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. This is no world of Marvel Heroes. This is the world of... Marvel Zombies.
— opening blurb, Marvel Zombies
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 cannibalisticzombies 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 relented on years later with the Spider-MenMilestone Celebration 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). Plus, the zombified Fantastic Four end up becoming the Ultimate version of the Frightful Four.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 2: Set forty years after Marvel Zombies. After realizing they've eaten almost all of the life in the universe, the surviving zombies return to Earth to make another try at building a dimensional portal. There, the descendants of the Black Panther and Magneto's Acolytes have built a tiny settlement in the ruins of New York City, and Fabian Cortez's grandson has plans of his own.
Marvel Zombies 3: Set between Marvel Zombies and Marvel Zombies 2. The alternate-reality police organization ARMOR dispatches Aaron Stack, a.k.a. Machine Man, and Jocasta to the Marvel Zombies universe in an attempt to create a vaccine for the zombie disease. What they don't know is that the entire thing is a trick by the zombie version of Michael Morbius, to ensure a new food supply for the zombies left behind on his Earth.
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.
Marvel Zombies Halloween (2012): Several years after the Hunger Gospel was released, a survivor's young son decides he wants to celebrate Halloween. It doesn't go well.
Age Of Ultron vs. Marvel Zombies (2015): It's zombie apocalypse vs. Robot Apocalypse as the Ultron's world collides with the world of Marvel Zombies as one of the many lead-ins to the 2015 event "Secret Wars".
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.The term "Marvel Zombies", by the way, stems from an old nickname for devotees of Marvel Comics. Amusingly, one actually appears in MZ5.
Marvel Zombies provides examples of the following tropes:
Anachronism Stew: The main Marvel Zombies universe is a strange blend of continuities. The general idea seems to be that every character from the Marvel Universe who could be in the story is in the story, usually wearing their classic or best-known costume. It ends up looking vaguely like one of those stories where characters are pulled into the action from all across the timestream, so you have the classic Silver Age characters wearing their old gear and standing next to the Runaways or Nextwave. This gets particularly strange when Power Pack shows up, since they're all back at their original ages.
And I Must Scream: In the first issue of the original series, Magneto uses Captain America's shield to take off Hawkeye's head. In MZ2, T'Challa's grandson finds Hawkeye's head. He's not quite all there anymore, after spending the better part of forty years lying under some rubble in a post-apocalyptic New York City, unable to move and with no-one to talk to.
Anti-Hero: Spider-Man's anti-zombie New Avengers, Zombie Deadpool (a.k.a. Headpool), and the Midnight Sons.
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 Comedy: 3, 5, and Destroy! all have some pretty humorous moments stuck between the pure horror that is the series.
Body Horror: Aside from the obvious, in Marvel Zombies Return, Spider-Man learns how to use his own veins and arteries as makeshift webbing. On top of it all, despite being a zombie who supposedly can't feel pain, doing so is incredibly painful for him.
Butt Monkey: When Deadpool visits the Marvel Zombies universe in Merc With a Mouth, he runs into Zombie Cypher, who has no relevant powers whatsoever and is treated like the other zombies' annoying kid sidekick.
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.
Continuity Snarl: Dead Days and Vs. Army of Darkness have a couple of muddled background details, although none of them really detract from the main storyline:
The biggest snarl is that Alison Blaire is shown in the original UFF "Crossover" book in a crowd scene as a zombie, but is a supporting character in Vs. Army of Darkness and gets all the flesh blown off her head by Doctor Doom before she can turn.
Iron Fist is turned into a zombie in two different ways: he's bitten by an infected Black Cat in the title page of Vs. Army of Darkness #2, and Luke Cage bites him in the big battle scene in Dead Days.
An already-zombified Deadpool is seen getting completely vaporized note by Silver surfer in the foreground of a large battle shot in the original Marvel Zombies, only to make a complete return later without explanation as a full-scale character both within that universe and 616.
The Vision is seen as a zombie during the attack on Silver Surfer in the original miniseries. MZ 3 later shows him, not a zombie (it has been established by that point robots can't be turned) but as a captive of the zombies doing Zombie Scarlet Witch's bidding.
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.
Jim Rhodes:What's one less finger? I got two more!
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.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: A lot of characters die in Marvel Zombies Destroy!, but the three who die in battle against Thor's zombie goats are all killed in one panel.
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.
Almost all of the infected 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 downright 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.
