Friday, May 08, 2009

Midnight Sons Part 2: Night Shift (Marvel)
Marvel Zombies 4 #2 When: July 2009
Why: Fred Van Lente How: Kev Walker

The Story So Far...
When zombie infected heroes from parallel Earth-2149 find their way through the Nexus of Realities hidden in the Florida Everglades, an unprepared group of C-list heroes assigned by the Fifty States Initiative find themselves under attack! Wundarr, the Conquistador, Siege, and Jennifer Kale, (known collectively as The Command), are easily devoured by the nightmarish zombies. Only Kale survives, but before his self-destruction, Siege was able to inform secretive alternate-universe unit, ARMOR.

Having played a pivotal role in containing the threat and defeating the zombie invaders; Dr. Michael Morbius emerges as a new leading operative with ARMOR. He recruits the traumatized Jennifer Kale, along with familiar occult allies, Son of Satan and Werewolf by Night, into a new taskforce assigned the job of seeking and containing infection spread by an escaped zombie head (Deadpool).

Unbeknownst to Morbius and his team, the Deadpool head was retrieved by a very different type of zombie (Simon Garth) - occult in nature - who carries the plague infected head into the hands of Black Talon. When Talon attempts to sell the head as a bioweapon to The Hood, he is advised by Dormammu to accept, leading the Kingpin of Super-villains to lead Night Shift to the island of Taino, where they will intercepted the Midnight Sons and the zombie plague.

Tale of the Tape...
Strength: Werewolf by Night 4 (Enhanced)
Intelligence: Morbius 5 (Professor)
Speed: Werewolf by Night 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Son of Satan 5 (Marathon)
Agility: Dansen Macabre 4 (Gymnast)
Fighting: The Hood 3 (Street Wise)
Energy: Son of Satan 6 (UWMD)

- Night Shift are: The Hood overseeing; Dansen Macabre, Tatterdemalion, The Needle, Digger.

Originally founded by the Shroud, Night Shift was a collective of dark entities manipulated into aiding him in his pursuit of justice, with an interest in personal gain. Eventually, Shroud was overthrown as leader of the group by Dansen Macabre, who continued the group's operations in a more villainous direction.

Some time later Night Shift joined The Hood's unionized collective of super-villains. They were later hand-selected for their unique talents in the field of dark magic to accompany The Hood on an acquisition of the zombie plague that ravaged Earth-2149, from Black Talon.

- The Midnight Sons are: Morbius, Son of Satan, Jennifer Kale, and Werewolf.

It was the return of the Mother of Demons, Lilith, that first prompted the creation of a destined occult group to combat those darker than themselves. Daniel Ketch and Johnny Blaze, once known as the spirits of vengeance, were joined in their mission against evil by a host of likeminded oddities, including; Blade, Morbius, Frank Drake, Hannibal King, members of the Darkhold Redeemers, and later, allies such as Vengeance, Dr. Strange, and Werewolf by Night. The group succeeded in repelling many threats to the light before their tenuous allegiance faded, including Lilith and the exceptional demon, Zarathos.

After becoming involved with the incursion of zombies from a parallel Earth when he was kidnapped by his zombie counterpart; Morbius was installed as a scientific operative with top-secret SHIELD subsidiary, ARMOR: Altered-Reality Monitoring and Operational Response. Under ARMOR, he hand-picked Jennifer Kale, Son of Satan, and Werewolf by Night, to form a new taskforce called Midnight Sons.

Math: Draw (Avg) Midnight Sons (Ttl) Ranking: Morbius (#65)

What Went Down...
Receiving instruction from the powerful demon lord, Dormammu; Parker Robbins, better known as The Hood, rallies Night Shift to launch a surprise attack on the heroes intent upon securing and destroying the zombie head of Deadpool.

Occult protection spells surrounding the area of Black Talon's cocain plantation inform the quartet from ARMOR of their impending predicament. Despite Jennifer Kale's aptitude for recognising magics, Morbius is still caught unawares by a shovel to the face wielded by the ghoulish serial killer, Digger, of Night Shift.

The ambush finds Tatterdemalion leaping through the air to attack the Werewolf with his enhanced acidic touch. The Hood emerges from a cloud of smoke to accept responsibility for the sophisticated magic needed to evade the enhanced senses of both Werewolf by Night, and Morbius. He blasts Daimon Hellstrom with a bolt of mystic energy, freezing him on the spot to allow Needle the opportunity to strike with his oversized impalement device fashioned in the guise of namesake. As the blade pierces Hellstrom's flesh, flames bursts forth from the Son of Satan's chest!

Jennifer Kale confronts the gracefully twisting naked form of Dansen Macabre, whose hands spiral and twirl leaving black energy in their wake. Possessing powers of Kali, the dancing Dansen snuffs out Kale's attempts at a mystical counterattak, launching into a spectacular kick that proves the effectiveness of conventional assault.

