It was revealed in the latest episode of Loki that the person behind the Time Variance Authority was none other than Jonathan Majors’ He Who Remains. When Tom Hiddleston’s Loki and Sophia Di Martino’s Sylvie confronted him, he told them that the reason he has pruned countless timelines was to prevent the existence of worse Variants of himself.
These Variants include the likes of Kang the Conqueror, one of many who started the multiversal war and whose statue is seen by Loki ominously looming over the TVA in the final shot of the season. However, Kang isn’t the only threat that Sylvie has potentially unleashed upon the multiverse.
In Marvel Studios’ first animated project, What If…?, there will be an episode based on “Marvel Zombies,” a limited black-comedy series scribed by Invincible comic writer Robert Kirkman in 2005. In that comic run, the world’s population of superheroes becomes infected with a virus that has turned them into flesh-eating zombies.
After examining details in the latest What If…? trailer, the original comics, and Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness, these zombified heroes may not be a one-off threat and could risk infecting the entire multiverse.
LONG DEAD AVENGERS
When will this zombie-filled episode of What If…? take place? Looking closer at the latest trailer, there are actually several clues; the biggest seen standing right behind the undead Iron Man.
At a glance, they could be mistaken for the Hulk, but looking at their attire, it’s actually Black Obsidian, easily identifiable by his unique belt buckles. Tony Stark is also seen wearing his Mark L armor that debuted in his fight with the same hulking child of Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War.
Bucky Barnes is also seen in the first trailer with the same haircut, outfit, and prosthetic arm from the Battle of Wakanda.
Finally, there’s the appearance of the Hulk on Earth, fighting a horde of zombies. Bruce Banner didn’t return to the planet until he was forcefully ejected into the Sanctum Sanctorum in the prologue of Infinity War by Heimdall.
So, it’s safe to assume that this particular episode of What If…? takes place sometime after the events of Infinity War and that it’s been filled with the dead for quite some time.
In the original “Marvel Zombies” comic, shortly after every superhero on Earth became infected, they were abruptly visited by the Silver Surfer and Galactus. Undeterred by the two cosmic powerhouses, the zombified heroes quickly killed and ate them both to satiate their endless hunger.
In What If…?, the spread of the infection occurred before the events of Infinity War, which makes it likely that a sequence of events followed a similar pattern to their comic counterpart. Instead of Galactus coming to consume Earth, it’s Thanos invading the planet in search of the Infinity Stones.
Thanos expected only to find Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, but instead found its deadest.
TIME OF OUTBREAK
When did Earth’s Mightiest Heroes exactly succumb to the zombie virus? It’s hard to tell with just a handful of marketing material for the show, but based on the appearance of two undead Avengers, it seems like Captain America: Civil War was the beginning of the end for this universe.
Not only does the Star-Spangled (Dead) Man still have his helmet, which he distinctly lacked in Infinity War, but he’s missing his Thor-like beard too. Upon closer inspection, this costume is actually the one he wore in Civil War.
Additionally, Clint Barton’s corpse clearly matches his appearance in the same film when he fought alongside Captain America. It’s also apparent that the two of them are rotted to a far greater degree than Iron Man, along with both their costumes being in far worse condition than his armor.
Finally, new merchandise for the show confirmed that Captain America and his team were the first victims of the zombie outbreak and that the plague presumably began in the MCU’s 2016. The question now is what was the original cause of the virus, and how could it relate to the multiverse?
ORIGINS OF THE PLAGUE
As soon as the zombified Captain America was shown in the first trailer, many fans instantly jumped to the conclusion that the cause of the outbreak in this universe was the biological weapon Crossbones attempted to steal in Captain America: Civil War.
The common theory goes that instead of Natasha successfully securing the vial, it breaks and releases the deadly contagion that would begin the zombie apocalypse.
However, while the previously mentioned merchandise confirmed that Rogers was one of the first victims of the plague, this bio-weapon may not have been the origin. The description specifically said that “Captain America’s team were the first responders to the zombie outbreak—and its first victims.”
Meaning that, unless Crossbones got away with the vial and it was released at another time and place, then it wasn’t the origin of the zombie outbreak. An alternative origin of the virus could be directly inspired by the original “Marvel Zombies” comics.
In the second trailer, there was an interesting and ominous shot of someone standing in the Quantum Realm. It isn’t a sure thing, but based on the posture of the silhouetted figure, they appear to be a slouching zombie.
As to how it relates to the origin of the virus in the comics, it was revealed in issue #22 of “Ultimate Fantastic Four” by a zombified Reed Richards that an already infected superhero landed in his reality and immediately began spreading the virus to other heroes:
“What they didn’t know is that the infection had targeted the superheroes of this dimension and a thousand realities before us. This is how it consumed, you see… by infecting superheroes just like him and sending them out to infect the others.”
So, is it possible that this mysterious figure in the Quantum Realm is patient-zero of this plague? Someone who unexpectedly arrives in the soon-to-be-doomed reality that begins to attack people, only for Captain America and his team to arrive on the scene and become infected?
What makes the virus, known simply as “The Hunger” in the comics, so dangerous is that it doesn’t turn those infected into mindless, rotting husks like typical zombies. Instead, victims of The Hunger retain their intelligence but are overcome by the irresistible need to feed on human flesh.
