BY MATT TUCK
A What If…? executive producer has said some of the show’s topics may become MCU canon. Could that be a hint toward Marvel Zombies in live action? Let’s hope so.
A BIGGER PICTURE
After the Disney+ streaming premiere, the world is buzzing for What If…? and its exploration into the alternate histories of the MCU. The first adventure gave us Captain Carter, a version of Agent Peggy Carter who was injected with the super soldier serum rather than Steve Rogers.
Next up is T’Challa taking Peter Quill’s place as Starlord, but what really has had fans’ attention from the start has been the Marvel Zombies. The teaser art gives a glimpse of zombie Captain America and Hawkeye, leading to speculation about their coming episode.
At first glance, it is easy to dismiss What If…? as what the comic series has always been: a noncanonical look at how Marvel stories could have gone with small twists. As fun as that concept will be in the animated series, the streaming show could have bigger implications for the broader MCU.
Ahead of the show’s premiere, What If…? producer Brad Winderbaum has dangled a carrot in front of our imaginations. Speaking with CBR, he explained that while the episodes and characters are not canon, that does not mean they won’t show in the Earth-616 MCU. “All you have to do to prove that,” Winderbaum explained, “is look back at how many stories from the What If…? Comics ended up in the main continuity of the comic universe. My prediction is a similar thing could happen on the cinematic side as well.”
There is plenty to make of that statement and even more to assume, but that leads fans to speculate on which characters could become part of the regular MCU.
With Marvel Studios leaning toward the supernatural with Blade, Moon Knight, and possibly Ghost Rider and Werewolf by Night, it stands to reason that zombies would be thrown into the mix. As Doctor Strange explores the Multiverse of Madness, it would not be a leap in logic to assume that he could stumble across Earth-2149.
THE TOY STORY
While it is not clear how many episodes will feature the undead horde, Marvel appears to be ready for a large impact.
Hot Toys - the makers of those collectible and pricey sixth-scale action figures - has already made a Zombie-Hunter Spider-Man who appears to be wearing Doctor Strange’s Cloak of Levitation. There’s also Marvel Legends figures for another Zombie-Hunter Spider-Man as well as Zombie Captain America. No doubt this is only the first wave of merchandise for the Zombies.
Clearly, Marvel and Hasbro, the makers of the Marvel Legends action figures, are seeing dollar signs ahead of the Marvel Zombies’ animated debut. This could be just the beginning of their undead shuffle into the mainstream consciousness.
WHERE DID THEY COME FROM?
Like all hardcore zombie stories, this one is not kid-friendly, and Marvel will have to make quite a few changes to keep the rating PG-13.
The story making its way across the internet is that Disney and Marvel Studios rejected at least one What If…? concept in order to keep the family-friendly rating. It so happens that Marvel nixed the idea of having Peter Parker transform into an actual spider. For those of you 1990s kids, this should be a little funny, since the Spider-Man cartoon didn’t shy away from the idea, dedicating an entire plot line to the Man-Spider.
As for the Zombies, wouldn’t you know their fleshed out origin came from the mind of Robert Kirkman, the creator responsible for making zombies a pop culture sensation in the first place with The Walking Dead.
As it goes, Earth-2149 was basically a duplicate of Earth-616, complete with the same heroes and the same villains as its counterparts. There was good versus evil, and all was right with the world. One day, a mysterious character crashlands on Earth-2149, spreading a blood-borne virus that infects virtually all the superheroes. Although the infected maintained much of their human personalities, they were driven by the plight of all zombies - the hunger for human flesh. They devoured the entire non-superhuman race, completely depleting their food source.
In Marvel Comics canon, the zombies first appeared in Ultimate Fantastic Four. Reed Richards had met one of his many Multiversal doppelgangers, though unbeknownst to the Ultimate Mister Fantastic, this version was hatching a scheme all along. The evil Reed used a portal to trap the Ultimate FF in Earth-2149, but the FF, as they always do, managed to escape. From there, an undead legend was born.
Among the many teases for What If...? and the alternate worlds of the MCU, none are as highly anticipated as the Marvel Zombies.
