Thursday, October 18, 2007

Come Get Some!

Way back in 1981, a hero was born. With an inimitable swagger and a chainsaw for an arm, Ash Williams (a.k.a. Bruce Campbell, uber-hero to geeks everywhere) tore a legendary run through three movies and four video games and left us such memorable lines as:

"Gimme some sugar, baby."

"THIS... is my BOOM-stick!"

and my personal favorite:

"Shop smart... Shop S-Mart."

And now the legend is back, not doing a sequel to the great Bubba Ho-Tep, but instead diving headlong into the Marvel-ous world of comic superheroes. And to top it off, he's going to face down Earth's mightiest cannibals!

It's Marvel Zombies vs. the Army of Darkness!

Released in September, the hardcover of MZvtAD collects issues 1-5 of the limited series. It's a dark day in this universe, as the skies open up and a man from another dimension falls from the sky... and lands in a dumpster. This is our hero Ash, and he's back from a short jaunt into the afterlife for reasons he can't quite remember.

Ash quickly realizes that this isn't his home dimension as he emerges from the alleyway to discover a superhero battle between a "guy using a construction tool of mass destruction as an artificial appendage" and an "idiot in the Beelzebub bodysuit." But before Ash can enter the fray, an old friend appears. It's the Necronomicon, book of the dead, speaking through a possessed bag lady. She tells him that this world is about to end, that "an Army of the Dead will rise."

Naturally, Ash doesn't much like the idea. So after helping Thunderball defeat Daredevil (like most of us, he doesn't quite realize who are the good and bad guys in a new universe) and discovering that the whole planet is full of superheros and supervillains, he seeks out the best of the best to enlist their efforts. This takes him to Avengers Mansion, where he's greeted rather coldly by the team, which includes some of the greatest Avengers of all time: Colonel America, Iron Man, Thor, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel. and... Luke Cage? This is Luke Cage as in the yellow-shirt-and-tiara-wearing Luke Cage, not the bad-ass everyman Luke Cage that we're used to these days. Avengers regulations must have been pretty lax in that universe. (Spoiler! Kinda...) Maybe that's why things didn't go so well for them.

They treat Ash's story pretty lightly (it doesn't help that he introduced himself by blasting the gate intercom with his "boom-stick" to get their attention) and one Wanda Maximoff transportation spell later, Ash finds himself in a Central Park pond. Mere seconds after his transportation, pink lightning blasts from the sky, and Ash knows that it's all starting. He runs into the streets, yelling to the already panicked masses that the best thing they could do now is run home and kiss their asses goodbye. (sheez, with heroes like this, who needs Dock Ock?) This naturally leads to the introduction of another hero, Spider-Man, tying up Ash in webbing (odd he doesn't gag him too) and about to take him to be dropped off at the local P.D. when Ash recounts to him what got him sent to this universe. Apparently, he had been about to walk through the Pearly Gates (he was told he couldn't bring his chainsaw and shotgun in with him) when suddenly blood sprayed everywhere, and Ash turns to see a superhero crouched over a heaping pile of bodies. After determining a shotgun blast to the chest had no discernible effect, Ash was blasted into this universe.

Just as he finishes telling this story, they turn a corner and see that this same superhero has now joined Ash in this universe and made mincemeat out of the recently very much alive Avengers. It is in fact the Sentry, or at least a zombified version of him, and this is especially relevant because this is the first instance in the Marvel Zombies continuity where it has been specifically stated that Patient Zero of this zombie strain was Robert Reynolds. When this universe was first introduced in Ultimate Fantastic Four issues 21-23, the initial infector looked more like a zombie Superman, spit-curl and all. Obviously this wouldn't fly as long as DC still makes money, so it had been universally accepted that it was in fact the Sentry. But this is the first confirmation of it.

And the dead begin to rise. Colonel America, then Black Widow and eventually the whole Avengers team begin to reanimate, and New York City is officially screwed. Spider-Man and Ash stay just long enough to rescue one woman trapped cornered in the street, but it's one nanosecond too long, as Colonel America uses the opportunity to put the bite on Spidey. The two still escape, but After Peter Parker abandons Ash to check in on his family (as detailed in the one-shot Marvel Zombies, Dead Days) Ash is joined by a guy named Frank.

