By Kevin Mahadeo
When it comes to the Marvel Zombies, writer Fred Van Lente always hungers for more, and this November the insatiable scribe helps himself to a grand meal courtesy of MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN, a weekly, five-issue series featuring everyone's favorite undead super heroes.
The series follows up on the original flesh-eating stars of the Marvel Zombies franchise-namely Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine and the Hulk-after they disappeared at the conclusion of MARVEL ZOMBIES 2. The first four issues each highlight one of the characters as they find themselves in a whole new world of tasty delights, while the fifth and final issue assembles the Avengers for the grand finale. Van Lente pens the event's bookend issues with artists Nick Dragotta and Wellinton Alves, while acclaimed zombie novelists David Wellington, Jonathan Maberry and Seth Grahame-Smith will handle writing chores on the middle chapters.
Eager to sink his teeth into the latest offering of Marvel Zombies, Van Lente took some time to talk about the real meat of the story, his joy at disemboweling heroes and even details the plans for his upcoming date with a Red Headed Stranger in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.
Fred Van Lente: The basic idea here is that absence makes the heart grow fonder-or tastier. We haven't seen the big marquee hero zombies like Spider-Man or Wolverine since MARVEL ZOMBIES 2. As everybody knows, we took the Marvel Zombies concept and went in completely different directions with it for MARVEL ZOMBIES 3 and MARVEL ZOMBIES 4, and I think it was just decided that it was time to revisit those zombies that we started out with and see what they're up to and what happened to them after they were zapped from their original universe at the end of MARVEL ZOMBIES 2.
Marvel.com: All the issues take place in present day then? They're not flashbacks to the back stories of these characters?
Fred Van Lente: No, not at all. It's a continuation of their saga. They all got zapped out of their universe and in MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN we learn where they got zapped to and what havoc they've wreaked once they got there.
Marvel.com: You write the first issue, which kicks everything off and focuses on the not-so-friendly neighborhood zombie Spider-Man. What do you like about writing that character?
Fred Van Lente: [Original MARVEL ZOMBIES writer] Robert Kirkman already established him as the most guilt-ridden of all the Marvel Zombies. He's the closest to his non-infected counterpart in that he's always feeling remorse. The original Spider-Man was remorseful over inadvertently causing the dead of Uncle Ben. Our Marvel Zombie Spider-Man is constantly whining over the fact that he ate his wife Mary Jane and his Aunt May and maybe the entire staff of the Daily Bugle and Flash Thompson...and Harry Osborn...that guy who lived down the hall.
Marvel.com: So, you really enjoy exploring this guilty persona?
Fred Van Lente: Well, he and the other Marvel Zombies end up in a universe that is not unlike the one they left before they ruined it. So, Spider-Man specifically sees an opportunity to redeem himself for all the hideously awful things that he'd done and done to people. He's actually zapped back to the John Romita Sr. era of Spider-Man. A lot of this is actually riffed from a specific [AMAZING SPIDER-MAN] issue, which is issue #68-the "Chaos on Campus" issue. I actually have a beach towel of that cover. Anyway, it involves a storyline with the Kingpin and Silvermane after this mysterious tablet that was being displayed at Empire State University. When Zombie Spider-Man realizes he's ended up in this era, he's like, "Hey, if I get this tablet, its powers might cure me of my zombie-ism."
Marvel.com: Why did you decide to explore this specific moment in Spider-Man history?
Fred Van Lente: Editor Bill Rosemann encouraged me to do a retro thing. I think he originally wanted it to be in the high school, but for me it was more fun to do it on campus because you could have all the 60's illusions and you can get Harry Osborn and Mary Jane and all those characters that started out as his college friends. Also, Bill chose the wonderful Nick Dragotta to draw the comic and I would say he's definitely infusing it with that swinging 60's magic, just with more flesh eating and skin ripping and entrails gorging.
Marvel.com: You're also working on the final issue of MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN featuring the Avengers. Can you hint at which characters we may be seeing?
Fred Van Lente: Well, even though each [issue] focuses on a different character with different creative teams, they are all actually chapters of this long story of what is the butterfly effect of what happens when you introduce these super zombies into a virgin universe. In the normal Marvel Universe, we've got the original Avengers, we've got the New Avengers, we've got the Mighty Avengers, we've got the Avengers Initiative, the Young Avengers, we've got the Great Lakes Avengers-there could be analogues for some or all of these in MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN. I will say that [some] of the most fun I've had doing this book was that the main Avengers team is an analogue to another super hero team that's not an Avengers team, that is not even a Marvel team. I think that within about five seconds, fans who read the book will immediately get what I'm saying and hopefully getting a little chuckle out of it.
Marvel.com: What is it about the MARVEL ZOMBIES concept that you enjoy so much, besides the obvious?
Fred Van Lente: It's the simple combination of gore with humor, which is a real winner. It's fun to sit around and think of new ways to horribly disembowel super hero characters and make fun of them at the same time. It's the job I was born to do. I'm frightened to that fact, but it definitely lends itself to my sensibilities. And it's great fun to be this gory in a regular Marvel comic and get paid Marvel money for it. I still can't believe they're letting me get away with some of this stuff. Maybe once people read this interview they'll haul me away. "We need to have an intervention."
Fred Van Lente: Well, Mary Jane comes back to New York City to host a "Project Runway"-type reality show and she winds up blundering into this situation where Harry Osborn is coming out of the traumatic events of the "American Son" storyline and where J. Jonah Jameson is now mayor of New York and is bringing some of the Daily Bugle crew over to work with him and a situation where she hasn't seen and hasn't spent a lot of time with Peter since they broke up. She's found her way to a place where things are familiar but completely different. To a certain extent it's a brand new day for Mary Jane. Yeah, I went there. I said it. Oh, and I should say that the Chameleon has returned and is deadlier than ever-as the kids say. She winds up crossing paths with him as well in a very unpleasant way.
Marvel.com: This isn't going to be one of those things where Mary Jane didn't really return and it's actually the Chameleon, is it?
Fred Van Lente: [Laughs] Wow. The hate mail in my e-mail inbox would probably go 100 times worse. No, no. It's definitely Mary Jane.
Look for interviews with the other writers of MARVEL ZOMBIES RETURN coming to Marvel.com in upcoming weeks!
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