Writer Phillip Kennedy Johnson recently guided an iconic Marvel hero through a cosmic crisis in Empyre: Captain America, and now he's following that up by getting his hands on a version of the entire Marvel Universe in Marvel Zombies: Resurrection, which has plunged a whole cast of Marvel heroes into a world-ending disaster.
Though he's a fan of the original Marvel Zombies, calling this revival of the concept a "dream-come-true-project," Johnson also plans to continue the bleak, amped-up tone of Marvel Zombies: Resurrection's first issue as the limited series rolls on – committing to making Resurrection a "true horror" story.
Newsarama spoke with Johnson following the release of Marvel Zombies: Resurrection #1, now available, and before September 30's #2 (advance pages from which can be seen here), discussing his influences in crafting a new era of the superhero horror classic and the characters and concepts he's aching to visit.
Newsarama: Phillip, it's been 15 years since the original Marvel Zombies kicked off, and it's evolved in that time, to say the least. What's your perspective on Marvel Zombies as you bring the concept back in Resurrection?
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: When Marvel asked me to write a new Marvel Zombies series, I was honored and thrilled, but also knew I wanted to take it in a completely different direction. The original series was a dark-but-fun zombie romp: seeing your favorite heroes making zombie jokes while they eat each others' brains.
That story's been told at this point, and I had no interest in telling it again. As a fan, I knew what I wanted to see in something like this: a true horror story set in the Marvel Universe, with all the emotional stakes, anxiety, and danger of a Cormac McCarthy novel, while also keeping the heroic themes and fun, exciting imagery that make Marvel comics what they are.
That's a tricky balance to maintain, but thanks to the editors and the art team, I can confidently say we pulled it off, and that I'm as proud of this series as anything I've written.
In a nutshell: if the original Marvel Zombies is like Robert Rodriguez's Planet Terror, Marvel Zombies: Resurrection is more like James Cameron's Aliens meets Cormac McCarthy's The Road.
Nrama: Marvel Zombies: Resurrection #1 focused on a ragtag group of characters, some of whom didn't make it out alive. And of course, Blade showed up on the last page. Who were you especially excited to get your hands on and zombify? You've got just about the whole Marvel Universe at your fingertips.
Johnson: The Hulks, baby. Wait for it.
And tied for first place: I've gotta say Galactus. Leonard Kirk has been drawing these incredible images of Galactus' corpse, looking big as hell with his arms spread wide like a religious icon, his face all desiccated. It's just the coolest, creepiest thing. But there are tons of other characters that I can't wait for people to see in every issue, including some guest appearances from the stars of last year's Marvel Zombies: Resurrection one-shot.
Nrama: Speaking of zombies, this story kicked off with some straight-up blood and guts zombie horror – and that's in the first issue. How gruesome will Marvel Zombies: Resurrection go as it escalates?
Johnson: There are definitely some intense and hard-to-watch moments, and of course when the characters getting pulped are your beloved heroes, it all feels that much rougher. The editors and I tried to strike the perfect tone of 'it's still a Marvel book' with 'but also a real horror book.' It's not a hard R, but there are more than a few things we couldn't have gotten away with in the movies.
Nrama: You mentioned series artist Leonard Kirk, who has drawn most of the Marvel Universe as living heroes prior to jumping into showing them as the living dead, here. What's it like teaming up with him?
Johnson: Leonard's perfect for this series. He has a super expressive and dynamic style that I love, and it makes every scene extremely rewarding, whether it's an action scene or an intense conversation. Dynamism in comic art - being able to see movement in static images - is really important to me, and Leonard's work epitomizes that concept.
And he always finds the best perspectives for the page layouts. The more control I give him in layouts, the better they come back looking. He's a born storyteller, and I'd be thrilled to work with him again.
Nrama: What's your favorite thing he's drawn for this series?
Johnson: With the help of Valeria Richards, Forge has been building some extremely creative weapons using the bodies of his dearly-departed friends and neighbors. I was very excited for fans to see Leonard's designs for those weapons in the first issue. They bring a little bit of important cape-and-mask fun into the story.
Nrama: Zombies are monsters that serve as metaphors for many things in pop culture, and they've been prevalent for a while now. What are the core themes you're exploring in Marvel Zombies: Resurrection?
Johnson: The characters in Marvel Zombies: Resurrection were heroes once, but the world they live in now is so far gone that the concept of heroism doesn't even make sense anymore.
The zombies, or "respawned" as they're called, represent the breakdown of who our characters were, and of the world they remember. They've been wandering for years, aimlessly trying to survive, but in the first issue, they find something that gives them a little hope again…something to move towards instead of run away from.
They haven't had that in a long time, and over the course of the series, they start to remember who they used to be, Spider-Man most of all.
Nrama: Bottom line, what do readers need to know as this revival series continues?
Johnson: Bottom line: do not expect more of the same Marvel Zombies. We set out to give you a story with emotional stakes, deaths that hurt, and wins that matter. We want you invested, and we think you will be.