After the Marvel Zombies (opens in new tab) appearance in Marvel’s What If…? series on Disney Plus and the announcement that they would be getting their own series on the streaming service, many are wondering what role the undead heroes might have in the upcoming Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness – since ‘Variant’ versions of Strange played important roles in the MCU’s zombie stories so far.
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As with almost any Multiverse story, we could see the return of characters who have already met their end, although likely slightly more… decayed in appearance, as hinted by the movie’s trailers. (Not to mention the fact that Multiverse of Madness has horror master Sam Raimi at the helm).
But what’s the deal with Marvel Zombies anyway? Isn’t the zombie craze over, especially now that The Walking Dead series has announced its end? Well, while it’s been a minute since the undead had fully captured the cultural zeitgeist, Marvel’s own undead franchise has some interesting ties to horror history.
The original Marvel Zombies
The Marvel Zombies idea first spawned from an idea in Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four. During the arc “Crossover,” Reed Richards makes contact with a Reed from a parallel universe (Earth-2149). He quickly learns that this parallel world has been overtaken by a zombie virus that targets super-powered individuals. The virus ravaged the super-powered population and led to the elimination of 99.9% of human life on the planet. The superpowered zombies have an insatiable hunger, but they are also able to think and plan, just like their non-zombified counterparts.
Their plan in this case is to invade the Ultimate Universe by using the same dimensional teleporter that got the Ultimate Fantastic Four to the zombie dimension and feed on the living there. The Ultimate Fantastic Four is saved by Magneto, who has not been infected. The zombie Fantastic Four makes it to the Ultimate Universe but the Ultimate FF is able to stop them and send them back where they came from while Magneto destroys the teleporter on his side thus preventing any other zombies from leaking into the Ultimate Universe.
The Walking Dead’s own Robert Kirkman wrote the first Marvel Zombies miniseries. The series would pick up where Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic Four arc left off and expand on some of the rules around this iteration of undead. Magneto learns that Forge and the Acolytes are still alive on Asteroid M but he is unable to reach them and is overtaken by a zombie horde.
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The Silver Surfer arrives to let the zombies know that Galactus is going to eat the planet, but he is attacked and devoured by the bloodthirsty undead. Spider-Man, Wolverine, Luke Cage, Colonel America, Giant-Man, and the Hulk all gain a portion of the Power Cosmic as a result, and they end up destroying many of the other zombies.
The Acolytes try to find Magneto but instead find Black Panther. He’s alive but Giant-Man has been keeping him captive and slowly eating him. T’Challa is missing an arm and a foot and is carrying the head of the Wasp, who was decapitated by Giant-Man when they squabbled over Hank Pym keeping Black Panther all to himself. Meanwhile, Galactus arrives and easily repels the powered-up zombie heroes. In response, they create a device to amplify their power and defeat him, allowing them to feed on his body.
The Acolytes and Black Panther escape the planet but they return five years later. They find Earth completely deserted. There are no zombies or living humans. But we cut to elsewhere in the galaxy where Galactus arrives on a new world except it’s not the Galactus we know. It’s the Galacti – the zombified heroes infused with Galactus’ Power cosmic!
Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darknes
Before Marvel decided to pick up that cliffhanger, they decided to show us just how the world of Earth-2149 came to be and how a certain groovy individual was there at the start of it.
That’s right! The next series would be 2007’s Marvel Zombies vs the Army of Darkness.
You read that right.
Ash Williams is shunted to Earth-2149 from the afterlife (after his apparent death in an unrelated Army of Darkness storyline) along with the Sentry. The spirit of the Necronomicon possesses an old woman and tells Ash that “an army of the dead will rise” and the world will be overtaken so he does his best to warn the Marvel heroes. They don’t take him seriously but soon they become infected starting with the Avengers.
With the prophecy slowly coming true, Ash teams with the Punisher but changes course when he realizes that Frank Castle is not all that interested in preventing a zombie apocalypse. Meanwhile, the Earth-2149 version of Ash has teamed with Scarlet Witch and Dazzler to fight the invasion but has his brains eaten by a zombie Howard the Duck who is then killed by the main version of Ash.