Regaining consciousness in the pit of a grave, Morbius bleeds profusely from his beaten face with the silhouette of Digger hovering gleefully above. The living vampire wipes the stain from his face with a momentary realisation that preceeds the animalistic instincts that characterize him akin to the undead creatures of the night. He responds to Digger's quipping queries with a rapid rise from the grave!

Gripped by bloodlust, Morbius snaps Digger's shovel with ease and plunges the spade into the top of his head. Still the morbid Digger shares his humorisms.

Upon reciting a dark incantation, hellfire spews from the mouth and eyes of the Son of Satan, bathing the protruding Needle in his torso in flame. With a roar he reduces the weapon to slag, before channeling his hellfire through his trident in the general direction of the ranting madman, Tatterdemalion.

The overdressed vagrant burns just as his fellow, Needle, succumbs to the spell casting of Jennifer Kale. The turning tides of triumph extend to the Werewolf, who continues the battle against Digger, wielding his lycanthropic talons like sharepened blades that slash effortlessly through Digger's grim body.

The Hood expresses verbal disappointment in his team's failing performance, just as a toppled Dansen Macabre falls victim to Morbius' untamed thirst!

Jennifer Kale compells Morbius to find a clearer head, calling him away from the neck of Dansen Macabre to observe the oncoming march of plague infected undead. In a better state of mind, Morbius fires upon the marching horde, dispensing a liquid-based vaccine designed to cure those infected. Instead, the formula results in a very different outcome, prompting a bizarre green cloud to burst forth from the bodies of the infected -- creating an airborne plague!

Night Shift remain oblivious to the onset of the green cloud that quickly engulfs them and begins shredding through their bodies. The Hood and Midnight Sons can only watch with the horrific realisation that the plague that destroyed an entire universe of heroes has been unleashed upon their world, in a mutated state.

THIS PANEL HAS BEEN EDITED AND DOES NOT APPEAR AS IN THE ORIGINAL PUBLICATION.Morbius orders a strategic retreat, but for Jennifer Kale who confronted the first wave of invading zombies, the sight is too much to bare. Her silent prayers do not go unheard, however, prompting Dormammu to appear before her...

The Hammer...
Despite a somewhat ambiguous predicament to bring their battle to a close, I think it's safe to declare the entire quarter of the Midnight Sons sharers in victory! [Pictured; Jennifer Kale]

It's been four years since Mark Millar first introduced the Marvel Zombies way back in 2005's Crossover. In the past, I think we've been fairly positive about that first high concept appearance. It really was one of those head slapping moments where you really had to wonder how Marvel comics hadn't done something on that scale beforehand. I mean, sure, you've got comparable examples, like the famous What if...? [#24] that unleashed vampirism upon a version of the Marvel universe, but those examples were typically fleeting.

If somehow you missed it, you might like to know that the expansion of the Marvel Zombies phenomenon began with Robert Kirkman [and Sean Phillips]'s aptly titled 2006 mini-series, Marvel Zombies. There can be no doubt that at the time the spin-off felt like a very fun and unique oddity, but as Marvel saw a cash cow to be milked without mercy, the slew of sequels, spin-offs, and tenuously related variant covers really exposed the holes of contempt in an otherwise nice deviation from usual superheroics. Of particular disappointment, the apparent lack of conceptual development at the foundation level of the concept that forced subsequent entries to seek inventiveness apparently beyond them. Or so it seemed...

Spooks & Horrors Playlist
[Site Ranking & Year One]
#1 Hulk (1962)
#2 Venom (1984)
#3 Noob Saibot (1992)
#4 Morbius (1971)
#5 The Demon (1972)
#6 Ghost Rider (1972)
#7 Spectre (1940)
#8 Blade (1973)
#9 Blazing Skull (1941)
#10 Dr. Strange (1963)
#11 Dr. Occult (1935)
#12 Mephisto (1968)
#13 Deadman (1967)
#14 Doppelganger (1992)
#15 Monolith (2004)
#16 Hellboy (1993)
#17 Quan Chi (1996)
#18 Mr. Hyde (1963)
#19 Scarlet Witch (1964)
#20 Solomon Grundy (1944)
#21 Scorpion (1992)
#22 Lilith Dracula (1974)
#23 The Werewolf (1972)
#24 Pluto (1966)
#25 Dracula (1972)
The announcement of Marvel Zombies 3 -- actually more like the fifth mini to branch out from the original Ultimate Fantastic Four storyarc -- was met on the Infinite Wars with lukewarm interest [October 08, 2008]. Introducing previously unseen characters into a suggestively defined timeline was an intriguing prospect, but as much fun as it was to think about Jocasta and Machine Man battling their way into the zombie Earth was, it felt like one step too far for a seemingly endless parade of cutesy meme style archetype based stories (zombies, robots, apes...).

As you can clearly see, that initial assessment was very unfair. 2009 on the Infinite Wars has seen a deviation into contemporary releases; reviews of the weeks comics. Despite the implication, that shift of perspective hasn't been taken for granted, making the selection process from week-to-week a carefully considered one.

Today we're discussing Marvel Zombies 4 for a very good reason -- it demands attention!

