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Marvel Zombies box set

Minimates
by yo go re

Back in 1985, artist Sergio Aragones signed a deal with Marvel Comics to publish his character, Groo, under their Epic imprint. Soon after Groo the Wanderer started, the book published a letter from a reader who said he hated Groo, but "had to" buy it because it was from Marvel. Any toy fan who's run into a crackpot completist knows all about that sentiment. Anyway, Carol Kalish, one of the execs at the time, coined the term "Marvel zombie" to refer to the type of individual who will buy anything from Marvel, regardless of whether or not it's any good. Hell, regardless of whether or not they like it. A complete and utter fanboy.

Decades later, however, the term took on a new meaning, thanks to writer Robert Kirkman. In his drive to write every book that Image publishes, Kirkman created the best zombie franchise since George Romero with The Walking Dead. It makes sense, then, that he was tapped to expand on an idea first seen in Ultimate Fantastic Four, the Marvel Zombies.

DST solicited a whole series of Marvel Select Zombie figures starting way back in March, but none of those have shown up yet. The first product to make it to shelves has turned out to be the Marvel Zombies Minimates, which first graced the cover of the May Previews catalog (after a sneak peek in April) The packaging is the same angular box used for the Cylon and Spider-Man sets, but the design might scare off the MOC crowd: in keeping with the "dead and decaying" theme of the characters, the box's graphics are designed to simulate age, discoloration and shelf wear. Clever! Considering that Marvel Zombies is famous for re-imagining Marvel Comics covers from the past four and a half decades, it's a shame that this box doesn't do something similar, like the X-Men box set did.

Zombification was particularly hard on Spider-Man. While the zombies were driven to infect other superpowered heroes, they ate normal humans - and Spidey's infection didn't take over until he'd gone home to check on Mary Jane and Aunt May. Poor guy. Like he wasn't on enough of a guilt trip already, thanks to Uncle Ben, Gwen Stacey and however many other people.

Spidey comes to us from pretty late in the game, judging by his various injuries. His mask is torn to reveal one red eye and his rotting mouth. There are various rips on his arms, his left side is hollowed out, revealing his ribs, and his right knee is nothing but bone. To convey the missing parts of his anatomy, portions of the figure are molded in clear plastic, with the appropriate details painted on. Look at his torso, hips or right leg, and you can see right through them. Clever!

One of the first heroes infected by the plague was Captain Colonel America, which was bad news: a master strategist, CA knew how best to spread the disease to others. Jerk. While leading his fellow zombies in an attack on the rebel hero Magneto, he learned firsthand the folly of carrying a metal weapon when confronting the master of magnetism - Magneto used the guy's own shield to cut off the top of his head. Shame he didn't destroy the brain.

Since the Colonel is walking around without the top of his skull, he couldn't just use the normal Minimate head - this is an entirely new mold, which gives us the exposed brain, the winglets over the ears, and even the edges of his mask, all as sculpted elements. Impressive! The rest of his battle damage is just painted, but it's definitely more zombie-centric than the usual kind. Even his shield looks like it's been through hell - knowing the restrictions of comics, all that black is probably supposed to be blood.

You'd think that if anyone could survive a world full of zombies, Zombie Wolverine it'd be Wolverine, but here he is, just as infected as anyone else. Guess his healing factor does't stand up to extraterrestrial epidemics. His face is decaying, he's got deep wounds all over his body, and his right elbow is so damaged that you can see his bones poking through - and because someone was paying attention when they designed the paint masters, the bones are silver. Adamantium for the win!

Despite the fact that this is the 13th Wolverine Minimate Art Asylum has released, he's more than just a plain repaint. His removable mask is a new mold, and he's got a "jacket" with shoulder flaps and a sculpted X-Logo belt. His boots, instead of being separate pieces that fit over his feet, have the feet molded as part of them. That's a surprising amount of newness for a box set. He also includes a removable hair piece, though it's one we've seen before. Still a nice extra. The only let-down is that he doesn't have an eyeball hanging out of his mouth like he does on all Arthur Suydam's covers: Suydam figured eyes would be a delicacy like caviar to the zombies, and that Wolvie would be a connoisseur.

Because it's an alternate universe, it's hard to pin down just when Marvel Zombies occurs. We have modern teams like Nextwave showing up, and Spider-Man's identity is public, but then nearly everyone else is wearing their '70s costumes - which is why we get Luke Cage in his Power Man duds for this set. You know, the yellow silk shirt, the chain, the tiara... all that. As a member of the Avengers, he was one of the first infected. And since his skin is as hard as steel, he was infected by somebody strong.

Like Zombie Spider-Man, Power Man uses a translucent block for his chest to show off how badly he's damaged. In his case, his entire left side has been ripped away, revealing ribs and a few chunks of meat. His shirt is torn to shreds, what with it just being silk, and this figure uses the same wristbands, belt and hair as the regular release. The hair has been slightly retooled, however, because it doesn't fall off his head like the last one's did - the wonder of the head pegs.

The final full figure in this set is Zombie Hulk, who faced a unique problem among his undead cohorts. As the Hulk, he could eat huge amounts, of course. But once he'd eaten, he was relatively calm - at which point he'd turn back into Zombie Bruce Banner, whose stomach was far too small to contain everything Hulk had just consumed. And becaue the zombies don't feel pain, that wasn't enough of an impetus for Bruce to change back into Hulk. Sucks to be him!

That does explain, however, how the nigh-invulnerable Hulk is walking around with his chest and stomach rent asunder. The figure has a floating piece that shows off Hulk's ribcage and the destroyed muscles, and the lower edge is molded with the tattered waistband of his purple pants. He's painted with a wonderfully angry look on his face, and he's even missing a tooth. Compared to the hand-painted prototype, Hulk's torso wounds look much less vile.

So that's all five regular figures. They'd make a decent box set all by themselves, but there's one more little extra to be found. The set also includes the disembodied head of the Wasp, ripped free during a fight with Giant-Man, unsurprisingly. This may look like a standard Minimate head, but it's not: there's a bit of spine and throat hanging underneath, and the hole in the top that accommodates her hair piece is a uniquely shaped recess. There are dark shadows painted on her face, and her hair cleverly conceals a little tab that allows other Minimates to carry her around.

For $20, this is a good set. These are definitely versions of the charactes that we've never had before, and a lot of the molded pieces are new. For that price you get five (and a half!) figures, as opposed to dropping the same amount of dough on one Marvel Select Zombie figure. Yes, some of the damage is less "damagey" than it was on the prototypes, but these are all still very good. DST has a lot more Marvel Zombies Minimates on the way, so if you want to start your own undead army, this is the place to start.

-- 10/05/07


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