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The Untold Truth Of Marvel Zombies

The fifth episode of "What If...?" featured a variation on an idea that was popular about a decade ago at Marvel, coinciding with Hollywood's "Walking Dead" and "28 Days/Weeks Later"-fueled obsession with limping, moaning brain-eaters: What if there was a reality where the Marvel superheroes became brain-hungry zombies? 

This episode of "What If...?" imagined a world where Janet Van Dyne contracted the zombie virus when she was trapped in the Quantum Realm, and when she was brought back spread it across the planet. Many plot points from the episode were adapted from one of multiple Marvel Zombies series, most with variations. For example, Janet Van Dyne's head was kept alive in the comics, unlike in the show, where it was Scott Lang. 

Zombies have been part of Marvel comics since the Golden Age, though there was well over a decade where they couldn't be featured because of the Comics Code forbidding supernatural monsters. Since then, there have been magically-created zombies (usually by voodoo), radiation-created, virus-created zombies, and the straight-up old-school walking dead. Marvel's explicit Max line allowed for a great deal of gore and violence, delighting its demo with depictions of normally-heroic characters like Captain America, Iron Man and Spider-Man driven to the depths of flesh-craving depravity. 

Let's take a tour of the various Marvel multiverses where zombies have ruled supreme.

Golden Age Zombies

The word "zombie" dates back to 1819 Brazil, typically used in relation to voodoo-type ceremonies and spirits supposedly resurrected to wander the earth and torment the living; by 1929, Western culture had been exposed to voodoo zombies via W.B. Seabrook's "The Magic Island," in 1933 Bela Lugosi starred in "The White Zombie," and in 1968 George A. Romero would take the concept and make it a household terror with "Night of the Living Dead," effectively inventing the "modern" zombie.

Like many "fads" that Marvel seized upon, zombies became a go-to staple in its Golden Age. In 1941's "Sub-Mariner" volume 11, Thomas "Angel" Halloway killed Cuban tobacco magnate and voodoo-using zombie master Richard Amegos after he tried to murder the owners of a plantation he wanted. The Angel later had to stop the self-styled "Fuehrer of the zombies" from launching a killing spree by destroying the parchment that gave him his powers. He later had to deal with a mad scientist trying to get revenge on humanity named Dr. Merkel, who used science to create his Legion of the Dead

This was pre-dated, however, by 1940's "Mystic Comics" volume 11, in which Golden Age hero the Blue Blaze fought zombies in his origin story, having returned from a death-like suspended animation for nearly a century. He killed Professor Maluski, who revealed he was going to conquer the Earth with an army of zombies he was reanimating through science. Another mad scientist, Bruno Varoz, created an army of zombies using artificial blood, but they were destroyed by the heroic robot Electro

Well-known Golden Age heroes had their share of zombie troubles, too. The charmingly-named "Lord of Death," yet another Nazi scientist, used a formula on homeless men to create mindless zombies, but Captain America and Bucky stopped them in 1941's "All Winners Comics" #1. The Sub-Mariner had to deal with a mad scientist creating zombie pirates in 1942, as well as yet another Nazi scientist calling himself the Zombie Master in 1944, who invented headbands that re-animated the dead. 


After 20 zombie-free years in the Marvel universe, the Comics Code relaxed and Marvel released a slew of monster and horror titles like "Tomb Of Dracula," "Werewolf By Night," and of course, "Tales Of The Zombie" — which ran from 1973-1975, as Romero was continuing to expand zombie awareness with 1973's quasi-zombie film "The Crazies" and inching towards his sequel "Dawn of the Dead," which would come out in 1978. However, the first mainstream Marvel hero to encounter zombies was Lord Kevin Plunder, aka Ka-Zar. He fought off the zombie servants of Sheesa the Witch

Speaking of witches, when Wonder Man was mysteriously revived after years of seemingly being dead, the Scarlet Witch detected some nasty magic. She declared Simon Williams to be "one of the walking dead — a zuvembie!" Apparently, Marvel wasn't comfortable using the z-word in one of their regular superhero mags just yet. The Avengers defeated the Black Talon, a zombie-maker and servant of Damballah the serpent god, and managed to snap Wonder Man free of his trance he was in. The Black Talon and his zombie creations returned and teamed up with Nekra, Ultron, and the Grim Reaper against the Avengers, but the Reaper's incessant racism angered the Black Talon and he abandoned the Reaper.  

