It started with a flash in the sky, and a ripple through the clouds. The hunger is what brought it here; and feed it did, until the Marvel Heroes were no more. They were replaced by soulless monsters, driven only by an insatiable craving for human flesh.
—Marvel Zombies opening blurb
Marvel Zombies in a nutshell - an alien virus carried into an Elseworlds version of the Marvel Comics universe by a zombified Sentry has transformed the Marvel superheroes and supervillains into cannibalistic zombies who, by the time we're introduced to them, have already consumed every living thing on their own Earth (in twenty four hours, no less) and so are desperately searching for a new source of food so as to quell the vicious, all-consuming hunger that they feel.
The popular franchise stems from a 2005 arc of Ultimate Fantastic Four, "Crossover", which teased at a meeting between the Ultimate Universe and the mainstream one (something the publishers had said they'd never do but did years later with the Spider-Men event) through a meeting of the two different versions of the Fantastic Four, only for Ultimate Reed to discover that he'd been tricked by the zombie Reed Richards trying to find a portal to another dimension and, thus, a new food source for the zombies. The arc was popular, resulting in six mini-series and several guest appearances following the exploits of the zombies at time of writing (April 2010).
The Marvel Zombies franchise following this Arc consists of:
- Marvel Zombies: What happened after "Crossover". The Zombies hunt the last few non-infected people in the world (including Magneto and Black Panther) and try to figure out what to do once they've eaten everything -- when the Silver Surfer, Herald of Galactus, shows up looking for worlds that his master can consume...
- Marvel Zombies: Dead Days: One-off prequel showing exactly what happened when the Zombie Sentry showed up, and how the Marvel Zombies world came to be.
- Marvel Zombies vs. The Army Of Darkness: Intercontinuity Crossover with the Evil Dead series; at the same time as Dead Days, Ash Williams finds himself in the Marvel Zombies universe. Hilarity Ensues.
- Marvel Zombies 2: Set forty years after Marvel Zombies: after gaining the powers of Galactus upon devouring him, the Marvel Zombies discover they appear to have eaten the entire universe, and decide to return to Earth to retry invading another dimension... unaware that a colony of survivors led by Black Panther has built a settlement in the ruins of New York...
- Marvel Zombies 3: Set between Marvel Zombies and Marvel Zombies 2 -- the Marvel Zombies who didn't eat Galactus and have stayed on Earth have discovered the mainstream Marvel Universe... Also, it stars Aaron Stack AKA Machine Man, who retains most of his personality from Nextwave.
- Marvel Zombies 4: After Marvel Zombies 3, the Midnight Sons have reformed to stop the spread of the virus and deal with the Zombies once and for all.
- Marvel Zombies Return: Set after Marvel Zombies 2: The 'original' Marvel Zombies have been teleported out of their original universe into Earth-Z, an untouched universe reflecting different eras of Marvel Comics. Whilst Zombie Spider-Man tries to find a cure or solution for their condition, Zombie Giant Man decides to find new worlds to feed on...
- Marvel Zombies: Evil Evolution: What happens when the Marvel Zombies meet the Marvel Apes. Set during Dead Days.
- Marvel Zombies 5: Set after Marvel Zombies 4. Machine Man and Howard the Duck tour the Marvel multiverse searching for various types of zombies to help Morbius's research into a cure.
- Marvel Zombies Supreme: Jill Harper and her Guardsmen team are sent to investigate a distress call at an isolated Project: Pegasus facility. What they find out is that a renegade biologist has A) cloned the Squadron Supreme and B) accidentally turned the clones into zombies. Notable for not having any overt connections to the "Hunger Gospel" virus, for being the series that brought back the Jack of Hearts, and for the second issue, which is pretty much designed to irritate the hell out of Superman fans.
- Marvel Zombies Destroy! (2012): In an alternate reality, the Nazis used a zombie plague to win World War II. When ARMOR discovers the Nazis have perfected a warship that can travel between parallel Earths, Howard the Duck and Dum-Dum Dugan assemble a team of Golden Age and World War II heroes to go to the zombie Nazis' Earth and take them out before they can mount an invasion.
The zombies and the Hunger Gospel have appeared in multiple other books as well, as cameos or antagonists. Most notably, the 13-issue series Deadpool: Merc With A Mouth is the story of a time-traveling Deadpool meeting and killing several of the B-list zombies who survived the massacre in the original book. An arc in Reginald Hudlin's run on Black Panther also featured the Zombies.
- All the Myriad Ways: This basically applies to the whole series already, but then Marvel Zombies Return turns it Up to Eleven.
- Anti-Hero: Spider-Man's anti-zombie New Avengers, Zombie Deadpool (a.k.a. Headpool), and the Midnight Sons.
