Andy’s Read Pile: Marvel Zombies Volume 3

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IMG_4793Howdy Everyone! Andy Larson here! The host of that podcast that you might often listen to while swearing at other drivers in rush hour, The Ghosts of the Stratosphere. Anyways, if you might remember all last month I was writing read pile posts on the website on books with a definite Halloween/Spooky vibe! Unfortunately, due to our Top 10 Candy contest mid month, I didn’t get to all of the books I was going to cover for this event.

So on today’s edition of the Read Pile, you are going to get my Halloween leftovers! It’s like when you go to Target or Wal Mart the day after Halloween and pick up all that delicious candy at rock bottom prices! Who doesn’t love that day! I live for that day personally as it’s going to keep me in movie theater snacks for the entire following year! (I wonder how many more sentences I can end with exclamation points before it starts to get on people’s nerves).

In any case, the inspiration for today’s selection comes from my recent interview with Fred Van Lente at New York Comic Con a month ago. In talking things over with Rob Stewart prior to the interview, I told him that I wanted to take the opportunity to gush about one of my favorite books I’ve read in the past 10 years, a magnum opus of robotic badassery over the forces of the undead known as Marvel Zombies 3.

When Stew said he hadn’t read it, I was aghast! I mean, how could you as a fan of horror miss this terrifically funny yet intensely gripping action fest starring one of my favorite Marvel characters of all time, Machine Man!?!

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And that made me think that there could be other poor souls out there that haven’t yet heard the gospel of greatness that is this series, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t going to be educated on my watch!

So here it is in all it’s glory! Andy’s Read Pile entry on the adventures of a sardonic robot and his quest to kill zombies….so many zombies! Here’s Marvel Zombies Volume 3!

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Synopsis:

Far off in the armpit of the Marvel Multiverse, exists the universe of Earth-2149, a place where an insidious super zombie virus known as “The Hunger” has infected all of the super humans who have in turn killed and eaten all of the regular humans. Devoid of a food source, they have been reduced to feeding on human clones cooked up by Zombie Jackal. However, Zombie Kingpin has a plan to give them an entire new universe in which to feast.

Using a half dead version of Dr. Strange, he opens a portal to the regular Marvel Universe of the 616 and secretly sends a Zombie version of the vampire Morbius there to infiltrate a super secret SHIELD like organization called A.R.M.O.R. posing as the real Morbius.

This zombie Morbius tricks the ARMOR higher ups to send the robot life forms of Machine Man and Jocasta to Earth-2149 to collect a blood sample of one of the last remaining humans there which will be used as “a cure” to vaccinate the 616 against “The Hunger” plague. Of course the real plan is to use it to spread the Hunger to this multiverse as well, but everyone obviously trusts a vampire doctor so Aaron Stack and his sleek silver girlfriend are dispatched.

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Although they get the blood sample, Machine Man can’t stand the sight of the zombies feasting on the poor defenseless clones, and decides to murder as many zombies as he can before leaving. Thus begins an awesome battle royal between one of the most adaptable robotic organisms ever made vs. the brain feasting horde!

Oh yeah…that battle does spill back over into the 616 as well…but I don’t want to give everything away!

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Things I Liked:

Everything pretty much. Fred Van Lente manages to meld sick humor, tremendous action, genuine suspense, and just the right amount of heart with such a deft touch in this book that it’s really hard to say a bad thing about it. It doesn’t hurt that in his unique combination of both the original heroic Jack Kirbyesque Machine Man with the Warren Ellis “Robot Brain Needs Beer” Machine Man, you end up with pretty much a perfect protagonist for a story about survival in a world of superhuman zombies.

In fact, as the story unfolds, it becomes increasingly obvious that Machine Man was pretty much made to fight the undead, as his natural immunity as a robot coupled with a swiss army knife style arsenal of ever adapting weapons and the quick merciless wit to use them effectively, makes for a pretty lethal combination.

It’s to that end that I thought I’d pick out the 5 Best Machine Man moments from this story to illustrate my point:

5) Crushing Stilt Man’s hopes and dreams before crushing his skull.

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4) Holographic catfishing followed by charbroiling.

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3) The Micro filament beheadings.

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2) Using Zombie Lockjaw to return to the 616 only to feed him brains laced with explosives.

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1) Finally, and most epic of all, commandeering zombie Ghost Riders bike (which handles like a shopping cart btw) to lead the zombie hordes on an incredible chase through the burnt out apocalypse.

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After interviewing Fred Van Lente, I did gleam what I thought was an insight into his thought process for this story in that it seems he wasn’t too fond of the tropey nature of zombies and zombie horror. That it was cliche and boring. And if that was the case, it seems that in Machine Man it’s like he found a near perfect tonic.

A character in which he could channel that dislike into a near catharsis, purging himself of both the “unstoppable” zombie antagonists and the stogy “been there, done that” nature of the zombie narratives that have been done to death ever since “Night of the Living Dead“, with deadpan quips and a irreverent satirical nature that’s more in line with Groucho Marx than Rick Grimes.  

I mean, it’s Machine Man’s whole shtick here. To almost meta-fictionally laugh in the face of perceived threat of zombies in fiction and tear the myth of their supposed invulnerability to shreds, both physically and psychologically.  Some of his one liners are down right brutal, and its a sheer delight to see this character which I love so much completely and utterly in command.