Moon Knight later encountered yet another voodoo priest named the White Angel of Death in 1981, who was going about trying to make his own zombie battalion. He later teamed up with Brother Voodoo to help stamp out another zombie infestation

Not all zombies are mindless and evil. X-Statix team member Dead Girl had her mutant powers triggered by her death, making her a sentient, undead mutant.

Simon Garth

Simon Garth, the Zombie, was originally introduced in "Menace" #5, from 1953. He was revived (so to speak) twenty years later. He was killed by his bitter ex-gardener Gyps, then revived as a zombie under his control with the Amulet of Damballah. Gyps made a mistake when he tried to make Garth kill his own daughter. He broke free of the control and killed Gyps instead. 

However, anyone who possessed the Amulet could still control him, so a succession of people gained and lost control of Garth. Finally, the Zombie was compelled to attack his ex-lover Layla. She and a voodoo houngan named Papa Doc used her life essence to cure him of his fate for a single day, during which he made amends for his many misdeeds from when he was alive. Then he was laid to rest.

Years later, he was revived and tangled with Spider-Man when one of Spidey's friends was possessed and had the Amulet. Spider-Man later teamed up with vampire hunter Hannibal King in order to track down the vampire Lilith, who now had Garth as her slave. They didn't kill her, but they did get the Amulet back. Garth eventually got drafted by Phil Coulson into the new, monster-based Howling Commandos

Grim reaping

Eric Williams, the Grim Reaper, was the brother of Simon Williams, Wonder Man. When he thought that his brother had been killed by the Avengers, he sought vengeance on Earth's Mightiest Heroes multiple times. When Simon came back from the dead, the Reaper really flipped out. After realizing that the Vision was a better brother to Simon than he ever was, the Reaper killed himself.

Of course, it didn't stick. His lover Nekra brought him back from the dead using a zombie process so refined that the Reaper didn't know he was a zombie. When he realized what he was and became angry, Nekra's spell broke and the Reaper died again. Nekra tried again, but this time the Reaper had to kill a living being to drain its energy every day in order to survive, becoming much more of a zombie. His first target: Nekra. The Reaper tried to get his brother to team up with him against Ultron, but Simon had other ideas, and the Reaper was defeated again.

Seeking more power, he cut a deal with the demon Lloigoroth and gained the ability to summon the dead to use against the Avengers. He lost concentration when the Vision made him remember that the Reaper wasn't murdered by the Avengers, but that he took his own life. His thralls turned against him and the demon fed on him. He was later brought from beyond by the Scarlet Witch, as she also rescued Wonder Man


The modern wave of Marvel Zombies (itself a reference to the fan term describing a comics reader who only read Marvel comics) began as part of an incredible swerve in the pages of 2005's "Ultimate Fantastic Four" #21. The Fantastic Four of this reality (Earth-1610) were much younger than other versions of the team, and both Reed and Sue were scientific equals. Reed revealed to Sue that he had created a working inter-dimensional communicator and had been talking to a Reed Richards from another dimension. Judging by his appearance and references to his children Franklin and Valeria, it seemed like this was going to result in a crossover between the Ultimate universe and the regular Marvel universe (Earth-616). 

Instead, Ultimate Reed got talked into opening a dimensional transporter and went to the other Reed's world (Earth-2149). He found a devastated world, and the Fantastic Four were monstrous zombies desperate to open up a portal to Ultimate Reed's world in order to feed. Thanks to help from the zombie world's Magneto, Reed manages to escape, and the Ultimate FF defeated the zombie FF before they were able to infect anyone.

Reed Richards was always capable of being cold and detached, but the Reed of Earth-2149 was particularly loathsome. After initially working with other scientists for a cure, he concluded the zombies were the next step in evolution and deliberately infected his teammates, encouraging them to attack and turn him as well. 