- Apocalypse How: Class 3 ---> Class X-4. A small community of humans and mutants may be the last living creatures in the universe, they do not have the genetic diversity required to successfully repopulate Earth, and their new leader is a power-hungry madman.
- At the end of Marvel Zombies Return, that particular alternate Earth may actually have it worse. The only surviving humans on the planet are James Rhodes and Flint Marko, which makes Rhodey the last living baseline human, and the Kree, Skrulls, and Shi'ar have all attempted and failed to wipe out the zombies on Earth. Galactic civilization, on the other hand, is largely intact, as the Zombie Not!JLA never got off the planet.
- Black and Gray Morality: New Avengers (Universe Z) vs. Zombies and Zombies vs. Midnight Sons.
- Captain Ersatz: In the Return, the triumphant zombie superheroes form a Captain Ersatz-version of the Justice League with Zombie Sentry as Superman, Zombie Quasar as Green Lantern, Zombie Namor as Aquaman, Zombie Quicksilver as the Flash, Super-Skrull as the Martian Manhunter, Zombie Moon Knight as Batman, Zombie Thundra as Wonder-Woman and Zombie Giant-Man as the Atom.
- This is actually a relatively subtle joke about Mark Millar's original proposal for the "Crossover" plot, which would've had a barely-concealed Superman as the cause of the outbreak. This got shot down by his editor, but small references to it persist throughout the series, such as Ash shooting the Sentry and leaving a Superman-logo-shaped hole in his costume.
- Cliff Hanger: With Ultimate Doom never seen escaping the zombie reality there could be another sequel showing him trying to survive. Plus Ash is never seen escaping the werewolf reality so that could lead to another crossover. If so wouldn't it be awesome to see Doctor Doom and Ash teaming up to fight werewolf and zombie super heroes from alternate universes with Galatus's level of cosmic power.
- Crapsack World
- Determinator: Jim Rhodes in Marvel Zombies Return. Not only he has managed to not be infected for many years, by cutting out any bitten part of his body to replace it with cybernetics, but he voluntarily cuts off one of his fingers to use as bait for zombies.
- "What's one less finger? I got two more!"
- Downer Ending: Marvel Zombies 2. The remaining zombified heroes are on the path to redemption and will help the few remaining humans survive and thrive... and then Cortez Jr. sends them through the dimensional portal, dooming another universe, while what little is left of the first one will probably go extinct in a few generations under a Knight Templar ruler. This led to Marvel Zombies Return, which ditches most of the Character Development.
- The Return universe, as mentioned above, is both better and worse off than the original.
- Enemy Mine: The Hood and Midnight Sons did it in Marvel Zombies 4.
- Also happens in Marvel Zombies Return. Hulk was allied with Sentry at first, but then Sentry tried to kill him, and Hulk decided to side with Spider-Man.
- Evil Versus Evil: Zombies vs Zombies vs Galactus.
- Expy: The Squadron Supreme are, of course, all take-offs on members of the Justice League. That said, issue #2 of Marvel Zombies Supreme is pretty much an extended slam on Superman's origin, with zombie Hyperion eating his way through small-town Kansas.
- It's hard not to wonder if Supreme's Jill Harper is supposed to be a shout-out to Jill Valentine.
- Face Heel Turn: All of the infected turn into Complete Monsters regardless of whether they were hero or villain beforehand.
- What's really interesting though is the way some of the villains are the last to be infected, predictably because they weren't trying to save anyone when the infection started and so didn't get bitten. Dr. Doom and Magneto in particular come off as down right heroic because of their efforts to combat the virus, with Dr. Doom protecting some of the last human survivors in Latveria and Magneto getting an awesome heroic last stand after helping the Ultimate Fantastic Four return to their Universe, staying behind to destroy the machine to prevent the zombies from invading other Universes but dooming himself.
- Not quite all the infected. Doom, alone of everyone in the entire universe without exception, was able to resist the infection by sheer willpower. He eventually succumbs, but not before he saves the surviving citizens of Latveria by teleporting them to another reality.
- Of course, then he finds out his ape counterpart is a baboon. Baboon von Doom. He considers this reason enough to destroy the Ape world.
- Wasp manages to partly recover from the compulsion after reduced to a head in a jar. Apparently the hunger fades with time. The same applies for Hawkeye, whose head is found among some old rubble.
- The Hulk plays with this; the Hulk himself, like the others, turns into a complete monster like the others. In keeping with the Jekyll-Hyde nature of things, however, Bruce Banner is conversely torn up with guilt, but feeds on the living to try and stop the Hulk from breaking through, because he's worse.
- Fad Super: It can't really be a coincidence that this series launched right as zombies were the next big nerd thing.
- Fan Nickname: Zombie Deadpool gained the nickname Headpool, after being reduced to a severed head.
