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Marvel Zombies: Destroy! (revisited)

Writers: Frank Marraffino and Peter David

Artist: Mirco Pierfederici

Marvel Comics, 2011-2012

Back in December 2005, American superhero comic book publisher Marvel Comics published a 5-issue limited series titled Marvel Zombies. It was very popular. The series revolves around an alternate universe in which all of Marvel’s superheroes, save for a handful of survivors, have been infected by a zombie virus. As it turns out, the limited series isn’t so limited after all. Marvel Comics has engaged in its usual dredge mining techniques, seeking out any traces of value with an industrial scale vacuum cleaner. And so we see several sequels and spin-offs of Marvel Zombies, which brings us to the subject of this review: Marvel Zombies Destroy!

Originally published as a 5-issue limited series in 2012 (and released later on in both paperback and hardcover collected formats), Marvel Zombies Destroy! continues the franchise’s experimentation on merging the superhero and zombie genres. The big difference this time around is that instead of an alternate version of contemporary Marvel continuity, Destroy! is set in a reality where the Nazis won World War 2. As with rival DC Comics, Marvel Comics traces its pedigree back to the “good war”, and, for Marvel comics specifically, Captain America’s creation. Both major publishers occasionally return to the 1940s for inspiration.

In this title, the method the Nazis used to win the war is what ties Destroy! into the Marvel Zombies franchise – a black flower from the Norse goddess Hel that revives the dead. It is a departure from the origins of the zombies witnessed in the first Marvel Zombies (a space virus is far removed from Viking legend), which makes it difficult to find exactly where it fits in with the rest of the franchise. But the inconsistent origins of the zombie infestation is hardly a deal breaker in the genre, where the background of the infestation is usually ignored or hand waved in favor of character conflict and gore.

Another departure for Marvel Zombies Destroy! is the cast of protagonists. Instead of focusing on more popular mainstream superhero properties, the main characters are obscure classic characters and B-listers, spearheaded by S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Dum Dum Duggan and Howard the Duck.

The springboard for the plot involves inter dimensional travel, courtesy of the Alternate Reality Monitoring and Operational Response Agency (A.R.M.O.R., because Marvel is obsessed with cheesy acronyms). As a member of A.R.M.O.R., Howard the Duck travelled from his zombie Nazi-infested reality to another reality, and recruits Dum Dum Duggan to join his motley crew of resistance fighters, which he calls the “Ducky Dozen.”

The Ducky Dozen

This is undeniably weird, and remarkably self-indulgent, even for a Marvel Comics publication.

Spending time in this critique on introducing the members of the Ducky Dozen and explaining their origins is a waste of effort. Suffice it to say almost all of its members end up dead or zombified by the second issue. Perhaps surprisingly, given the mucky silt of the Ducky Dozen, zombies, and interdimensional shanghaiing, there is a decent, functional story in Marvel Zombies Destroy! But, lest we somehow forget, Marvel Comics is not mining for specks of gold. The entire series’ main selling point is still the shock value of seeing popular superheroes die violent and gory deaths in the hands of their zombified peers.

And this is where Marvel Zombies Destroy! fails. Within the comic books, the novelty of decomposed versions of iconic Marvel characters has gone. It is fully mined out. And even for those who will never tire of human brains being eaten by costumed superheroes, there are not a lot of popular Marvel Comics characters featured in Destroy!.

Finally, the ending of Marvel Zombies Destroy! is also underwhelming, as it follows the same formula of leaving the ending open in order to facilitate a sequel and/or make the story tie in to the main series. It makes the entire 5-issue run fairly inconsequential and unremarkable. We can only recommend the grey slurry which is Marvel Zombies Destroy! to completionists and fans who are obsessed with the zombie genre.

Why revisit this moribund series ten years later? Marvel Comics’ brand of superhero zombies have been popping up beyond comic books. The first series of the popular What If…? animation streamed in 2021 on Disney + featured a zombie episode. A recent trailer foreshadows the appearance of a zombie Doctor Strange in the soon-to-be released motion picture Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness. Superhero zombies are also in several licensed Marvel video games. Marvel Zombies Destroy! is a cautionary tale, of when a popular concept goes too far.