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 being 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. 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.
Fisher King: Destroy! shows this with Odin. It only takes one bite to infect the whole of Asgard with the zombie virus.
Franchise Zombie: Their later appearances have been accused of flogging the idea to death. So to speak. As a result, the series has undergone Genre Shift in order to keep its blood flowing. So to speak.
It was actually revealed in the Army of Darkness crossover that S.H.I.E.L.D. had plans to contain the infection, and they would have worked as well, although it would've limited the damage to "just" North America. Then Quicksilver got infected and spread the infection to other continents, making containment impossible.
In Destroy!, the Nazis won World War II by infecting their soldiers with a zombie virus that works much like the Gospel. All of the old Nazi supervillains are now undead, as are most of the Invaders, and the world has been overrun by zombie Nazis. It's pretty bad, but then it gets worse: the entire population of Asgard got infected too, including Thor. The only survivor is Loki, and well, he's Loki.
Genre Shift: Somewhere around 4, in order to help reduce the amount of stagnation, the series moved to being horror-comedy, signaled by Aaron Stack becoming a main character.
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.
At the end of Marvel Zombies Destroy!, Ms. America rides an atomic bomb all the way down into the heart of the Nazis' war operation, taking a horde of zombie Asgardians and Nazis with her.
Loki's last act before dying is to teleport Dum-Dum back to his allies, ensuring his survival, even as Thor tears him limb from limb.
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, subverted and played straight. It's averted in that every superhero/villain becomes a zombie, but often lose some of their powers in the process. Wolverine can't regenerate, and Black Bolt loses his destructive voice. Subverted with "vambie" Morbius, who becomes a half-vampire / half-zombie. Played interestingly straight with Werewolf by Night, who is infected while a human, but as his biochemistry changes when he transforms, his werewolf form remains zombie-free. For some reason, Earth-Z Black Bolt (Marvel Zombies Return) keeps his sonic powers as an undead.
Every second page has someone being torn to bloody shreds and yet a character saying "shit" is censored.
Spider-Man is established early in the first issue of the first series as having the most remaining conscience of any of the infected superheroes. Naturally, that means he lives longer than most of the rest of them put together.
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.
Mama Bear: Kitty Pryde in Marvel Zombies: Halloween.
Multiversal Conqueror: The zombies would like to spread the Hunger Gospel through the whole multiverse. The end of Marvel Zombies Return subverts it.
Nazi Zombies: In Destroy! Though they didn't create the plague, they were the first to get infected, and spread it to the rest of the world. In fact, there world is so populated, they've created a vehicle to cross into other dimensions.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: 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!"
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 without eating for some time, and they regain some degree of self-control. And after the original super-zombies are defeated, A.R.M.O.R. sends agents throughout the multiverse, killing all the different zombies they encounter. For extra fun, the viruses are all shoutouts to famous zombie creators (eg. a Romero virus.)
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.
Pre-Asskicking 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.
Reality Ensues: In 5, one of the universes to get infected by a zombie virus is very similar to ours. It follows a Marvel devotee's (referenced above) transformation into a zombie. First he's freaked out, then he decides to become a superhero. Unfortunately for him, rigor mortis sets in just before he's killed.
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.
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", à la Resident Evil 1''.
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.
Tragic Monster: Spider-Man. While he's just as ravenous and disgusting as the other zombies when hungry, he's nonetheless plagued by grief and guilt at his actions and Horror Hunger, but unable to stop himself. He's particularly tormented by the fact that he ate his Aunt May and Mary Jane, to the extent that he refuses to take off his mask so he can't look himself in the eyes again.
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. Evil Evolutionalso 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.
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.
Marvel Zombies 2 ends with Cortez successfully getting rid of the Zombies via teleportation and being left in charge and New Wakanda on the verge of extinction. Later issues only follow the Zombies and we've still yet to see New Wakanda again.
T'Channa, Back Panther's son and the second Colonel America is teleported away with other zombies but is neither seen nor mentioned in Return, hinting that he may still be alive in that universe somehow.
After kickstarting the outbreak the Sentry just drops off the radar and never appears again, except in Marvel Zombies Return, which is a backstory for him.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Inverted. When the some of the zombies in Marvel Zombies 2 beat the hunger, they remind Zombie!Gladiator, a Shi'ar, that he was a hero of the people. He says that the humans are not his people, Spider-Man and the rest ate his people, and now he's going to return the favor.
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?...