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Devouring the Competition

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The arc received a lot of buzz, mainly for its promotional artwork. The ads for Mark Millar and Greg Land’s first storyline for the Ultimate Fantastic Four showed the Ultimate Reed Richards looking through a portal of some kind. Looking back at him was another Reed Richards, one that looked like the regular Marvel Universe version of the character.

The internet lit up. Could this arc, teasingly named “Crossover” deliver what the powers that be at Marvel said they would never do—have the Ultimate Mr. Fantastic meet the one created in 1961 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby? Fans of these kinds of stories eagerly picked up copies of Ultimate Fantastic Four #21 expecting to see just that.

Suffice it to say, those fans did not get what they expected. The doppelganger the teenage Reed Richards of the Ultimate universe saw was from a different reality. It was similar to the mainstream Marvel Universe in many ways except one major one—all of the heroes had been turned into blood-thirsty, flesh-eating zombies.

After an excursion in space, the superhero Sentry brought back a nasty virus, one that would turn the victim into a zombie. He promptly came back and spread it to the rest of the Avengers. Soon, the virus spread and the heroes went from saving humans to eating them.

Of course, their powers gave them a great advantage and soon their food stores, namely everyone else on Earth, ran out. The zombie Reed Richards had the brilliant idea of   searching alternate dimensions for food. The Ultimate universe was the first one they came across.

The storyline was wildly popular. Comics being what they are, it was only a matter of time before the Marvel Zombies, named after the nickname of Marvel’s devoted fans, got a series of their own. Originally, they wanted Millar to write it, but his schedule did not permit it. They went for the next best thing—Mr. Zombie Guy, Robert Kirkman.  

One of the books that Kirkman was most known for was his Image title, The Walking Dead. A cult favorite, it dealt with a group of survivors coping with a zombie apocalypse. It was grim, dramatic and ultra serious.

Readers familiar with that series expected Marvel’s zombies would get the same treatment. Again, they got something other than expected. Aided by comics veteran Sean Phillips and cover artist Arthur Suydam, Kirkman brought a morbid sense of humor to the title. Suydam told readers exactly what to expect with his painted covers, each a zombified parody of a famous cover from Marvel’s past. It said that the tone would be gross and horrific while still keeping a tongue in cheek.

The gallows humor included the Hulk’s lack of chewing his food properly resulted in a leg bone bursting from Bruce Banner’s stomach. Spider-Man’s angst is poked fun at as his conscience wrestled with eating Aunt May and Mary Jane. The Wasp, reduced to only a head, begging for fresh flesh to eat even though she had no stomach to fill.

The miniseries follow after the events in Ultimate Fantastic Four. The “zombie” Earth was visited by the Silver Surfer, still a herald to Galactus. The zombie heroes ate him, and then devoured Galactus himself when he arrived. They received a power upgrade from ingesting these victims and used their new powers to search the cosmos for new food.     

The universe was visited several times since the end of this series. Once as part of the Marvel Zombies vs. Army of Darkness intercompany crossover, the series acted as a prequel to Marvel Zombies miniseries. The Marvel Zombies: Dead Days one-shot also served to explain how the zombie virus spread. Most recently, it served as the locale for a four-issue arc of Black Panther, as the new Fantastic Four were inadvertently transported there.                                                                                                                                                                  

And now, Kirkman, Phillips and Suydam return again to the universe. We join our team of cosmic zombies forty years later, and they have picked up some new members many Marvel fans will know—Thanos, Dark Phoenix, Firelord and the Imperial Guard’s leader Gladiator. The good news is that the battered zombies have received new body parts to replace the ones they’ve lost. The bad news is they have just completed devouring all the living beings in the known universe. Out of options, they return to Earth to give fixing the interdimensional portal another shot. Of course, they will find a different Earth than the one they left.

Also out this week:

Pictures of You:

This graphic novel sharing the same title of a song by the Cure is no coincidence. It is a prequel to 2005’s A Strange Day, which detailed the chance encounter of two Cure fans who skipped school to buy the new Cure album on its first day of release. Their chance encounter led the introverted Miles and the extroverted Anna to share the day together where their shared interest led to friendship.

This installment takes place one year before that fateful day and gives us insight into the events that shape the characters. Miles deals with jealousy as his best friend, Sarah, starts spending more time with her boyfriend. And Anna deals with her parents divorce by pining for the boy next door, Ethan.

Damon Hurd (W), Tatiana Gill (A), Alternative Comics, $9.95. Graphic Novel.

