Marvel’s Secret Wars has created an awesome vacuum allowing the most insane combinations of worlds to clash, and this June sees the return of my personal favorite “Marvel Zombies.” We here at Bloody-Disgusting have partnered with Marvel to give you the exclusive reveal of this all new secret wars series from Si Spurrier and Kev Walker. With an irresistible premise, this new series follows Elsa Bloodstone as she’s dealing with the sisyphean task of defending “The Shield,” a barrier on the southern hemisphere of Battleworld. On the other side: Marvel Zombies. In the moments where she’s not enrapt in the throes of battle, she meditates on her deceased father… (how everything he taught her gave her the means to fight the zombies, but all the love he didn’t give her is what motivated the self-destructive actions that landed her on the shield in the first place. After all the fighting she sees a human girl on the other side of the shield one day, and against every impulse she has, she heads into to save him. Now she has to fight her way out.
Have any questions? I know I did. Luckily, Marvel gave us the opportunity to speak to Si Spurrier about his new take on Marvel’s shambling horrors and just what to expect when Else heads beyond The Shield this June.
Bloody-Disgusting: Elsa Bloodstone is described as self destructive and longing for her father’s approval, what can you tell me about her journey beyond the wall?
Si Spurrier: We-ell…. like most stories which purport to be structured round a single journey, there are actually two of them going on side by side. The first and most obvious one is really simple, revolving around this incredible, relentless, fascinating woman – Elsa – trying to cross a wasteland full of indescribable horrors, while protecting a vulnerable young companion. This is the part of the journey packed with festering, corrupted, undead versions of your favourite Marvel characters, in whose rheumy eyes Elsa and her young charge are just a convenient moveable snack. Into this portion of the journey we’re throwing putrid wads of horror, incredible action and some really creative evil. I’m actually rather proud of some of the inventive nastiness I’ve got planned.
The second journey, which is a lot less visible, is going on all the time inside Elsa’s mind and heart. One of our quite explicit aims here is to remind everyone what a wonderful and unique character she is. Beneath the über-capable, sarcasm-spouting, unflappable kickass exterior lies a lot of really unique and harrowing stuff. To get at it we’re going to peer into her troubled past and spend a little memory-time in the company of Mr Ulysses Bloodstone: adventurer; monster hunter; crappy dad.
The really fun stuff, for me, is where Journey #1 and Journey #2 intersect: where the external impinges on the internal and vice-versa. That sort of stuff is driven in no small part by the little girl Elsa’s trying to save, who – in all her terror and confusion – sets the pace, tone and destination of our adventure.
BD: Marvel Zombies has had several different chapters within Marvel’s history, what makes your chapter different, and what hero were you most excited to write as a zombie?
SS: I think the biggest difference here is in the positioning and setup of the action. One of the problems a lot of zombie stories face is the lack of agency on the part of the protagonists. That can be a really cool subversion of regular narrative dynamics (and, in one or two toxic cases it chooses to say a lot of very cynical thematic stuff about the pointlessness of individual resistance)… but quite often it’s also just laziness: the “story” consists of people screaming and flapping and running around in a really passive way. When the subtext of your zombie story is “hey, zombies are really scary – cool!” then just don’t bother, y’know?
We’ve flipped things over a lot, here. All the agency and all the proactivity lies with our heroine. Thematically the zombies aren’t stand-in analogues for the usual societal fears of lone predators or uncontrollable mobs; rather they represent an ambient sea of obstacles. This isn’t a good world which has been invaded by a corruptive element; it’s an irredeemable, unsalvageable land of pure corruption from which Elsa must try to escape. The zombies are the anvil against which her character is beaten, rather than the object of most interest.
Which, of course, is not to say that all of our zombies will be faceless uninteresting groan-wranglers. I can’t say very much about the who and the why without giving away some of the really cool plot elements we’ve got in store for you, but you can be assured we’ll encounter more than a few complex, cunning and creepy brainguzzlers with agency and proactivity of their own.
And hey, let’s not pretend that we don’t all get a bit of a kick out of simply seeing recognisable characters reimagined as decomposing cerebravores. That’s where Kev and I will get to cut loose on some fabulously icky visuals. Who doesn’t want to see a starvation-mad Sabretooth sucking up his own regenerating guts like spaghetti, or a zombie Carnage entirely composed of crusty bloodclots…? Fun.
BD: What more can you tell me about the gigantic wall on the southern hemisphere of Battleworld, “The Shield?”
SS: I’ll let other writers say more about this, since mine isn’t the story most closely embroiled in the workings of the Shield, but it’s pretty tacitly what it sounds like: a barrier between the “civilised” regions of the world (which isn’t an especially accurate description in some cases, but still) and the untameable, horrific and corruptive regions. North of the shield the business of Battleworld rumbles on. South of it there is, literally, no hope.
The shield – which is where Elsa has been living and working for years – exists solely to stop the South infecting the North.
Which is all well and good, up until you find yourself stranded oh-so-very-very-far South.
