For years, the term Marvel Zombie was a derogatory one, used to describe comic book fans who’d lap up anything by Marvel and ignore pretty much any other comic company’s output. It was a genius move by Robert Kirkman, creator of The Walking Dead, to use this term for the title of his initial 2005 mini-series, titled simply ‘Marvel Zombies’, though it was preceded by Mark Millar and Greg Land’s Ultimate Fantastic Four story arc in which Reed Richards is tricked into opening up a portal between alternate universes to meet another version of himself – who turns out to be a Reed Richards who’s zombified and very, very hungry, after he and the other superhumans have eaten their way through every human in their universe. Numerous sequels and crossovers followed the original Millar and Kirkman stories, but each was less satisfying than the last. The novelty soon wore off and many stories, even the clever crossover of Army of Darkness with Marvel Zombies, failed to be particularly entertaining (though the covers were almost always awesome; usually being gory twists on famous Marvel covers of the past).
And so we come to the MCU version of Marvel Zombies with What If…? – which takes a very different approach in its setup. Having escaped the clutches of Thanos at the beginning of Infinity War, Bruce Banner is shot at the Earth by a dying Heimdall and lands in Doctor Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum. In the ‘normal’ MCU, this meant that Banner was able to forewarn Strange and Wong of what was coming – but here, the two sorcerers are nowhere to be found. When two of Thanos’s heavies attack New York, things turn out very differently here – with the cavalry turning up and demonstrating a disturbing taste for flesh…
There’s a very different twist on the Marvel Zombies formula here, with a really interesting team of surviving characters – many of whom you wouldn’t have expected to see. This leads to some unusual pairings not just of survivors teaming up, but also in the survivors vs zombie fights too. Though there’s a grim, horror aspect to the episode, as you’d expect it’s fairly tame and sanitised, so it isn’t exactly scary (though it’s definitely not for younger fans). The story has plenty of comedic moments too – with a superb exposition sequence that really does wonders to lighten the mood – and more than a few unexpected twists up its sleeve.
The What If…? concept allows for some proper carnage and unexpected character deaths too; my only complaint is that the ending isn’t all that satisfying and it feels quite abrupt.
That aside, the episode is another well written, well acted and visually satisfying entry in the excellent new series. Though it’s a concept that isn’t new to anyone who’s familiar with the comics, it does at least tell an original tale within the Marvel Zombies framework – with it tying the zombie apocalypse into an alternate MCU Infinity Saga.
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