Writer Fred Van Lente has been quietly improving his stock over the past couple of years. Rising from the critical independent success of Action Philosophers, he's since carved out a niche as one of the favourite driving forces behind Marvel's all-ages Adventures line. There, he's arguably instated a writing ethic more akin to classic Marvel Comics than anything produced by the current core line-up. His attention (and retention) for characters is well observed in Marvel Zombies as he makes use of some of the great under utilized characters in ways akin to his Adventures stories.

Bill Rosemann (Editor), Ralph Macchio (Senior Editor), and Joe Quesada (Editor In Chief) deserve full credit for whatever minor influences they might have had in the process of greenlighting these projects. It is, however, Van Lente who seems to be most deserving for utilizing these much loved, but often overlooked, horror characters from the seventies. Combining them with other curiosities, like the long since forgotten motley crew from the late eighties, Night Shift, not only reemphasises the diversity of the Marvel pantheon, but builds on the atmosphere established by previous Zombies series, greatly enhancing it.

Things don't look too good for the Night Shift come story end, but I really hope Van Lente hasn't killed them off. I don't think anyone would really begrudge him for taking that license, but it would perhaps diminish the praise I really feel compelled to heap upon him. As a writer, he's achieved something none of his predecessors ever did. By combining iconography that's inspirational to longtime readers, with a very well directed and written story, Van Lente has well and truly made the Marvel Zombies brand his own, finally elevating it to a level all the previous spin-offs should have reached.

As a story, Marvel Zombies 4 becomes far more significant than the sum of it's parts. While the checklist of guest characters is something to behold, it's the progress of the story, and their contribution to it, that secures the success of the four-issue mini only half way through the plot.

Fans eagerly following the exploits of The Hood and Dark Reign will find detached touchstones that connect an otherwise isolated story to the core Marvel Universe. In fact, those interested in the developments of the Hood's relationship with sponsor demon, Dormammu, might actually want to seek this story out in particular. It's unlikely the tangent series will provide any key significant developments in the on-going internal struggle of The Hood, but like good corporate comics should, it produces volume and greater context for the tale.
Of course, on the subject of so-called "continuity," we already know "Z-Pool" - the decapitated head of Zombie Deadpool - will be a lasting consequence of the story as he spins off into a secondary Deadpool title, Merc' with a Mouth.

Those keen to rationalize independently written series in the Marvel Universe might note an unlikely overlap via Son of Satan, who also appears opposite The Hood in recent issues of New Avengers. While the Avengers book, detailing the search for a new Sorcerer Supreme, specifically references Daimon Hellstrom's ignorance to the identity of Parker Robbins, MZ4 has nothing of the such.
If you're really concerned, it seems plausible, despite indirect references to similar ignorance, that MZ4 takes place after those issues. Future issues could still make a reference. I'm not sure that really matters, however, as these things are bound to happen without strict editorial intervention.

Granted; the connectivity of in-universe stories should not be underestimated in any well rounded critique, but of course, this element is additional to the quality of a story. Without a doubt, anyone reading Marvel Zombies 4 will probably want to check out the previous instalment. I'm generally reluctant to claim any issue of a superhero comic fundamentally requires previous reading, but Van Lente makes good use of in-character video recordings (last will and testament) to frame the context of each issue. It elaborates on previous events, while also informing any uninformed reader with allusions to the integrity of each character.
MZ4's Jennifer Kale will pays off big time in the final pages of the issue -- food for thought for those trade waiters among you.

All in all, Marvel Zombies 4 is just a very solid read.
It does a great service to the legacy of the seventies Marvel horror characters, returning them to the spotlight in a way that feels unique, but wholely appropriate. I hope the company can benefit from this example without losing sight of what made the feature work.

Kev Walker and colorist, Jean-Francois Beaulieu, continue the tradition of a grim tone to the art of the series. While not identical to previous series, the reference points of tones, colours, and linework, feels unmistakable. If I really had to draw such conclusion, I might say that I actually like this approach a little better.
MZ4 takes a more conventional visual approach in the pencils, both in lines drawn, and the application of inked blacks. Colours are certainly more vibrant as well, quite delightful in scenes like Dansen Macabre's rainbow effect, and in the vivid reds used both to compliment highlights on Morbius, while also giving the pale of his skin a real pop. Being that this story is set in "our" Marvel Universe, it arguably stands to reason that the art might be directed in that sense.

I wouldn't be surprised if we return to the series at a later date, hopefully to elaborate a little bit clearer on what makes the series so good. (Other than Van Lente.)

The Fight: 5 The Issue: 5

Marvel Zombies 4 is currently available monthly. For more information about release dates, you'll find archival information in our weekly Shipping List entries. You can pre-order the MZ4 hardcover edition via Amazon, but if you don't want to wait, check out Marvel Zombies 3, currently available in collected format. You'll find plenty more offers like that in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe and by using purchase links provided, you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars, which, let's face it, could potentially save your life in the event of an actual zombie plague outbreak. Or, at the very least, give you something to read while you're held up in a fortified area waiting for help.

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