman and Sean Phillips' footsteps. But "Marvel Zombies 3" was an assignment he just couldn't say "no" to. "I love horror comics and it seemed like an excellent opportunity to do a balls-to-the-wall horror comic," the writer said. "And what's great about 'Marvel Zombies' is you get the opportunity to, frankly, be ridiculously violent in a Marvel comic which is generally speaking not something we're allowed to do unless it's a MAX book. So it's just fun to have heads blown off, people being eaten and guts spilling out everywhere. This, to me, equals fun."

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