Cosmic zombies

Back on Earth-2149, it was revealed that the zombie contagion started when the Sentry from another Earth punched a hole in reality and quickly infected the Avengers. The virus seemed to be partly sentient, seeking out metahumans because they were the best candidates to continue to propagate it. However, the zombie "heroes" quickly ran through the Earth's population and couldn't eat each other or anything else. 

Galactus picked a really bad time to try to devour the Earth and send his herald the Silver Surfer on ahead of him. The zombie heroes managed to not only defeat the Surfer, they managed to devour some of his Power Cosmic. Using their new abilities as well as technology scavenged from Wakanda, Latveria, and the Baxter Building, the heroes weakened Galactus just enough to devour him. Having brutally destroyed the Earth's other zombies, they left for space, now fully in possession of the Power Cosmic, to begin devouring other worlds. 

The zombies destroyed all life in the universe in just 40 years and returned to Earth, finding some survivors and resistance from mutants. Hank Pym suggested starting a breeding program to keep a constant supply of food, which Spider-Man objected, starting a fight. As the zombies tried to fix a dimensional transporter, they noticed the hunger suddenly disappeared. The Hulk was still hungry and more carnage ensued, until a mutant named Malcolm shunted all the remaining zombies off into another universe.

Ash vs zombies

By 2007, Romero's zombies had given birth to many films that featured the walking dead — and some of the most popular were Sam Raimi's "Evil Dead" films. Bruce Campbell's iconic Ash Williams is the hero of the franchise, fighting against the Deadites of the Kandorian Demon that he accidentally summoned. 

It only made sense, then, that Marvel would bring Ash into the Marvel universe with 2007's "Marvel Zombies/Army of Darkness Vol 1" #1. After apparently being killed, he was hanging out in what he thought was heaven, until the zombie Sentry shows up and starts to wreak havoc. Ash and the Sentry got shunted off into Earth-2149, just as the zombie plague was starting to spread, carrying a prophecy about how "an army of the dead will rise" and "this world would fall." 

Ash worked with Spider-Man until he got bitten, as well as Doctor Strange and the Dazzler, in order to stop the zombies that he thought were Deadites. He tried to warn the heroes of this Earth that were left, but didn't help his cause by constantly hitting on various female superheroes and annoying them. Finally, he and the heroes tracked down this dimension's version of the Necronomicon down in Latveria. The book revealed that the Marvel zombies had nothing to do with the Deadites. It transports him away to a different dimension, where he is hunted by werewolves. The Necronomicon, comprised of human flesh, is reduced to toilet paper for the zombies. 

Earth 91126: a time loop closed

The zombies tossed out of Earth-2149 were thrown into a similar universe: Earth-91126. Although the zombie Peter Parker was penitent and tried to come up with a cure for the zombie plague, Earth was pretty quickly overrun by the other zombies. What's worse, this dimension had an active version of the Sentry, one of the most powerful beings in the universe. It didn't take long for them to devour all known life in the universe, including Galactus once again (what goes around, comes around for the great devourer).

What the zombies from Earth-2149 didn't expect was opposition from the zombies of the Earth they had infected, especially when the truly odious Giant-Man was trying to create an inter-dimensional transporter to keep spreading the virus. Spider-Man of Earth-2149 led the remaining unturned heroes against the zombies of Earth-91126 and his own world, and the Sandman unleashed a deadly nanobot swarm that wiped out virtually every zombie. 

The only remaining zombie was the all-powerful Sentry. Uatu the Watcher of this dimension made the unprecedented decision of blatantly interfering in the outcome of things, as he was worried the Sentry was going to spread the virus far and wide. He sent him to Earth-2149's past, creating a closed time loop between those dimensions and quarantining the rest of the omniverse. 

Apes vs zombies

Here's where things really get wild. There is a reality (Earth-8101) where all the familiar Marvel heroes are all sentient apes. That includes a team of Ape-Vengers, led by Gro-Rilla, Iron Mandrill, and Boomerangutan. It's a nasty reality where things trend towards the "kill or be killed" side of things, but it has its own sense of order. This reality was invaded by an alternate version of the "Marvel Zombies" dimension of Earth-2149, who had actively succeeded in creating inter-dimensional portals. 