Ash, Scarlet Witch and Dazzler search for the Earth-2149 version of the Necronomicon as Ash thinks it will be the key to stopping the invasion but they are unable to locate it in Doctor Strange’s library. They travel to Latveria to enlist the help of Doctor Doom but they are imprisoned by Doom as zombies begin their approach on Doomstadt. We learn that the outbreak could have been prevented by SHIELD early on but a zombie Quicksilver accelerated the spread with his super speed.
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Ash finds the Necronomicon but it tells him that it can’t do anything since the virus is not supernatural, it’s extraterrestrial. Ash reminds the book that once all of humanity has been eaten it will be the last bit of human flesh that exists. Begrudgingly, it raises an army of Deadites to fight the Marvel Zombies. Doom, Scarlet Witch, and Dazzler become infected but Doom is able to help Ash escape to another dimension, but unfortunately, this one is filled with Marvel heroes transformed into werewolves.
During the events of this miniseries, we find out some additional information in Marvel Zombies: Dead Days – a one-shot written by Robert Kirkman that fleshes out some of the actions and details from the first miniseries.
Spider-Man eats Mary Jane and Aunt May once he’s infected. Colonel America and the Avengers first tried to find a cure before being overtaken by the Hunger. This one-shot shows how Giant-Man captured Black Panther in the first series as well as the Xavier School’s last stand against a zombified Alpha Flight. We also find out that Quicksilver was infected by a zombie Mystique that was posing as his sister.
Iron Man creates a teleporter to help those who are not infected find refuge in other dimensions but Nick Fury decides to destroy it when it becomes clear that the zombies might get their hands on it. We also get to see Reed Richard’s descent into madness as he reasons that it’s better to be a zombie since that represents a form of evolution and he infects his teammates. They feed on him in turn and he vows to rebuild Iron Man’s machine thus setting the stage for Mark Millar’s Ultimate Fantastic four arc.
Marvel Zombies 2
Marvel Zombies 2 picks up 40 years after the events of the first series. Imbued with Galactus’ power, the zombies have consumed all life in the entire universe and they have gained a few more in their ranks including Thanos, Dark Phoenix, Gladiator, and Firelord. They decide to return to Earth but they are starting to realize that their hunger is fading for some reason. On Earth, T’Challa and the Acolytes, led by Fabian Cortez’s son Malcolm, are in a power struggle over New Wakanda, the last stronghold of humanity. One of the Acolytes attempts to kill T’Challa but he is saved by the Wasp as she infects him and they feast on the would-be assassin’s body.
The cosmic-powered zombies reach Earth and Spider-Man and Luke Cage gain the humans’ trust by killing Gladiator. The zombies are at odds over what to do. Giant-Man wants to start a human breeding program but ultimately, they decide that the dimensional teleporter is the best solution as it would allow for them to feast on other parallel worlds and they are certain the humans have it.
One of the still-living scientists, Reynolds, reveals that he has spliced Colonel America’s brain into the body of T’Challa’s dead son, creating a zombie Colonel that does not hunger for human flesh. Understandably, this upsets Black Panther. The zombies arrive at New Wakanda and cut a deal – the teleporter in exchange for sparing the humans of New Wakanda. However, Black Panther and his forces attack the zombies instead. The zombies gain the upper hand but realize that their hunger has subsided – they do not need to feast on the humans that remain in New Wakanda.
A truce is called but one zombie’s hunger has not been satiated – the hungriest there is: the Hulk. Hulk takes out Phoenix, Firelord, Iron Man, and Hawkeye before Reynolds offers himself as a sacrifice. With his hunger sated, Hulk reverts to Bruce Banner and asks to be killed so the Hulk can’t come back and the survivors oblige.
The remaining zombies help rebuild New Wakanda after the Hulk’s rampage. They hold a memorial for those who fell in the skirmish and are invited to a meeting with Malcolm to discuss using the teleporter to transport the remaining living humans to another dimension. However, Malcolm sabotages the machine and teleports the zombies away after revealing that he killed T’Challa’s son.
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These main zombies of Earth-2149 would not see their storyline picked up until Marvel Zombies Return – a series of one-shots each centered around Spider-Man, Wolverine, Iron Man, Hulk, and the Avengers respectively.
