Marvel Zombies: Black, White and Blood #1 is an anthology published by Marvel Comics, featuring three stories. “Undefeated” is written by Garth Ennis with art by Rachael Stott. “Hope” is written by Alex Segura with art by Javi Fernández. “Deliverance” is written by Ashley Allan with art by Justin Mason and letters by Clayton Cowles. The three stories all show moments of a zombie apocalypse infused with heroes.
What sets these stories apart from the previous iterations of the Marvel Zombies concept is the individualism of the settings. Each story focuses on one hero, from various points in time, and there is no indication they belong to the same world or instance. This means that the stories have no real rules or constrictions, given free rein to create horrifying stories.
“Undefeated” shows a zombified Daredevil used in a gladiatorial arena. There are only short glimpses of the history of what happened, with snapshots of horror and sadness. “Hope” depicts a human Peter Parker trying to protect survivors from those he loves. Here, it is clear that the outbreak is ongoing, slowly enveloping New York. “Deliverance” features Moon Knight trying to protect survivors when an undead Iron Man attacks. This story leans on the mythology of Moon Knight, with two Egyptian gods watching over the action and actively controlling the apocalypse. Just from those descriptions, the variety of plots is apparent, with some fascinating tales selected.
All three are action-led, but the emotional resonance is one of the biggest differences across the anthology. The life around Daredevil is an unbearably sad sensation, not even living but trapped in the most awful existence imaginable. In Spider-Man’s story, the panic and devastation slowly lap away at a hope that was never really there to begin with. Moon Knight’s chapter is perhaps the one that lacks a palpable, powerful emotional core, but that is due to the celestial interference that literally hangs over the scene.
This is a series that exists to be dark and to shock, and that is achieved throughout the comic. Each ending is just as dark and bleak as the previous one, concluding with either a finite tone or with the promise of further devastation. Each issue is as focused and magnified as it gets, but they aren’t exactly character studies.
The personalities of individual heroes drive the tales, and there is a fascinating and unique method by which the three writers accomplish that. Daredevil is silent, with so many wordless panels. He’s become animalistic and bestial, with the dialogue coming from those around him. For Spider-Man’s story, it’s almost all concentrated on the narration, tragically detailing the awful things Peter is forced to do. And the script in the word balloons is just as heartbreaking. Moon Knight is much more centred on dialogue for four characters, in a visceral story of rage and violence, commentated on by the gods. The whole virus is entirely reinvented in this final story, and both the heroes and zombified heroes are nothing more than puppets.
The art is fantastic and distressing, with a clear degradation in clarity as the book sinks further into carnage. In each story, the art appears to get messier. In “Unbeaten,” There is a brilliant presentation of the gorey, repulsive action. The first page of the zombie superhero fight club shows a jaw being detached and eyeballs ejecting, with further brutality being inflicted on loved heroes and other members of a supporting cast. But the line weights are consistently thick and it’s easy to see everything.
It is also extremely interesting to note that there is a cameo from one of Daredevil’s most notorious rivals, but they are visually omitted from the page. Only their outline can be seen, with a white blank where any details should be. It’s such a mesmerising and distinctive decision to make. In “Hope,” Spider-Man is presented fully and clearly. But around him are far-off sketches of beings. They are heavily detailed etchings of humans turned into rotting, reanimated corpses. When more detail is added, it is because the soul is about to be brutalised. The inks actually get more specific and intricate as the story unfolds, displaying the most devastating moments. The facial expressions are absolutely haunting.
The final tale is also an expulsion of butchery and savagery. It’s the biggest presentation of a city within the whole issue, with Mason drawing an obliterated Chicago. The artist appears to reverse the black and white, with most of the buildings submerged in shadows. At first, monsters appear grotesquely illustrated. That transcends into a bloodbath on a roof between Moon Knight and Iron Man.
The design of the undead Tony Stark, with a rotting face, is utterly terrifying. The abundance of black on the buildings compliments the stark white of Moon Knight, as both Khonsu and another god watch over the brawl. They also fit the horror concept with their own creepy representations. All of this occurs under a massive and strangely beautiful full moon.
The distinctive quality that this comic has is the absence of color aside from one: red. Every other color is removed, with the black-and-white imagery becoming more prevalent and important in the second and third stories. But that relationship between the three shades is entirely unique depending on the tale. Daredevil and Spider-Man obviously have their red costumes, which stand proud and are the only red thing on each page, aside from the splatters of blood.
But in that first story, there are shades of grey that aren’t used later in the book and give more texture to the art. Spider-Man’s red makes him a target, sticking out around the other deformed silhouettes. As for Moon Knight, his white costume means there isn’t any color in that story until the entrance of Stark, in his full red armor. And as the comic reaches its conclusion, Marc Spector ends up with much more red on him. The letters are very easy to read amid a huge amount of chaos, and the SFX often has to resort to being red as well to be definitive.
Marvel Zombies: Black White and Blood #1 invites creators to delight in depravity. It’s an adventurous comic that invites and rewards exploration. Canon and making sure events line up correctly don’t matter here. They are unique tales that showcase the darkest ideas that creators may have, and in just three instances are separate emotions and storylines. Each writer evidently has a much larger plot within their head, but those brief hints that are actually present in the dialogue pack more punch than a five-issue arc. And in each tale are some remarkable and intriguing artistic choices that just don’t fit elsewhere, but are perfectly poignant here. It’s gory as all hell and devastating, the Spider-Man story in particular, but it is a tremendous display of artistic expression.
Marvel Zombies: Black White and Blood #1 is available where comics are sold.
Marvel Zombies: Black, White and Blood #1
Marvel Zombies: Black White and Blood #1 invites creators to delight in depravity.