I was excited to read Marvel Zombies 3. Not because of the of the title’s pedigree, the two previous volumes having been written by the now-king of zombie entertainment, Robert Kirkman. In fact, just the opposite.
The original book never interested me, but you put Fred Van Lente and (an emerging) Declan Shalvey on an interdimensional romp featuring Morbius and Machine Man? While that change in tone and narrative turned a large part of the franchise’s existing audience away, it’s what finally drew me in.
Turns out, the naysayers were mostly right.
It all starts out well enough. Great, in fact. This was 2008, right after Civil War, so we’re treated to Florida’s offbeat Initiative team consisting of the not-quite-Deathlok Siege, Jennifer Kale and, of course, “The Conquistador,” whose blood has been replaced by water from the Fountain of Youth. They all get slaughtered rather quickly by Zombie Deadpool — and each other, once infected.
We’re then introduced to A.R.M.O.R., the universal equivalent of S.H.I.E.L.D., who keep watch out for multiversal intrusions through the Nexus of All Realities. They’ve recruited Machine Man to storm the zombie world for information, given his “natural immunity” to the virus. He brings along Ultron creation Jocasta for good measure.
As you might imagine, mayhem ensues once they arrive, but it’s all strangely … boring. Van Lente’s usual wit is mostly absent. I mean, much like in the beginning, there’s some cool worldbuilding here, with some ravenous Inhumans and an unlikely leader of the zombie hordes. But worldbuilding only goes so far when all the story beats are either predictable or unimportant to the narrative to begin with.
Machine Man and Jocasta, contrary to their construction, definitely have emotions, but it’s hard to feel anything for them. Aaron Stack is naturally unlikeable (it’s part of his charm), but Jocasta’s struggle with her programmed mental patterns based on Janet van Dyne ring hollow, and you end up not remembering why she was even there in the first place. Nothing’s resolved by the end, and a new team forms to try again, teasing a sequel that seems to be almost completely disconnected.
As alluded to, Shalvey was just starting out at this point, so while there are hints of his trademark style, the art mostly just looks scratchy and dull. Jean-Francois Beaulieu, a frequent Kirkman colorist, does a better job injecting life into the dreary dystopia where appropriate, skillfully using shadows to highlight faces.
All in all, Marvel Zombies 3 isn’t a bad book. It’s just kind of, well, there. You can see why the hardcore fanbase didn’t bother with it, and it’s not even kitschy enough for the typical Nextwave crowd to latch onto. There really aren’t any missteps here, but there’s also almost nothing to keep your attention, either. Recommended only for completists, or if you feel morbidly curious while browsing through an all-you-can-eat subscription service.