BD: Zombie stories usually carry some amount of social commentary, they offer us the ugly truths about ourselves, what do you hope to teach us about ourselves through Marvel Zombies?
SS: I think I touched on this above with my waffle about themes and analogues.
Of course you’re right, zombies have been used as a very useful metaphor before now, most often for societal and cultural concerns: corporate greed, media mediocrity, unmoderated science, whatever. With this story I’m far more interested in turning that inside-out and making them useful as the negative ambient force in a far more individualist context. Elsa is very much the star of our show, and the undead hordes of the Deadlands become a really elegant analogue for the emotional and traumatic forces which seek to overwhelm her internal self. She is literally fighting to keep going, inside and out, pushing onwards against deadly inertia and overwhelming odds, because it’s the only way she knows how to survive. As I mentioned above, the zombies are the anvil against which her new self will be forged. (In this context – and I’m extending the metaphor waaaay too far here – the child she’s trying to save takes the place of the hammer.)
Naturally it’s a critical part of any “irresistible force” story that sooner or later it encounters an immovable object – or at least an uncrossable boundary – and that’s when the biggest and nastiest confrontations will have to occur.
So that’s the general role of the zombies. In several cases I’ve got more specific plans in mind for them – literal and figurative – but I can’t talk about that too much here.
BD: Tell me more about Elsa’s relationship to her father, Uysses Bloodstone, what can we hope to see passed down to her from the pages of his adventures? And since he was immortal, what happened to him?
SS: Again, I must be rather circumspect, since Elsa’s memories of her father – and the way her upbringing has shaped her – are such a key part of the emotional arc. All I’ll say is what’s already obvious: if your father is an ancient being, indescribably experienced and wise, utterly fixated on the pursuit of monstrous evil, obsessed with strength and capability, then cuddles and lullabies probably didn’t feature very highly in your childhood.
In a way it touches on some of the same dichotomies I explored in X-Men Legacy (which is all about Professor Xavier’s kid son, to those who don’t know). It’s this idea that in order for someone to be “great” in one sense, they probably wind up being kinda bad – or at least absent, cold or distant – in other senses. In the Elsa story it’s dealt with in a very different way (less trippy climbing-inside-of-one’s-own-head, for instance!), but yeah, there are some matching themes in there. Internalised trauma, stunted emotions, the sins-of-the-father, etc. It’s just that this time we’ve also got a protagonist who crotchpunches monsters and dropkicks their torsos.
BD: What sort of zombie stories did you draw on for inspiration? What motivates you to create good horror do you enjoy the slasher idea of losing control in something like Friday the 13th?, or the slow burn of something like say The Fly?
SS: Oh, I’m pretty case-specific when it comes to horror. My essential metric has to do with the “value” of horrific choices (as opposed to their gratuitousness) first and foremost, and that’s a topic on which I could wax prolix for hours. It tends to sound like preaching – and given that I’m among horror aficionados here it would probably be preaching to the converted – so I won’t dwell. The short version is that I think the desire to shock has come dangerously close to overwhelming the desire to affect. The really crazy thing is that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. As long as the former is in service of the latter, horror is one of the most powerful genres there is.
Anyway. Generally speaking, when it comes to movies, I’ll tend to respond more to slow-burn disturbingstuff rather than cheap jumps and grossout moments. (The Orphanage is one of my favourites for that very reason – the scene with the cover-your-eyes-and-count-to-ten thing? Jeeeeeesus.) I guess that’s a pretty handy set of preferences given that I work in comics. Of all the amazing and unique narrative tools accessible to someone working in our incredible medium, the “boo!” thing simply doesn’t work. You’ve got to be smarter about your horror than that.
BD: And finally how does your story tie into Secret Wars as a whole? What is the most exciting part of contributing to this mega event?
SS: Very interesting question, and one I wish I could say more about!
One thing which has really impressed me about the Secret Wars setup is Marvel’s willingness to focus on awesome, character-led stories rather than emphasizing the “everything crosses over with everything else!” angle, which has been done a billion times before, and frankly risks being rather boring. And expensive. And confusing.
Instead they’ve created this remarkable scenario in which all the different creative teams can focus really close on finding out new things about familiar characters and places through the delightful conceit of alternate contexts. By definition it’s far less about some squidlike interconnected macro-story than it’s about a whole host of beautifully realised modular stories, all with high stakes and satisfying conclusions. So yes, my story is affected by things happening in the “main” Secret Wars serial and vice versa, but they all stand on their own feet too. For my money that offers a far better readership experience – and far more choice and agency to the buyer – than a grotesquely self-referential crossover where nothing makes sense unless you’ve read every last part of it.
…which is a horribly aggressive way to end an interview about Literally! My favourite! Marvel thing! Ever! so please permit me to play us out with a dust-swirling, fiend-shuffling, groan-haunted promise that this Marvel Zombies story will blow your mind. And then probably eat it.
“Marvel Zombies” carries the Battleworld distinction, and will be hitting in June.