George Romero will tell you that things fall apart and the centre cannot hold in our mechanistic world of gratuitous self-indulgence: that we are all, in essence, living the Zombie Apocalypse, minus the chainsaw hands and sweaty Rick Grimes-themed ass-kicking. That our society is bound to degenerate into the structured chaos that distinguishes Zombie fiction. All the markers are there: cannibalism? It’s a dog-eat-dog world, man. Global epidemic and rapid infection? They call it globalisation. BRAINSSS? Ok, slight problem there.
The only people who we can really look up to in this nightmare of a society are our Protectors. The only people whom we can truly rely on to protect us are the Superheroes: the New Pantheon of Gods.
Mark Millar, known for his almost ham-fisted iconoclasm, began the grand if somewhat esoteric tradition of zombiefying Superheroes in 2005 with a particularly irreverent story arc in Ultimate Fantastic Four. Zombiefying, as opposed to deifying. That story arc led to the wildly popular Marvel Zombies series of titles, which posits our Gods and Protectors as (mostly) remorseless cannibals. This year marks the publication of the Marvel Zomnibus, collecting 1200 pages of heroic depravity in all its blood-splattered glory. Heroic depravity? Gods debasing themselves? The timing could not be more conspicuous, whether in the context of the comic-book industry (Here’s looking at you, Neal Adams and Frank Miller) or the world outside it.
Zombie fiction has always been about satire, intentional or otherwise: Marvel Zombies ramps it up by inverting traditions of heroism and lampooning Global Politics alongside the ills of consumerism, that old ZomFic staple. “We used to be heroes”, says Zombie Spider-Man; that is the only certainty in this fractured world: that there used to be heroes once upon a time, that there used to be a Glorious Heroic Age. In the immediacy of this (darkly hilarious) tragedy, it does not even matter if this is, in fact, a myth, a convenient fiction.
Some of these superpowered Albert Fishes eventually regrow their conscience. Which makes the satire even more biting: is society, or what passes for it now, ready to accept these purportedly reformed former heroes? The answer, as Kirkman posits in Marvel Zombies 2, is no. When the Watchmen are gone, the Degenerates will come out to play: with the collapse of society, the worst, most repressed instincts of mankind find a release vent among the survivors, a theme examined at greater length by Kirkman in the sometimes ridiculously contrived but consistently entertaining The Walking Dead. The return of the heroes brings with it the however unrealistic prospect of a re-emergent society: that simply cannot do, in the scheme of things.
And then there is love. One might say that where all else has failed, love can melt the cold dead hearts of these erstwhile heroes, if at all they are deserving of redemption. These zombies retain their human intelligence, only with the added benefit that Undeath has cleared up certain misconceptions. As Brian K. Vaughan, that great chronicler of post-apocalyptic landscapes and fractured societies has said elsewhere: “Words like hero and villain are little more than bullshit propaganda. There are only two kinds of people: those above the earth and those beneath it.” And the finer emotions can only be detrimental to the enterprise of staying above. As Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson prove in their macabre Macarena of love that consummates in the former eating the later.
You made me eat you. I didn’t want to do it.