WHAT IF…? The Marvel Zombies Comics That Inspired the TV Series

The story, characters, and reading guide of the Marvel Zombies comic book series that turned Marvel heroes into zombies!
WHAT IF... The Marvel Zombies Comics That Inspired the TV Series
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The zombie versions of Marvel characters have drawn a lot of attention due to the What If…? animated series promotional material. But they are actually not creations of the series.

Originated in the comics, the concept had an entire series dedicated to them, giving rise to a whole new universe. The focus here is Earth-2149, where several superheroes have been infected, in a story that started in 2005 and explored in several comics since then.

In this list, you can find out more about the origin of this universe, the reading order of the comics, and many other curious facts about Marvel’s Zombies!

Concept

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Concept

The concept presented in Marvel’s Zombies is very similar to that of classic zombie stories. However, Earth has experienced an apocalyptic plague in this universe, having its streets occupied by hordes of the living dead who feed on the living and spread their infection even further.

In this dystopian reality, not even the superheroes could stay safe from the terrible transformation. In fact, they proved essential for the plague to spread, making the nightmare experienced by the inhabitants of this universe even worse.

First Appearance

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - First Appearance

Despite having a whole universe and series of its own, the zombie version of Marvel‘s heroes was not developed like this from the beginning. The first appearance of the Zombie universe happened in the Ultimate Fantastic Four series, which started in 2004. The issue in which this happens is #21, written by Mark Millar.

In the plot, Reed Richards discovers the Zombiverse while exploring different dimensions. He encounters the zombie versions of the Fantastic Four, who tricked him into opening the path from their dimension to Earth-2149.

Early on, it is explained that to spread between dimensions, the virus seeks to infect superheroes. In just 24 hours, the zombie heroes have consumed virtually the entire world, with the only survivors being Magneto and a small group of ordinary humans.

In the comic, Reed must deal with the zombies who now have a path to their dimension. So he and Magneto join forces while Sue, Johnny, and Ben confront the infected who try to consume their universe.

Miniseries

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Miniseries

In 2005, Marvel released a miniseries continuing the Ultimate Fantastic Four events. However, with Magneto managing to sever the link between the two universes, the plot turns its attention to the mutant, who discovers other survivors off-planet.

Other characters are introduced, and the zombies themselves go through some changes throughout the story. However, as is clear from the beginning, they do not follow the common tradition of zombie stories where the infected lose their mental capacity since they can think, speak, and use their powers without any problems.

The series was written by Robert Kirkman, the author of The Walking Dead, and illustrated by Sean Phillips. In all, 5 volumes of the comic have been published.

Characters

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Characters

At first, the highlight of the plot goes to Magneto, presented initially as the only superpowered being to survive. However, as the story develops, it is revealed that Black Panther has also survived without being infected, although the reason for this is not at all pleasant. That’s because the zombie version of Hank Pym had kept him trapped and hidden, slowly taking pieces of the hero to consume little by little.

On the zombie side, the main characters are Colonel America, Iron Man, Giant-Man, Spider-Man, Luke Cage, the Hulk, and Wolverine. The Silver Surfer and Galactus also end up appearing in the plot and significantly impact how everything ends.

Prequel

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Prequel

In 2007, Marvel released Dead Days, a comic telling all about the beginning of the zombie apocalypse. It is explained precisely how the virus originated, which heroes were the first to fall, and how the world reacted to it.

The story is also written by Kirkman and illustrated by Phillips. In a single volume, it is told in detail how it all began and how the heroes tried to fight the apocalypse. In addition, the series features Reed Richards and the development of the plan that connects the universe to his first appearance in the Ultimate Fantastic Four comics.

Sequels

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Sequels

A sequel to the original series, called Marvel Zombies 2, was published between 2007 and 2008. The series also has five volumes and was followed up in Marvel Zombies 3, with four volumes.

After that, Marvel Zombies 4 was released as a four-volume limited series, starring the publisher’s more horror-based characters. Thus, the cast of this plot comes from titles such as Morbius, The Thing, Mephisto, and others. Finally, the series received a direct sequel in Marvel Zombies 5, which has five volumes.

After that, Marvel Zombies Return picked up Marvel Zombies 2, with five volumes that finalize the original zombie story.

The series has also received a few spin-offs. Some of them take place in single, short stories, such as Eat the Neighbors. Others are series that feature alternate versions of the Zombiverse, such as Marvel Zombies Destroy, set during World War II.

Reading Guide

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - Reading Guide

To read the history of this universe from the beginning, you need to start with the comics that initially introduced it. Thus, reading begins with Ultimate Fantastic Four #21, in a mini-arc that continues in volumes 22 and 23.

After that, following story order rather than release order, the next comic is Dead Days. As explained, this is where it is shown how the Zombiverse apocalypse happened until all the heroes had succumbed.

Only then does the original mini-series begin. Thus, Marvel Zombies 1 is the next reading on the list, continuing the story of Magneto and the zombified heroes.

Marvel Zombies 2 continues the plot, taking place some 40 years after the original mini-series. However, this time, the living dead also contaminate space, with the story taking on cosmic dimensions.

The next part of the zombie universe is in Marvel Zombies 3. Here, the desperate struggle to reclaim humanity from the zombies resumes and is led by Michael Morbius. The publisher’s robots also get their chance to fight, as they are immune to the virus and can go directly to the front lines of the Zombiverse.

Marvel Zombies Returns, another spin-off of the series, directly follows up on these events, picking up characters transported to other dimensions in year 2 of the main series. In this way, it is possible to read the comic after years 2 and 3, although it is also possible to leave it for the end.

After that comes Marvel Zombies 4, where a legion of monsters come to confront the zombies after humanity fails at this. These events are followed up in Marvel Zombies 5, which also mixes western elements into the story.

The other comics in the universe have no set order, as they are single, stand-alone stories. Thus, Marvel Zombies Halloween, Destroy! and Supreme can be read in any order.

In What If…?

WHAT IF...? The Marvel Comics That Inspired the Animated Series - In What If...?

It has not yet been confirmed how this universe will be portrayed in What If…?, but the trailer released has already shown that zombie versions of major heroes will be present in the series. Among them, it has already been confirmed that there will be a zombie Captain America (or Colonel America, if the Zombiverse is adapted), Iron Man, and Hawkeye.

Characters seen in the comics will likely be replaced by others, as not all of the Zombiverse heroes from the comics have been featured in the MCU so far. Also, it is worth noting that the story in What If…? may end up being completely different, taking inspiration from the original only through the zombie versions of Marvel‘s heroes.

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PopCorn Princess

PopCorn Princess

Hey there, I'm Princess. I’m an annual comic con attendee, Star Wars-loving, and collector freak. My mission is simple: To bring cool geeky news and content and share my passion with the rest of the world. (... I secretly wish to save the world as a superheroine...)