Searching For Deeper Meaning In Marvel's 'What If...?' Zombies
This week's What If…? offered not just a compelling alternate history that fits nicely with the other episodes (Hank Pym screwed up the timeline again?!), but also a pseudo-adaptation of another popular alternate history comic series, Marvel Zombies. Which are a collection of comics that famously chronicled the adventures of our beloved superheroes if they became lumbering mounds of rotting flesh. In "What If…Zombies?!" Bruce Banner falls from the sky just like at the beginning of Avengers: Infinity War but finds himself smack in the middle of a George Romero movie.
Zombie movies, famously, have a long and storied tradition of using their tales of the undead as potent allegories. So perhaps Marvel's first onscreen zombie story deserves the same kind of analysis? Well, probably not, but we're going to do it anyway, dammit.
One could argue that "What If…Zombies?!" works as a metaphor for the current state of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It's telling that the zombie antagonists, the Avengers who have been turned, are characters that have exited, or are in the process of exiting, the franchise. The first zombie we meet is Tony Stark. Seeing a half-decomposed Iron Man has a whole other layer of significance for us, considering that he is also a corpse, albeit an unanimated one, in our timeline. We also meet Zombie-Hawkeye, presumably back from filming a Zombie Jeep commercial.
And in perhaps the most memorable scene, Bucky is attacked by Steve Rogers and forced to bisect him with his own shield.
And it's hard not to read this as a grotesque parable about the current state of the MCU; some of its most iconic characters are now, from a storytelling perspective, dead. And the scrappy band of zombie-battling heroes are pointedly characters that are sticking around for the time being, like Spider-Man and Ant-Man. So Marvel is giving us a story in which their current stable of characters are able to physically best their former line-up of stars and eventually escape the metaphorical bony clutches of the franchise's past.
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Top Image: Marvel Studios