- Five-Man Band: New Avengers.
- Franchise Zombie: Their later appearances have been accused of flogging the idea to death. So to speak.
- Heel Face Turn: Wasp, after being reduced to only a head. Towards the end of Marvel Zombies 2, the other zombies eventually seem to lose their bloodlust. In later appearances, it only seems to stick with Spider-Man, though.
- Half-Dressed Cartoon Animal: Subverted and lampshaded. Howard the Duck has taken to wearing pants... on the advice of his lawyers.
- Handicapped Badass: Black Panther, taking HSQ Up to Eleven. Literally, a
walkingliving Crowning Moment of Awesome.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Magneto ensures that the Ultimate Fantastic Four (as well as a few civilians he had been protecting) get back safely to their own universe and then destroys the dimension-hopping machine, dooming himself to be trapped with the zombies.
- Homage: The cover of almost every issue of the Marvel Zombies franchise is an homage cover of a famous cover from Marvel history, featuring zombie versions of the characters. The covers for Marvel Zombies 3 do the same, but for horror movie posters (Army of Darkness, 28DaysLater, Evil Dead and Shaun of the Dead).
- Marvel Zombies Return begins in the Lee/Romita era of Amazing Spider-Man. Each following issue advances through the larger Marvel Universe timeline, with the Iron Man issue taking place during the "Demon in a Bottle" alcoholism plot, the Wolverine issue being an extended homage to Frank Miller and the martial-arts side of the Marvel Universe, and the fourth issue set during "World War Hulk."
- Hybrid Overkill Avoidance: Averted and played straight. Every superhero/villain becomes a zombie, but often lose some of their powers in the process. Wolverine can't regenerate, and Black Bolt lost his destructive voice. Played straight with "vambie" Morbius. Interestingly, Man-wolf was immune while a werewolf, but vulnerable while human, and is cured by having his transformation triggered.
- For some reason, Earth-Z Black Bolt (Marvel Zombies Return) keeps his sonic powers as an undead.
- Irony: Every second page has someone being torn to bloody shreds and yet a character saying "shit" is censored.
- It Got Worse: It was actually revealed that S.H.I.E.L.D. had plans to contain the infection, and they would have worked as well. Then Quicksilver got infected and spread the infection to other continents, making containment impossible.
- Lunatic Loophole: By the end of Marvel Zombies 4, it appears that the severed head of Zombie Deadpool has escaped the destruction of all the other zombies.
- Multiversal Conqueror: The zombies would like to spread the Hunger Gospel through the whole multiverse. The end of Marvel Zombies Return subverts it.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: zombie Spider-Man in Marvel Zombies Return. Just his appearance in the new universe, where his counterpart is still in the early years, causes some changes. Then he tries to stop the Sinister Six but the Hunger overcomes him... And it's all horribly, horribly downhill from there.
- Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Superhero zombies! Zombie Deadpool! Machine Man vs the zombies!
- Lampshaded by Morbius in Marvel Zombies 3 (coming up with a very corny new word): "I am a VAMPIRE! I am a ZOMBIE! I am a VAMBIE! I cannot be stopped!"
- One-Man Army: One machine army, actually.
- Our Zombies Are Different: They've got superpowers, for one.
- And they are smart.
- And their condition was from a space virus.
- And their hunger fades if they go a few decades without eating, and they regain some degree of self-control.
- People Farms: Zombie Giant Man suggests starting one to provide them with more live humans to eat. We see one in Marvel Zombies 3 (in an offshoot Hunger Gospel-infected universe).
- Perpetual Motion Monster: Reed Richards discovered that the zombies are basically immortal. They require absolutely no energy input to "live", but suffer from a severe case of Horror Hunger. Even so, he infects the rest of the Fantastic Four (and by extension himself) out of grief for his children's deaths. It's revealed towards book 3-5 that if they can be forced to go without eating humans for a few months or years, the craving fades to manageable levels.
- Plot Tumor: Zombie Deadpool has just a minor appearance in Marvel Zombies 3, but thanks to real Deadpool's Wolverine Publicity, his head has a way much bigger role in 4.
- Pre-Ass-Kicking One-Liner: Magneto vs. Zombie Cap- er, Colonel America. "Oh good, you brought the shield". Magneto then uses said shield to cleave the top half of Colonel America's head off.
- Redemption Equals Death: Actual death-death, that is; at the end of Returns, Zombie Spider-Man eventually atones for his actions throughout the minis by arranging for the deaths of all the remaining zombies... including himself.
- Removing the Head or Destroying the Brain: The former just results in an angry, unliving head. The latter method will kill a zombie, though.
