Rotting, But Not Quite Dead
I'll admit upfront, I've never been much of a fan of zombies. The Walking Dead comic was pretty good up until the 6th volume or so, until it got repetitive and unimaginative, and I've seen some of the classic zombie flicks, such as Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, but none of these franchises have ever gotten me on board with the idea; they are literally lifeless characters with little, if any motivation behind them. And, though this comic actively works to address that, it does fall flat on a few notes, and some of the included materials here are just terrible. So, let's get right down to it, shall we?
The first entry in the "series" I guess you could say is the Fantastic Four run of issues 21-23, the story arch that inspired the series to exist. It's kind of funny coming across this, as, many years ago, my parents bought me the fist issue of the series without any real context or understanding of what they were buying, simply knowing that I liked the Fantastic Four. Now, getting to finish the story arch for the first time, the story presents an interesting concept, though the execution isn't the best. A lot of the stories from the Ultimate FF felt rather rushed, and this was no exception, seeing as it ran for only 3 issues. And, while some of the ideas came up again later in the series, this entry wasn't very satisfying as a whole. The characterization for everyone other than Reed is poor, especially for the Thing, and it lacks a certain liveliness to it (no pun intended). Still, it was the bedrock of the premise, and did a fair job of introducing the idea as a whole.
Rather than faffing about with the details of the infection, the Marvel Zombies series starts off immediately where the Ultimate FF leaves us, putting us in the minds of the zombies rather than survivors to see what they were thinking and reacting to. And, being written by Robert Kirkman, the same mind behind the aforementioned Walking Dead, there's some really creative ideas here. For instance, there's a more plausible reasoning or motivation behind the zombies' lust for food that makes this world a little more believable... for a zombie world. And the absurdity of dead things eating when they can't digest the food or have the proper body parts to hold food is also pointed out, which is a clever thought. The character work here, admittedly, is pretty poor. Almost none of characters retain any of their attributes or personality traits, and, while this is understandable, being zombies and all, it feels like all the characters are generally interchangeable. Some of our figures, such as Spiderman and Hulk, do retain some of their personality, but these are almost never touched on, the story instead building on the struggle these zombies face with their duality and searches. We also see Goliath/Ant-Man get a really interesting focus, he practically becoming the main character. In comparison to our main figures, the survivors that are presented are rather bland in comparison, though they are only touched on occasionally. Also, because the characters are generally interchangeable, there are a wide cast of characters that are shown in zombie form, but nothing interesting or creative is done with them. Also, this is surprisingly hero-centric; pretty much the entire cast of villains are missing for a majority of the book, which is odd to me, considering all the zombies should be working together, being stuck in the same situation. And, when a bunch of them do show up, it's for a very brief moment, and a large quantity of them are unaccounted for. For a book that likes to drop names and show cast a lot of characters for the sake of having zombie versions of them on the page, this, to me, was a big oversight. However, there's a reason why this is the main attraction; it's creative and interesting, even if the pay-off isn't the best, as the end is ultimately a little anticlimactic.
We again visit the Ultimate Fantastic Four for another 3 issues, 30-32, where we have the zombie FF stuck in the Ultimate universe for a bit. It doesn't have too much to do with the Zombie Universe, but it's an interesting enough story. However, the ending was really sudden and out of place, to me, and tried to wrap everything up too nicely.
The Black Panther issues, 28-30, are... pretty atrocious. I don't know who the author was here, but they clearly had no idea how people talked, what the personalities of any of these beings were, or how to tell an intelligent story. Things happened without any real basis or logic to it, there's a magic teleporting frog thing that is a dumb and unimaginative reason for our characters being in this situation to begin with, and, for a direct follow-up to the Marvel Zombies story, it lacks a lot of the darkness and atmosphere that made the original storyline as successful as it was. Avoid this like the plague if you can; there's nothing remotely good about it, which is disappointing considering how much I enjoy Black Panther as a character.
Lastly, we have an preview issue for the Marvel Zombies called Marvel Zombies: Dead Days. This, again, feels like it misses the mark of the original. Instead of viewing things from the perspective of the zombies, we see the world as it struggles to find a means of solving the problems at hand. As I mentioned above, the survivors here are really poorly written, and this is no exception. No one feels like they have legitimate personalities here, and those who do feel really out of place. Mr. Fantastic in particular has a development that, considering his personality in the comics, makes almost no sense to me. Rather than taking what was good about the original and expanding on it, this issue instead showed just how weak the reasoning behind the zombie outbreak is.
There, admittedly, is a bit of extra content in terms of a wide selection of variant covers and articles talking about some of the concepts and ideas the writers explored, but, to me, they weren't terribly engaging, and doesn't warrant buying this collection in particular.
So, ultimately, while the original series is pretty enjoyable and interesting, the other attached works aren't really worth the additional price. If you're really into zombies and enjoy Kirkman's work, go pick up the original, 5 issue series rather than slogging through the rest of this book.