Marvel Comics' Necrosha launches this week, joining DC's Blackest Night, Marvel's own Marvel Zombies and Dynamite's Super Zombies on the crowded superhero zombie comic stands. But isn't there something... wrong with the idea of superpowered zombies?
I can't help it; I know that zombies are/were the big thing, but there's something about the current trend for undead superheroics that leaves me more than a little bored. I've got nothing against genres mixing and matching, but the original Marvel Zombies - with its horror movie logic and sense of humor, and its lack of need to have to deal with regular continuity allowing it to actually act as a complete story as opposed to something that pretty much needs to reset to the status quo by its conclusion - aside, there's something disappointing about this particular take on the walking (and flying, and running at superspeed) dead. Namely...
None Of Them Are Real Zombies
Again, Marvel Zombies excepted, the reanimated in Blackest Night and Necrosha aren't really zombies, exactly (Something that Blackest Night's creators, to their credit, keep saying in interviews. Even so, calling them Black Lanterns feels like a dodge, because they're dead characters come back to life as undead monsters - They're so clearly zombie-influenced that the actual name doesn't matter). They're magically animated by the power of death itself, or by a psychic vampire (Don't ask), or whatever, and they don't conform to what we'd consider zombie rules: They're not slow, they don't eat brains, they're intelligent - and, in fact, generally have the personalities of their living selves - and they're all under the command of some central intelligence or leader with a specific mission. What kind of zombies are that organized, you might ask yourself? Which brings us to...
We've Seen This All Before
The dead being brought back as pawns to use against our brave heroes? Old hat for superhero comics - In fact, Marvel even has multiple characters based around this concept (the Grim Reaper, the Black Talon... You could even argue that Brother - now Doctor - Voodoo would have some familiarity on the subject). The only thing that's new about this latest wave is the overwhelming scale of the risings... which is one of the few things legitimately taken from zombie culture. Which reminds me.
Enough With The Magic Cures Already
Zombies should be pretty easy to beat. If Simon Pegg and Nick Frost can take care of some, after all, how hard can it be? But not these superhero zombies; no, they're not only gifted with magical regenerative powers that somehow don't take them to a fully regenerated state, but they also have very specific ways to be defeated, apparently: Blowing their heads off? Not going to work, it seems. Setting fire to them? Well, it keeps them busy for awhile, but otherwise... Nah. But keep calm and show no signs of emotion and they shut down (All of that from Blackest Night, which, in its defense is not only a fun superhero story but, in Blackest Night: Superman and Blackest Night: Batman has some really great examples of superhero comics ripping off some well-known horror movie cliches - If you've not seen Martha Kent be chased through a cornfield at night by an undead Lois Lane, or Commissioner Gordon use a double-barreled shotgun against an army of the undead while carrying his crippled daughter over his shoulder, you've missed out on some wonderfully enjoyable over-the-top moments of recent comics). Seriously, comic creators: what's that all about?
Death Is Never The End In Superhero Comics, Anyway
Ultimately, the problem with superheroic zombies is that the rules of death don't work the same way in superhero comics as they do in almost every other fiction. We're used to resurrection in superhero comics, and that works against the story from the very beginning; Blackest Night, for example, has to not only make the reader believe that the dead rising is not only a horrific thing, but also an unusual one - Which, considering that Superman, Green Lantern, Flash, Green Arrow, Hawkman and Robin have all "died" and been resurrected at some point in their careers, is a pretty tricky thing to do; Necrosha takes place in the X-Men series of titles, which has become so full of resurrected characters that characters within the story joke about the pearly gates having been replaced by a revolving door. Without the belief that death is the end - that it means that the person or character is gone and will never be seen again - the very idea of an army of the undead is weakened, because the possibility of a return is always there, and in many cases, expected to happen.
Mixing zombies with superheroes doesn't automatically mean failure - Despite all my "I know you've said they're not zombies and they're not acting like zombies, but come on, they're weird zombie-esque creatures, just admit it" problems with Blackest Night, it's full enough of melodrama, derring-do and humor to make me kind of love it - but of all the horror genres to bring superheroes into, it's one of the most problematic. I can get why comic publishers would want to jump onboard the bandwagon, but... Aren't there other horror monsters better suited to this kind of thing? I mean, Marvel: Paul Cornell gave you Dracula on the moon. That's a great gift right there...