- Self-Parody: Marvel Zombies 5 is basically Marvel admitting they've done this to death and playing it for laughs - come on, Machine Man (in full Nextwave mode) and Howard the Duck versus the undead?
- Shout-Out: Several. Machine Man is pretty good at it. Three examples:
- Issue #3 of Marvel Zombies Supreme seems to exist entirely for making a Plants vs. Zombies joke, with a zombie Hyperion put up against Sunflower, a member of the Kansas Initiative team.
- Marvel Zombies Supreme has a lot of shout-outs to Resident Evil, but most obviously in the character of Jill Harper, who is a dead ringer for Jill Valentine. In issue #4, Mainframe even wonders if their team has been sent in "just to see how the super-zombies perform", a la Resident Evil 1.
- Issue #3 of Marvel Zombies Supreme seems to exist entirely for making a Plants vs. Zombies joke, with a zombie Hyperion put up against Sunflower, a member of the Kansas Initiative team.
- Stable Time Loop: It's how Marvel Zombies Return ends.
- To elaborate, here's a spoileriffic excerpt from the Marvel Zombies Return section of Uatu's Wikipedia page:
A version of Uatu witnesses the Zombie Spider-Man's arrival in his universe. After being horrified by the nature of the infection, he decides to travel to other universes to warn others of the infection, but the zombie Giant-Man appears and bites off Uatu's head, planning to use his communicator to traverse the multiverse and satiate his hunger. At the end of the series, Uatu returns stating he was pure energy, and thus could not be infected by the virus. He then proceeds to trap the last zombie, the Sentry, in a time-loop paradox by sending him back in time to Earth-2149, starting the entire Marvel Zombies Saga from the beginning.
- This is also the ultimate fate of Zombie Deadpool, a.k.a. "Headpool." In the Deadpool: Merc with a Mouth miniseries, Deadpool tricks Headpool into reuniting with his body and jumping through a dimensional portal in the Florida Everglades... where he's taken back to the moment where he was decapitated.
- Transhuman Treachery: After seeing a zombified She-Hulk eating his kids and studying the zombies' physiology, Reed Richards, in the worst Mad Scientist fashion possible, comes to the ever so logical conclusion that the zombies are the next evolutionary step, and he infects himself and the rest of the Fantastic Four into flesh eating fiends.
- Evil Evolution also suggests that Reed himself was inadvertently responsible for unleashing the Zombie Virus into his universe in the first place, thus adding further guilt issues into the mix.
- Transplant: "Headpool" has joined 616-Deadpool in his book.
- Villain World
- Welcome to The Real World: The end of Marvel Zombies 5.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: A follow-up arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four ends with the Ultimate version of Doctor Doom, Victor Van Damme, transported to the Marvel Zombies universe right as the zombies finish devouring Galactus, in a span of time that wasn't shown in the Marvel Zombies miniseries. The zombies attack Van Damme and the book ends. Van Damme subsequently reappears back in the Ultimate Marvel universe without comment, where he is killed by Ben Grimm during the Ultimatum crossover.
- Of course, Van Damme has been mutated by his own cosmic ray exposure into a solid metal creature, so it's possible that the zombies just ignored him. Still, it's a plot hole that somebody could very easily exploit to return him to life in the Ultimate Universe.
- What the Hell, Hero?: When Utau comes back from the dead at the last minute what does he do? He sends Zombie Sentry to the original zombie universe causing the annihilation of TWO UNIVERSES causing countless species to be destroyed!!! Why the hell couldn't he send Zombie Sentry into a universe with no life where he would be harmless!!!
- Plus he specifically states in that his species are made of energy preventing them from dying in any physical means straight to James Rhodes face! This implies that he could have come back at any time and sent Zombie Sentry away preventing the annihilation of Earth-Z. You could argue that he needed time to come back but why in the hell did he come back the second after the zombies are defeated!
- For anyone who has read a time travel story in the Marvel Multvierse you should know that a new universe is created every time you time travel. By the Reed Richards zombie in Evil Evolution changing time he indirectly created two new universes, a copy of the zombie universe that invaded the Apes reality and a copy of the Apes reality invaded by the zombies. Now we can change the entire two universes destroyed by Utau to FOUR!!!!
- Worth It: After zombie Red Skull finally manages to kill zombie Colonel America, just before zombie Giant Man squashes him underfoot.
- Writing Around Trademarks: It's pretty clear that the "Sentry" that infected the zombieverse was supposed to be Superman, and was only given a Palette Swap to avoid action by the Distinguished Competition (the hole in his costume the same size and shape as the S-shield is a dead giveaway).
- Your Head Asplode: Really the only way to kill a zombie, right? So what does Susan Richards do to a zombified She-Hulk when she discovers the dead bodies of Franklin and Valeria Richards?...
- Zombie Apocalypse: Well, yeah.