Oh and I didn’t even get to the sub plot with Jocasta wrestling with her own personal demons surrounding her identity as a robotic clone of Janet Van Dyne aka the Wasp. If you want to talk about “brutally honest” characterization and adding some fascinating depth to this decades old robotic female, look no further than this book as its genuinely gut wrenching at times.

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Good stuff. So Much Good Stuff here!

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Things I Didn’t Like:

Boy this is a hard section to complete given as I said above, this was one of the most fun and entertaining books I’ve read in a long time.

Ummm…uhhhh…it was too short, maybe?

I mean honestly I would have loved the series to go on twice as long with all the awesome X-51 vs. the undead action. However I do understand why it didn’t, and perhaps that was the right call. I mean you always want your audience to clamor for more, right? If there were more issues, maybe it would have stretched the story out too thin? Maybe it would have started to repeat or retread over the same ideas and set pieces. Dunno, it’s possible.

Oh, and the art by Kev Walker was sometimes not as crisp as I would have liked. Now I don’t mean that I didn’t dig the rough-hewn chunky almost Steve Dillon-esque visuals nor am I saying I would have wanted everything to look bright and bold. After all,  it was a horror book so you didn’t want anything remotely cheerful. But what I am saying is at times it seemed a little inconsistent. Like a strong well defined image in the center of the frame yet everything else looked somewhat washed out and hazy at times. Like you were seeing the picture through a set of nylon stockings.

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Now I don’t know if that was exactly the pencils or if it was more the color or ink work, nor do I know if it was all done on purpose as a way to emphasize contrast. Y’know like an artistic touch to draw more attention to shiny characters like Jocasta vs. the bleak wasteland of the unholy cannibalistic netherworld. But regardless of the reason, it was somewhat distracting at times…

…but not distracting enough to change my overall grade. I want everyone to know I’m nitpicking here, because I again don’t have enough bad stuff to fill up this section.

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Fun Facts:

Given I’ve confessed my love for Mr. Aaron Stack as a character in today’s blog, I thought that I would recap some of the other blogs/podcasts we’ve had on gotstratopshere.com that star this criminally underused gem of the Marvel Universe. I highly recommend checking these out once you get done with today’s article!

Machine Man 2020

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Cyberpunk Machine Man at his best.

This 80s “Shadow Run” style glimpse into the future has recently found some new life in the pages of Dan Slott’s Iron Man series as well as an upcoming spin off mini series that stars one of the main antagonists of this series, Arno Stark, Iron Man 2020.

Speaking of which…

Dan Slott’s Iron Man #1-5: Self-Made Man

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Although Machine Man only appears in the story for a couple issues and is primarily portrayed as a complete mechanized ass hat, the series does provide some opportunities significant character growth for old X-51 and helps to show how versatile he can be from a story line perspective in the right hands.

The Complete 90s Run of X-51

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A much overlooked series from the late 90s had the original Machine Man merging with Sentinel technology to become a much more powerful mechanical life form. Although he spends most of the issues fighting X-men related mutants, it does provide the basis for the modern day Machine Man’s ability to create a variety of different weapons/tools out of his own body using nanotechnology.

Red She Hulk

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Eh…this is just a fun road trip style adventure featuring Machine Man teaming up with Betty Ross when she was in her super hot, super buff Red She Hulk body. ‘Nuff Said.

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Really one of the major books that helped make Machine Man relevant again after years of languishing in the “D list” bin. Sure, some might say he was somewhat of a Bender clone from Futurama, but that’s selling short charmingly sarcastic demeanor he had in this series. He really is one of the true high points…especially the showdown scene with Dirk Anger over the nightgown.

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Final Thoughts:

Okay, here it comes! One final nerdagasm about how much I love this book! Now, I know that some might call this just a collection of set pieces tied together by a Maguffin type plot, but c’mon! That’s what most stories are! Raiders of the Lost Ark is just a collection of set pieces and a Maguffin! It doesn’t make it any less great.

Others might say that Machine Man is just cast in the “Ash” role from Army of Darkness, a wise ass, foul mouthed monster killer let loose on an army of undead for the shits and giggles. In response to that I would say that Machine Man is actually much more effective at killing zombies in this story than Ash ever was at killing Deadites. He also seems supremely confident in his abilities with an air of almost superiority which I find charming. It’s as if he should be speaking with a commanding “Kelsey Grammer” type voice, something booming and sophisticated, yet with a deadpan snide quality to it.

Yes, friends, this is the definitive Machine Man story in my opinion. Marvel Zombies 3 really showcases the character to such a wonderful degree that it’s hard not to love him afterwards. Sincerely, the series is so great that if they ever decided to adapt Machine Man for Television, this is the story they should tell!

And who knows? There was mention that they might adapt in part the Marvel Zombies story for an episode of the upcoming Disney+ series “What If…?” so I might just get my wish.

Until then though, just go out and pick up Marvel Zombies 3, Damn it! It’s a personal favorite of this old farm boy, and it should a personal favorite of yours too!

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Andy’s Read Pile Grade: A++++

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