Over the years, the Zombies have been so popular that they have starred in several series, and there was even an Evil Dead/Marvel Zombies comic. Safe to say, these stories are insane, and that’s what fans like the most about them. One of the more famous tales has them defeating the Silver Surfer, gaining his Power Cosmic, and using it to eat Galactus.
Marvel isn’t the only publisher getting into the zombie action. Arguably, the super-zombie trend started with DC’s Blackest Night crossover, having the formerly dead heroes gain Black Lantern rings and essentially turning them into the living dead. Later, the publisher would lean more toward Marvel Zombies with another massive undertaking, DCeased.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #21
This is a comic that should heat up very soon now that What If…? is almost here. While many of the Ultimate FF comics could get the rub from the impending MCU arrival, UFF #21 is special for the last-page reveal of Earth-2149.
Prices are rising for this issue, so you’ll want to grab your copies before they debut on Disney+. On August 10, a standard edition graded at a 9.6 sold for a record $144. While there has not been a 9.8 sold this month, one sold for as much as $251 in March.
The real money is in the 1:10 ratio variant cover, which has been a rocket this year. Back in 2019, it had the same $206 fair market value as the standard edition. Then the What If…? artwork raised the temperature. Last year saw a new high of $285 for a 9.8, which was incinerated by the $1,250 sale on July 26.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #22
After a great teaser, the super-zombies made their full debut the following issue in UFF #22. At the time, with all zombies being the “it” monsters after TWD, fans immediately fell in love with the zombie versions of all their favorite superheroes. It all started with these two issues, and that is going to make them huge sellers if they reach the Earth-616 MCU.
Between the standard covers for the first two appearances of the Marvel Zombies, UFF #22 is proving to be the bigger seller. Although there has not been a 9.8 to trade hands online since July 25, that happened to be the second of two record-breaking $500 sales in just over a month; the first was on June 5, and it has not slowed since.
Only two days ago, the 9.6 was breaking records of its own, selling for $250 on August 11.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #23
Yes, UFF #23 is the consolation prize of the Marvel Zombies key issues. Still, those 9.8s are beginning to haul in triple digits, and that makes it worth watching. The second full and third overall appearance of the Zombies, a 9.8 brought a record-setting $112 on August 11. That is more than double its $53 average from 2020.
ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #30
Those first cover appearances are always recommended when tracking down key issues. With cover collecting on the rise, having the characters front and center on the artwork is a major selling point.
At the moment, you can add this one to your collections for fairly cheap. First, there is the standard cover at a 9.8, which last sold for $50 in February. The more coveted edition is the sketch cover, and one copy recently brought $100 earlier this month. For that matter, a 9.6 is bringing close to $80 these days.
MARVEL ZOMBIES #1
With the rising popularity of the Zombies, the editorial team decided to give them their first of six self-titled volumes. That’s not to mention the numerous one-shots and crossovers. It helped propel them to phenomenon status, and the Zombies even got to be part of 2015’s Secret Wars. Out of all those issues, the zombie take on Amazing Fantasy #15 is still the one to have. This issue was so popular that it went to four printings.
Much of the appeal of the five-issue Marvel Zombies limited series are the covers. All four prints of the first issue are zombied versions of classic covers. The second print is a zombie homage to 1990’s Spider-Man #1, the third pays tribute to ASM #50, and the fourth is an undead Incredible Hulk #1.
The last two sales of the first print both netted record sales; the first from July 25 hit $400, which was surpassed on August 8 with a $405 sale. Don’t forget about the variant edition, which is also considered the second print, that sold for as much as $172 this summer.
The only other printing earning top dollar at the moment is the third print. A 9.8 of that print run netted $100 in May followed by $125 on August 1.
THE ZOMBIE FUTURE
There is so much intrigue surrounding the What If…? series. With the chance that any of these concepts could expand into the canonical MCU, Marvel Zombies fans will be crossing their fingers for a glimpse of them on the big screen. Since Marvel has entered the age of the Multiverse, anything is possible.
Matt Tuck is the author of the novel, Lost Bones of the Dead. He is a professional writer, avid comic collector, former teacher, and an international man of mystery. You can follow him on his Facebook page, The Comic Blog.