Death of the New Gods #1:

DC seems to be actively courting controversy by either killing, or giving the illusion thereof, off some of their beloved characters. Several weeks ago, it was Green Arrow. Now, it’s the New Gods. Of course, the jury is still out on whether Ollie is really dead, but the title of this miniseries suggests that the New Gods are definitely on their way to join the choir invisible.

Created by Jack Kirby in the 1970’s, the New Gods floundered a bit after he left the property. Various authors have worked on the characters to varying degrees of success, but none seemed to recapture that Kirby magic. This is not to say that no creator would be able to perform this feat. Killing off characters doesn’t preclude new authors with a great idea for the concept to work with them, it just makes it harder. But killing off characters sells, so any new ideas must now start with creators bringing these characters back from the dead.

Jim Starlin (W/A), DC Comics, $3.50, Eight-IssueMiniseries.

Suburban Glamour #1:

He was a great part of last year’s Phonogram. Now, Jamie McKelvie, the artist from that miniseries, returns with a new book. And this time he’s wearing both hats, acting as both writer and artist on the project.

When Astrid was a kid, like many children, she had her share of imaginary friends. But eventually she grew up and left the imagination and fantasies of her childhood behind to become your typical teenage in the dull and boring suburbs. Her life has become day after day of nothing happening. But, from out of the blue, the imaginary friends of her youth return and tell her that something big is on the horizon. Is this the truth or is Astrid simply going a bit mental? 

Jamie McKelvie (W/A), Image Comics, $3.50. Four-Issue Miniseries.  

Highwaymen #5:

This issue marks the last of a much talked about miniseries. But it was more talked about from a financial standpoint than from a creative one.

When Wildstorm informed him that there would be no sequels to the series due to low sales, writer Marc Bernardin ruminated on his blog why the book didn’t sell, examining everything from promotion to a percieved lack of quality to ageism/racism (the lead characters are older and one is black). This caused many opinions from the comics blogosphere.

The reasons varied from there not being a market for a miniseries (why buy the individual issues when you can wait for trade) to a lack of identity for parent company, Wildstorm (Is it like Image? Is it like Vertigo?), to it really didn’t sell all that badly (It didn’t do Batman numbers, but it was okay for an independent.) My reason for not buying it? While I liked the concept, I didn’t have the money to add it to my pull list, pure and simple.

Adam Freeman & Marc Bernardin (W), Lee Garbett (A), DC/Wildstorm, $2.99. Final Issue.

Jellyfist:

Jhonen Vasquez made a name for himself as creator of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and the Nickelodeon cartoon series, Invader Zim. Both have pushed the boundaries of what comics and cartoons can be. Now, he is applying the same inventive mindset to the idea of collaboration.

Vasquez is writing this one-shot and it falls on artist Jenny Goldberg to interpret his vision in pen and ink. What makes this different from every other comic book on the stands is that both creators will provide running commentary to explain how well the synergy worked—what was spot on and what was lacking. What results could very well be an insightful look into the nature of the collaborative process.

Jhonen Vasquez (W), Jenny Goldberg (A), Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, $5.95. One-Shot.

The Sword #1:

First was Ultra, then Girls. Now, the Luna Brothers are hoping the third time remains the charm. They are back with a brand-new, modern-day fantasy series which promises to be part Kill Bill, Highlander, and Blade of the Immortal.

Dara Brighton was your typical co-ed. She was a bright student worried about keeping her grades up, making it to all her classes, and what she was going to do when she graduated. That all changed when those three strangers knocked on her front door. They were searching for a one-of-a-kind sword and figured Dara knew where it was. Gone was her simple college life, replaced by a life of violence and blood. Her old life was destroyed, but was her new life the one she was meant to have all along?

Joshua Luna (W), Jonathan Luna (A), Image Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.  

Conan #45:

Kurt Busiek is a man of many accomplishments. He is renowned as one of the best “old-school” comic book writers currently working whose style bridges the comics of yesterday and today. His series, Marvels, has entered the pantheon of comics work that is most used to introduce new readers to comics. And his Astro City stands as one of the best deconstructions of the superhero genre.

But some might say that his greatest accomplishment was bringing Conan the Barbarian back to comics. Now, Busiek returns to the series he helped to restart to add another installment in the “Born on the Battlefield” storyline. Artist Greg Ruth joins the writer on this arc which concludes the recounting of Conan’s youth.

Kurt Busiek (W), Greg Ruth (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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