By Jim Beard
Zombies have feelings too – they just want someone to listen to them.
Novelist David Wellington’s listened, and learned, and setting down everything he’s discovered in MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURNS #2, out this September 10. It’s a new take on Iron Man, with more eating of brains and gnawing at limbs then Shellhead fans may be used to. Zombies on the halfshell, if you will.
Hailing from the heart of George Romero zombie country, Pittsburgh, Pa., Wellington hit the pop culture scene with a trio of novels that set zombie fans on a ravenous tear to their local bookstores. “Monster Island” and its sequels grew to become a rallying point for all that’s great in zombie fiction and brought the author to the attention of Marvel Comics. He followed the trilogy with more macabre missives, including “Thirteen Bullets,” “99 Coffins,” “Vampire Zero” and “Plague Zone.”
Part of the new MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN five-part series, Wellington’s role brings the spotlight to Zombie Iron Man, first seen in 2006’s MARVEL ZOMBIES #1. A new look at one of the most important and stressful times in Tony Stark’s life, this comic book debut of Wellington’s promises to be a zombie story with all the weight and unique voice of his novels behind it.
We wrangled the author into answering a few questions about his writing, his influences and of course, MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURNS #2.
Marvel.com: David, what’s your own personal history with zombies? What were the first zombies to impress you and set you on this, ah, interesting career path?
Wellington: I grew up with zombies! I was born in Pittsburgh, where George Romero made his classic zombie movies. They used to show them in prime time on the local television stations and my whole family watched them together. Zombies were my first monster and they've always been part of my consciousness.
Marvel.com: Likewise, what’s your own entry point into the Marvel Universe? What sticks with you today from your early days as a fan?
Wellington: It was NEW MUTANTS and ALPHA FLIGHT that got me hooked. When I was a kid I used to save up my quarters every month to get the new issues. There was so much going on in that world, and it referenced a continuity going back decades - it seemed like I'd opened a door to a whole world of stories, a living, breathing universe where exciting things happened all the time.
Today it's the characters that work best for me. Marvel heroes are real people, with real problems, dreams, hopes - but they have these amazing powers that let them work out their issues in a larger-than-life way. I love the way they can reflect our own worries and desires, and show us who we are in an inspirational way.
Marvel.com: We can imagine then that being approached by Marvel had to be pretty cool for you. What was your reaction when you got the call to work on MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURNS?
Wellington: I think I started dancing around the room. I don't remember very well, I was too excited!
Marvel.com: MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURNS #2 takes a new look at the Tony Stark/alcoholism storyline, considered one of the high watermarks for Marvel but a low point for Tony; what do you feel is the true impact of that story today?
Wellington: "Demon in a Bottle" was the first story arc in my experience that really brought a character down to earth. Iron Man was invulnerable and infallible...but Tony Stark wasn't. That was pretty scary, when I was a kid. He was accidentally killing people, screwing up at his job...man, the guy was in trouble. The Mandarin could never really take him down; everyone knew that - the good guy always wins in the end, right? But when the good guy is fighting himself, well, anything could happen.
Marvel.com: Okay, saying all that - how do you begin to insert zombies into the story? How did you deconstruct the tale and then build it back up to suit your undead purposes?
Wellington: I started by imagining Tony Stark at his absolute lowest. The moment, in the official continuity, when he realizes that he just can't be a hero anymore. Imagine the loneliness of that experience, the crushing doubts. Then you throw a threat at him much more serious than anything he's experienced before. How would he handle that? Would he just give up? A year earlier that would have been unthinkable. Now - how can he hope to win? There's real drama there.
The original Zombie Iron Man's a zombie... with an impenetrable helmet. Bad news indeed. Luckily for me - and everyone in this story - he's in another universe. Hmm... Iron Man versus Zombie Iron Man. That would be a pretty interesting fight, wouldn't it?
Marvel.com: Yeah! So, how does your story fit into the overall MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURNS series?
Wellington: Fred Van Lente, who wrote the bookends for this event, worked very closely with me creating an overarching story to tie all five issues together. It works as a whole. But he was also very clear that he wanted my story to stand on its own, too. Events that happen in this issue will have a major impact on how the story turns, but it also has its own very clear beginning, middle and end.
Marvel.com: Your co-creator’s artist Andrea Mutti; what does he brings to the project, in your opinion?
Wellington: Andrea is an absolute pro. He took my script and turned it into something magical... the style he uses is perfect for the story I wanted to tell, and as I see each page go through the process of being penciled, then inked and finally colored I am just in awe of his talent. I came up with a great story, but he gave it life.
Marvel.com: Speaking of life, or un-life, why do you feel fans have embraced zombified, flesh-eating versions of their favorite Marvel heroes? What’s the allure?
Wellington: The characters are so iconic - their costumes or armor or green skin or what have you are part of our collective unconscious. You see them and you have an immediate reaction. Zombifying them adds a whole new dimension to the story. It's like two great tastes that taste great together. Err...considering we're talking about flesh-eating zombies, maybe that's not the best way to describe it...
Marvel.com: Umm, let’s bring it on home then; now that you’re both a novelist and a comic book writer, what are the joys and the challenges in the difference between the two?
Wellington: A comic script is much shorter, obviously, but it's more complex in some ways. You have to tell a story with the art as well as with the dialogue - you have no choice. It's like writing a haiku in some ways, because everything has to work instantly and everything has to work together.
It's tough work, let me tell you. But then you get to see your ideas appear in amazing full color art...which is an experience every writer should have at least once.
Marvel.com: Thanks, David. Best of luck with MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN #2. We’ll be looking for it on September 10 wherever fine undead comics are sold!
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