Having been transported to a new dimension (Earth-91126/Earth-Z) the zombies’ hunger has returned and they find themselves in a world that is very similar to Earth-616. Spider-Man tries to stop Kingpin from obtaining the Lifeline Tablet so that he can cure himself of the hunger but Kingpin hires the Sinister Six to protect himself. Zombie Spider-Man ends up killing Kingpin and all of the Sinister Six except Sandman who in turn kills the Spider-Man of Earth-Z. Zombie Spider-Man kills the zombified Sinister Six to keep the virus from spreading. Meanwhile, zombie Giant-Man eats Uatu.
Two years later, Giant-Man infects Happy Hogan who infects all of the humans in the Stark International building. Rhodey grabs an Iron Man suit and fights off the zombie hordes as Tony Stark of Earth-Z is in the middle of his debilitating “Demon in a Bottle” struggle with alcoholism. Rhodey uses nanobots to neutralize the virus and kill a zombified Pepper Potts and Tony sacrifices himself to the zombies to keep the spread contained while Rohdey wipes them out.
Two years after that, zombie Wolverine finds himself smack dab in the middle of the events of the Earth-Z Kitty Pryde and Wolverine miniseries. Zombie Wolverine and Zombie Spider-Man save Kitty from the Hand and Spider-Man explains the zombie outbreak to her. Earth-Z Wolverine ends up fighting zombie Wolverine after the zombie kills Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, Elektra, and Sunfire. Kitty Pryde and zombie Spider-Man help Earth-Z Wolverine kill his zombie opposite. Earth-Z Wolverine lets zombie Spider-Man take some of his blood to help create a cure but this Wolverine ends up being infected as well. However, he does not have the same hunger as the Earth-2149 zombies and does not spread the virus.
Years later, Earth-Z Hulk finds himself on the Blue Side of the Moon after the events of his own World War Hulk. He finds a zombie Giant-Man and a host of zombie Inhumans. He is subsequently infected and begins his rampage on Earth. Unable to stop him, the Illuminati call on Sentry but Hulk is able to infect him as well. Fast forward a few years and Earth-Z is the same desolate lifeless wasteland that Earth-2149 had become.
Zombie Giant-Man works on a new dimensional portal so they can feed once more but zombie Spider-Man and a team of heroes face off against Giant-Man and his zombie Avengers. Giant-Man concludes that he needs zombie Sentry to power the machine and a nanite-infused Sandman (part of Spider-Man’s New Avengers) kills all the zombies except Sentry. Uatu reveals that he was not killed by Giant-Man and resolves the zombie outbreak by sending Sentry back to his initial appearance on Earth-2149 – locking the two dimensions in a time loop but preventing the spread of the zombie disease and seemingly ending its threat to the multiverse.
Marvel Zombies in the MCU
A quick perusal of Marvel Unlimited will reveal several other books with the Marvel Zombies in the title, and while a number of them do take place on Earth-2149, most of them are side plots that have little connection to the main events explained here or feature stories that have zombies and Marvel heroes but are not specifically within the Marvel Zombies continuity.
Even the continuity of the main storyline can be called into question as Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness seems to imply that the zombie Sentry and Ash Williams both came to Earth-2149 from the afterlife. So maybe Uatu had zombie Sentry make a pitstop, or Watchers just make for unreliable plot points.
Regardless, it will be interesting to see how the Marvel Zombies mythos will be adapted in their upcoming show. Plus, considering Sam Raimi’s penchant for putting Bruce Campbell in his films (he’s in all of them except The Quick & the Dead which he was cut from) and Ash’s history with the Marvel Zombies, maybe we’ll see The Chosen One make a surprise MCU appearance.
Trailers for Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness have also seemingly leaned into the possible zombie connection, showing what appear to be zombified versions of Strange himself and Wanda Maximoff – both characters with connections to the MCU Marvel Zombies lore that’s already been established through What If…?
What effect that could have on the MCU, and on Strange himself, remains to be seen. But there’s a whole world of comic book lore (literally, in Multiverse terms) to draw from, potentially opening up a whole new and more vicious side of the burgeoning supernatural horror wing of the MCU.
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