Interview: Fred Van Lente

Published on March 29th, 2010

Ah, Marvel Zombies. Love it or hate it, it’s undeniably growing in popularity amongst Marvel readers, and the franchise pretty much doubled it’s back catalogue size in 2009 alone. Some people have a real dislike for Robert Kirkman’s early runs on the series he created, but I think with the arrival of Fred Van Lente’s ‘Marvel Zombies 3’ series a while back, a lot of readers felt as if he had rekindled their love for what was, (or in some eyes, ‘what could have been’) a remarkable franchise.

I personally loved Kirkman’s first two runs of the series way back, with artist Sean Philips, and have also gained equal enjoyment from what Van Lente has done since he picked up the series after Kirkman. So when I heard that Marvel Zombies 5 was to hit shelves in April this year, I was quite honestly over the moon.

So with April just around the corner, I thought it would be the best time to have a chat with writer Fred Van Lente, and talk to him about his upcoming, latest installement of Marvel Zombies.

Rob – Hey Fred, it’s great to be talking to you, and thanks for being able to take the time out to answer a few questions. I hope all is well with you, and I can imagine that you’re quite excited for the release of your first issue of Marvel Zombies 5. Are you looking forward to seeing the reader’s reactions?


FVL – Always. Except the death threats.

Rob – Now just for you readers, it’s obvious we’re talking Marvel Zombies here. So Fred, what’s the general story for Marvel Zombies 5, without giving too much away? In case some people aren’t up to scratch. What’s going on from where we last left off.

FVL – In MZ3 the Marvel Zombies invaded the Marvel Universe. In MZ4, Jack Russell, Werewolf by Night, the best friend of Morbius the Living Vampire, got infected by the undead plague. Desperate for a vaccine, Morbius sends the wise-cracking, hard-drinking, zombie-killing robot Machine Man on a quest throughout the Multiverse to collect samples from every variant of walking dead out there so he can isolate a cure. His interdimensional quest takes him — and his mysterious sidekick — to various Marvel worlds of yesteryear, including the Old West, Camelot, Killraven’s War of the Worlds, and the cyberpunk 2020 of Machine Man’s own Barry Windsor Smith-drawn mini-series.

Rob –Marvel Zombies 5 marks the start of your 3rd series on Marvel Zombies, excluding the two issues you wrote in Marvel Zombies Return and your input in that series. I’m guess zombies are something you straight up love to write, would I be correct there? Or is it that you like using them as vehicle for good story telling?

FVL – More the latter. Before I got the assignment I hadn’t really given the genre much thought. I’ve always been a horror nut, though, and this is one of the only assignments at Marvel where you can do big, gory scares and still get the House of Ideas’ seal of approval, so that by itself is pretty awesome. There are some truly outrageously disgusting sequences in this one that Kano has brought to… er, life with gusto.

marvelzombie5Every time I write something I think is so disgusting Marvel won’t let me print it, I just find them egging me on, which is awesome.

Like there’s the climax of #2… Ugh! I get shivers just thinking about it.

Rob – You’ve said that each issue of Marvel Zombies 5 will have different kinds of zombies in them (which is something I will come back too); I’d be interested to find out, what are your inspirations for the different sorts of zombies in this series (any movies, books, other comics)?
FVL – I’ll give you a hint. ARMOR (the interdimensional defense agency Morbius and Machine Man work for) has classified each type of zombie. In issue #1, they go after what ARMOR calls a “Romero”. In #2, they’re after a “Boyle”. In #3, a “Raimi.” Ya dig?

Rob – Ha! Yeah I get what you mean, that’s pretty damn awesome. Now, Machine Man. Let’s talk Machine Man. He’s set to return in Marvel Zombies 5, which is exciting! What is it you love about Machine Man that makes you want to keep writing him into these stories? And can we expect to see any exploration on, say, the patchy side of his character?

FVL – I have an excessive love for beer and am, in fact, a robot, so I relate to him on a personal level. He’s in the classic Marvel tradition of being a person alienated from society but nevertheless can’t stop himself from being heroic, it’s just in his nature. And his love life takes some really weird turns in this series, I’ll tell you what.

Rob – So Marvel Zombies 5 see’s Machine Man travelling the multi-verse, to try and gather samples of different zombies, and each location in each issue will be different. That’s pretty crazy compared what you’ve written before, could you explain that a bit please, and tell us where that idea came from?

FVL – One thing I’ve tried to do in all of my MZ series is make them completely different from the ones that have come before it. I figure that’s what makes them fresh and interesting for me, so that’s what will be fresh and interesting for the reader.

A lot of it just comes from talking to readers post-MZ3 and going to cons and getting questions like “Do you like fast zombies or slow zombies?” “Are the infected from 28 Days Later actually zombies because they’re not dead?” That kind of stuff. It made me realize that there are a number of different variations on the genre and since I have this dimension-hopping agency at my beck and call, it seemed worth exploring.
Rob – Keeping on Machine Man for a bit, I hear that he’s bringing a surprise buddy along for the ride. A sidekick, as it were. But this partner for Machine Man has been kept pretty secret hasn’t he. Is this mystery sidekick going to surprise readers? And will this character impact the story on a significant level?

FVL – Yes and yes. A pretty appropriate individual to be working for ARMOR, when you consider his “origin.”

Rob – Now, you’ve mentioned that Spider-Man plays a part in Marvel Zombies 5, I’m interested to know if this is the zombie Spider-Man from MZ: Return, who is my personal favourite Marvel zombie of all. Could you touch on what Spider-Man is going to bring to Marvel Zombies 5, if much at all? As you write a lot of Spidey comics as well.

marvelzombiespidermanFVL – I sort of teed-up MARVEL ZOMBIES 5 with the Morbius story in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #622. In that story, Morbs gets some of Spider-Man’s radioactive blood, which he’s using as the basis for his zombie cure.

Rob – I’m pretty sure readers will want to know if Marvel Zombies 5 is going to hold any big, surprising moments in store for fans, which will keep us on our toes? Are there are any big name villains and heroes too look out for in this series?

FVL – Would anyone like an evil Stark from the future? Anyone? Marvel Zombies Return

Rob – I think I know a lot of people who would! This brings me to my final question. Marvel Zombies 5 sounds like it’s going to be packing a pretty powerful punch, and a lot of it has been kept quite secret indeed. Does this mean the Marvel Zombies are going out with a bang, or is there a Marvel Zombies 6 in the works? What are the plans after this series?

FVL – Marvel Zombies, like its namesake, has proven notoriously difficult to kill, and I doubt anyone will succeed in the near future. Including me.

Rob – Thank you ever so much Fred, it’s been wonderful having the opportunity to drop you some questions. I look forward to reading the series! Now I wish you all the best with the success of the series!

FVL – Thanks, Rob! I appreciate the kind words.

So, does anybody want to hazard a guess as to who this mysterious sidekick could be? I suppose we can guess all we want, but we’ll have to wait until April the 7th to find out such answers. I cannot wait to see Machine Man travelling the multiverse, and to see him hacking his way through different sorts of zombies that we’re used to seeing in our favourite horror films!

Thanks again to Mr. Fred Van Lente, for taking the time out to have a chat with me.

Rob Andrews