Through a series of highly-convoluted events, the Apes were attacked by a few of the super-zombies, but were quickly defeated. However, Iron Mandrill was infected and started the zombie plague on his world, while the Ape Captain America declared war on the zombie dimension and invaded it. Meanwhile, apes from other dimensions got mixed up in all of this too. Zombie Reed Richards (having been decapitated but with his head still being kept alive) assisted the monkeys with a time machine that would help them alter the events of the past few days. As a result, a time loop was created that stopped both the zombies from invading the ape dimension and vice-versa, with only a few beings remembering otherwise

Earth-616: zombies come home

During the period where the zombies of Earth-2149 were mostly off in space, some of them realized there was another way to invade other dimensions: through the Nexus of All Realities, located in a Florida swamp. They invaded Earth-616 using this method, and a reality-guarding division of S.H.I.E.L.D called A.R.M.O.R. was there to quarantine the area. They hired Dr. Michael "The Living Vampire" Morbius to work on a cure and sent Machine Man and Jocasta to Earth-2149 to get blood samples. But Morbius was actually the zombie version, and had taken the real version captive.

The robots found a living person to get blood from (Vanessa, the Kingpin's wife) and managed to get out. Zombie Morbius had infected the base, but human Morbius helped stop him. In order to hunt down the stragglers, he reformed the Midnight Sons, along with Damion Hellstrom, Jennifer Kale, and Jack "Werewolf by Night" Russell. Simon Garth and the zombie head of Deadpool had escaped. Black Talon got in on the zombie action, trying to offer it to the Hood. It culminated in Morbius' vaccine mutating into a zombie cloud and Kale being possessed by Dormammu. The Midnight Sons overcame all of this as Dormammu's power froze the zombie cloud, the Man-Thing destroyed its super-zombie servant, and the virus was finally quarantined in the body of Simon Garth. 

Zombie hunters: quest for the cure

Morbius was still trying to develop an effective vaccine and realized that there were many forms of zombieism. So he sent a team across the realities to get samples of different zombie strains. That team was once again Machine Man, this time joined by noted dimension hopper Howard the Duck. 

They went to the old west and found a radioactive meteorite was infecting various gunfighters. They were then stopped by Jackie Kane and the dimension-travelers, and she joined them on their mission. They went to the Earth conquered by Martians, who were driven off by the virus. They ventured to the time of King Arthur and dealt with the original Black Knight, Sir Percy of Scandia, who had been infected by the Darkhold. They went to the futuristic dystopian world of 2020 ruled by Sunset Bain, where Machine Man had to deal with an alternate version of his ex, Jocasta. Most terrifying of all, they went to Earth-0000 (aka the real world) and tracked down a comics geek to get a sample. 

Jack of Hearts and Battlestar later had to battle zombie versions of the Squadron Supreme. Howard the Duck led a squad with Dum Dum Dugan against an invasion from Earth-12591, where the Nazis won World War II by becoming zombies. The Loki of the world had caused the zombie plague, only for it to affect Asgard and send him on the run. Finally, the heroes put an end to the menace with a huge explosion.

Night of the Living Deadpool

On Earth-14031, Deadpool found himself in the middle of a zombie apocalypse. After discovering a town full of survivors who are grateful to have a hero in their midst, he learned that one of its citizens was an AIM agent. Even worse, the agent was responsible for creating the zombie virus. 

They were part of a lab crew trying to test regeneration techniques, and they happened to have blood samples of various fast-healing metahumans. That included Deadpool's blood, and this created the Patient Zero of the zombie apocalypse. Deadpool thought his healing factor made him immune to zombiefication, but it only delayed its onset, as he murdered everyone in the town. Attempting to stop the plague at its source, he was overtaken by zombies, but drank the formula made from his blood. What happened is that the zombies all turned into Deadpools

Instead of this horrific, Deadpool group-consciousness trying to save what remained of humanity, they instead turned humans into zombies, and then zombies into more Deadpools. A sole outcast Deadpool rebelled against the group (after all, Deadpool can't help but rebel, even against other Deadpools!) and voluntarily entered a Deadpool-killing machine which created a virus that wiped out most of Earth's Deadpools. A lone human named Liz set out to finish the job on this very, very strange Earth.