This hunger was so strong, that not minutes after being bitten, Spider-Man, one of the noblest of heroes, devoured both Mary Jane and Aunt May one after the other. What’s worse is that those infected also retain the full faculty of their powers, making it even easier for the virus to spread and those infected harder to kill.
One aspect of The Hunger is that if those infected do not continue to feed, they begin to lose their cognitive functions—becoming more rabid. It could be why the zombified Captain America seen in the trailers has done nothing but growl like a standard zombie, while still retaining his fighting prowess.
This intense hunger also alters their morality to the point that they don’t bat an eye at working alongside other zombified villains to find human flesh. This seemed to be the case with Iron Man and Black Obsidian in the latest trailer, as both of them don’t seem hostile to one another and are even preparing to fight someone as a united front.
If all of this is indeed the same case in the show, then it poses a serious problem for the rest of the multiverse.
In the comics, there was always a risk of this cycle repeating itself. Once the undead heroes had devoured every last ounce of human flesh in their universe, where else would they find more but other living worlds?
THREAT TO ALL LIFE
As previously mentioned, those infected by The Hunger retain their intelligence. As several of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are considered some of the smartest people on the planet, it wouldn’t be shocking for one or two of them to think about hopping to another dimension for fresh meat.
In fact, it’s actually how this universe was first introduced. In issue #21 of “Ultimate Fantastic Four,” a zombified version of the titular team tricked their way into another universe to feast on human flesh and spread The Hunger. Many incidents like that one would continue to happen throughout the years, all nearly ending in disaster for the other universe.
It became such a problem, that one Watcher had observed the arrival of several zombies in his universe and was willing to interfere, as they “represent the single greatest threat to all life in the multiverse!” The fact that a Watcher, a species that is dedicated to non-interference, would interfere, is indicative of the danger they posed.
Even one of the biggest comic book events by Marvel, “Secret Wars,” showed that not even Doctor Doom, with the powers of a God, could get rid of them. He could only sequester them. So, even in the comics, these corrupted heroes have been a constant source of danger for the rest of the multiverse.
Something that could be the case in What If…? and might be a problem for these assembled multiversal heroes.
GUARDIANS OF THE MULTIVERSE
Many had assumed, like the original comics, What If…? would be a self-contained anthology series. That was put into question when a piece of merchandise for the show called a group of multiversal characters, “Guardians of the Multiverse.”
It could simply have been a marketing gimmick for the show, but the second trailer for the animated series put any doubts to rest. Not only did fans see Captain Carter interact with the Sorcerer Supreme, but the trailer made a direct reference to the original iconic group shot seen in The Avengers.
Additionally, the villain of this series may have been made a brief appearance fighting Carter in the trailer. This big bad looks to be none other than Shuma-Gurath, the ruler of hundreds of dimensions and one of the Great Old Ones. Shuma-Gurath has also been rumored to be the villain of Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
In the original MCU team-up film, the Avengers were pitted against the Chitauri as foot soldiers, which is unlikely with the new “Guardians of the Multiverse.” If these new animated Avengers are looking for mindless minions to square off against, zombies could be the answer.
If Shuma-Gurath is indeed the villain of the show, these zombies could act as perfectly serviceable cannon fodder. It’d also avoid this new team fighting another swarm of Ultron Sentries, as the original team did in Avengers: Age of Ultron.
All that leaves now is any live-action appearances, which could easily come in the Doctor Strange sequel.
LIVE-ACTION DEBUT OF DEAD HEROES COMING?
Kevin Feige mentioned in a past interview that to prepare audiences for the multiverse, Marvel Studios dulled out the concept in previous films. The multiverse was explained by the Ancient One in Doctor Strange, and Mysterio pretended to be from an alternate Earth in Spider-Man: Far From Home.
Something else that was potentially “dulled” out to audiences in that sequel was the idea of zombified heroes, as an undead Iron Man was shown crawling after a terrified Peter Parker. An illusion by Mysterio, yes, but the idea was planted in the minds of audiences, just like the multiverse.
Of course, these zombies will also have an entire episode dedicated to themselves and maybe more in What If…?, but there’s a distinct possibility that they could make an appearance in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness. Elizabeth Olsen recently claimed that Marvel Studios is “trying to create the scariest Marvel movie” with this sequel, and zombies have long been a horror movie trope.
It wouldn’t be shocking if the Sorcerer Supreme had an encounter with a horde of zombified heroes, which would certainly be terrifying for audiences to see some of their favorite characters twisted into monsters. It would be especially appropriate, considering Sam Raimi was hired to direct this sequel after Scott Derrickson dropped out.
Not only does Raimi’s dark humor from the Evil Dead franchise match perfectly with “Marvel Zombies,” but funny enough, both have actually crossed over in the limited series, “Marvel Zombies/Army of Darkness,” with the heroes and villains being turned into Deadites instead of zombies.
It seems almost too perfect for these walking dead not to appear in at least one set-piece to scare the audiences in Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.
For now, audiences can see these undead saviors in an upcoming episode of What If…?, premiering on Disney+ on August 11.
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