"Uh, what do they call you anyway, other than Frank?"

"The Punisher."

"Ugh... of course they do."

(They actually used his logo in that scene when he spoke his name; I tried and tried but couldn't find that exact image to do a true quote; I assure you it would've been more bad-ass that way)

After ditching Punisher and taking a good amount of guns and ammo on the way, Ash is just about to write off all the heroes in this universe when he suddenly turns a corner and sees Winter "Bucky" Soldier trying to take a bite out of former X-Man, permanent Marvel G-list superhero Dazzler. After saving her, Ash makes sure to check long and hard for zombie bites.

This is a general theme. The only characters that Ash hangs with (and that Ash WANTS to hang with him) are the ladies. Especially the ones in the zero-gravity spandex. Before too long Ash, Dazzler and Scarlet Witch (so sorry about not believing Ash now) are searching for the Necronomicon, which Ash is sure is the cause of, and perhaps the cure to, this now-global epidemic. This takes them first to Sorcerer Supeme Stephen Strange's sanctum sanctorum ("What's that? Some kinda super-hero tongue twister?"), and eventually to the kingdom of Latveria, where humanity's last hope is a despot named Doctor Doom.

This book is borderline great. It's got great artwork by Fabiano Neves (Xena, Warrior Princess; at least for the first 3 issues) and the writing by John Layman (House of M: Fantastic Four, Xena) is good if not great; there are holes and inconsistencies in the plot that a better writer wouldn't have missed. There are great humor scenes including (but not limited to) the Blob being chased by a column of zombified heroes, an interrogation of magical tomes in Dr. Strange's library, a zombified Power Pack appearance which leads to "a purely superfluous cameo featuring nextwave five pirate super heroes who get ruthlessly dispatched off-panel mere moments from now, in the most humiliating and degrading ways imaginable," "Sorry, Ash, there's no such thing as a 'Quinjet mile-high club -- and if you don't take your hand off my knee, I'm going to break it off," and a superb scene in which, upon meeting Doctor Doom, "Miss Maximoff, kindly inform your associate that I am the absolute monarch and lord of Latveria, and if he addresses me again as 'Yo, Threpio,' 'Hey, Tin Man,' or 'Domo arigato, Mister Roboto,' I will remove his head from his body." Ash is personalized perfectly, right on line with his Army of Darkness characterization. It even has a great twist at the end.

Unfortunately, like I said before, the art quality only goes through issue 3. I don't know what Neves was doing, but artwork was taken over in issues 4 and 5 by Fernando Blanco (Strangers) and Sean Phillips (Black Widow, Marvel Zombies), and while they aren't BAD, they're certainly not as good as Neves. When Ash disguises himself in a Doombot armor, it comes off terribly. It's striking... one minute there's fantastic artwork; The next, it's drab.

The best part, though, is the return of Arthur Suydam. He continues to reproduce excellent covers based on former Marvel title covers, only zombified. His work is nothing short of spectacular, and each cover is in the back of the book, just waiting for you to check it out.

And you should! This is a great series for people who loved either Marvel Zombies or the Army of Darkness series (or both!) and you should at least check it out at your local Barnes and Noble while it's still on display (it comes plastic-wrapped, but just ask a bookseller if you can open it up to take a look). It's well worth owning.

After I get back from Philadelphia I should be posting on a more punctual timeline, hopefully you'll find this review more than makes up for the time it took to get a second review out! I'll see you next week!


brian said...

This sounds like a fantastic story. I can only hope that they adapt it for the big screen so I can review it.

Nice use of the shameless plug for B&N there. Good work.

Elmo said...

Sean Phillips has been inking his heinie off lately, with varying degrees of success(Rick Leonardi's work in JLA Classified looks great). His penciling is wonderful- see Wildcats(vol.2) and Criminal, which I've never read (GASP- someday!).

Kevin Caron said...

Never read Criminal?!? Drop 'Justice Leage' or something and pick it up! Criminal rules.