A Brief History
Zombie folklore hails from old practice of Vodou; a mix of religion, shamanism and witchcraft originating in Western Africa and prominent, through migration, in Haiti and Louisiana.
According to Voodoo, a zombie is a person who has died but has been resurrected by a 'bokor'. A bokor can be interpreted as a Voodoo priest (houngan) priestess (mambo) a black mage for hire. These are slightly outside the church and considered different (much like Brother Voodoo or Papa Midnite). The tenets of Voodoo say that once resurrected however, you are not control of your actions but rather whoever raised you is. Zombies could be destroyed if fed salt.
It's thought that this stems from people being drugged by a bokor with derivatives of foxglove and appear dead to their loved ones. However, later they would gain basic body function but be sent to work on landowners land. Their relatives would assume their 'dead' loved ones have been risen and become 'nzambi' (where we get our word Zombie). The most prominent case of this being reported in recent times was Clairvius Narcisse in Haiti, 1962. Despite these claims of the rising dead in Haiti, it seems to be isolated to small instances within rural communities and not really canon of the church.
Contrary to his portrayal in fiction as an evil or wicked figure, in league with zombies, the Loa (a spirit of the Voodoo religion) 'Papa Samedi' is actually said to ensure people rot in the ground so they won't come back as a zombie.
Types of Zombies
Zombies can be categorized into two types. The traditional undead zombie or the more modern viral zombie. Both share similarities such as their danger in huge numbers but many differences too.
These classic types of zombies are more closely resembled to their folklore descriptions having first appeared in Romero's Night of the Living Dead. In popular culture they are depicted as living corpses brought back from the dead under the influence of powerful magicians or necromancers. They lack any form of intelligence or speed, relying sheer numbers, endurance as well as the control of their necromancer masters to overwhelm civilization. Though they are difficult to kill by conventional means, they have a specific weakness to sunlight thus preventing them from functioning in masses during the day. Destroying the necromancer would result in the corpses returning back to rest in peace.
These modern types of zombies are not living corpses but rather infected human beings with a tendency to spread a disease or virus through direct contact. Their description is made to be more scientific thus realistic than dark magic or voodoo to a modern audience. Viral zombies are stronger, faster and more relentless than their undead counterparts at the cost of being easier to kill and the possibility of death by starvation. The infection causes a victim to become painfully ill to the point they receive a craving hunger that never ends usually forcing that individual to feed on the flesh of the healthy to sustain themselves. A cure is sometimes said to be able to be found as a means to destroy the virus within an infected host's system revealing them of their pain.
Defining a modern Zombie
The defining of a zombie is actually one of debate. However, generally, a zombie will exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:
- Resurrected from death
- A taste for human flesh and/or brains
- Higher brain functions decrease or stop completely
- Lack of response to pain or other stimuli to peripheral nervous system
- Ability to sustain tremendous amount of damage
- Disease can be spread by bites, scratches or exchange of body fluids
- No sentimentality towards pre-infected life
- Destroyed by heavy head trauma
- Generally slow ambulatory
- Above human strength due to not caring about bodily harm
Due to the ambiguity of the definition, this often leads to debates on what qualifies as a zombie (usually when discussing The Infected from the 28 Days Later series)
Zombies in Traditional Media
World War Z
Earth-2149 is an alternate universe to Earth-616 which was the scene of a major zombie catastrophe. The origin remains unclear however it is believed a zombie Sentry began the infection by biting helpless victims until a majority of the world's population including superheroes were all infected. After the demise of Silver Surfer and the consequent consumption of Galactus, these super-powered zombies travelled the universe spreading the infection and destroying all life wherever they went. Marvel zombies retained their intelligence and super-powers in addition to a painful hunger that could only be relieved by not consuming healthy flesh for 2 weeks however any consumption of such flesh would only prolong the unending hunger. No one was immune to the infection regardless of invulnerability, healing factor or immune system.
Dark Horse Comics
Plants vs. Zombies
The zombies are mostly controlled by Dr. Zomboss. They include many of the zombies found in the Plants vs. Zombies video games, including Imps, Gargantuars, Balloon Zombies, Yeti Zombies, Conehead Zombies, Buckethead Zombies, Football Zombies, Miner Zombies, Scuba Zombies, Pole-Vault Zombies, Screen-door Zombies, Newspaper Zombies, Torch Zombies, Disco Zombies, and zombies from the some of the time periods of PvZ2, including the Egypt, Pirate, Far Future, and Wild West, as well as some that do not appear in the games, such as dinosaur zombies.
A few named zombies include Tugboat, Frogpants, and Nigel Blimp-bottom.
There are some zombies outside of Zomboss's army, including the Anti-Bullying Squad. There also seem to be zombies that live on their own in various times, and even have their own college, Zombie University.
The zombies vary greatly in their strength and durability. Some possess technology such as jet packs. Most are incredibly stupid and can only say "brains?", which is what they eat. They are typically quickly routed by Crazy Dave, Patrice, Nate and their plants.
Dr. Zomboss's zombies invade Neighborville, looking for brains. Patrice Blazing, her friend Nate Timely, and her uncle Crazy Dave manage to fight them off by utilizing Dave's plant army, but there are too many to defeat. Zomboss starts a smog machine that covers the skies and keeps the sunlight from the sunflowers, thus depowering the plants. The humans and plants are able to blow the clouds away with one of Crazy Dave's inventions, and then defeat the zombies with their plants.
Dr. Zomboss creates a sun vacuum to destroy the plants. However one of the zombies destroys the machine and it explodes across time. The zombies are sent to fetch the parts. They visit ancient Egypt, pre-historic times, pirates and the far future. In each era, Patrice and Nate manage to find the sun vacuum parts first, and defeat the zombies with their plants. Eventually the zombies attack Crazy Dave's house, but they are put in a time loop and then defeated by an army of sun-boosted plants.
Bully for You
We learn of a zombie college, where Dr. Zomboss and the Anti-Bullying Squad went to school. Zomboss once again plans to use his zombies to take over Neighborville, but the Anti-Bullying Squad drafts his army into their own leadership, using their better perks to get them to join. Zomboss eventually regains his army, now along with the Squad's college-student-zombie army.
Grown Sweet Home
The zombies learn that the plants are trying to learn to imitate humans. Zomboss decides he wants the zombies to learn how to do this too, with a predictable lack of success. Eventually, however, they get in a contest with the plants, and manage to tie them for their imitation abilities. The zombies and plants once again battle, but after Patrice points out that some of the zombies have been stealing Zomboss's Pop Smarts, the zombies turn on themselves and lose the battle.
Petal to the Metal
Zomboss has the zombies develop a set of cars, the Black Tornado, the Zombie Sledge-Rammer, and Doom-Stuart, and they use them to invade Neighborville. The kids challenge the zombies to a race, with the winner having to leave town forever. Zomboss agrees and his zombie horde races the kids out into the desert. However, Zomboss is using the race as a diversion: his zombies are actually attacking Neighborville while the kids and plants are away! Unfortunately for Zomboss, the zombies have no idea what to do since he didn't tell them his plan, and they basically just hang out. Back at the race, the kids and plants decide to attack the zombie cars, and defeat them via mass suplexing. They leave them in the desert with no cars, but with a map. However, the zombies are too stupid to read the map. Eventually Mr. Stubbins shows up to pick them up, and brings them to Neighborville to join their directionless friends, and the zombies do a better job. However, the kids and plants show up to stop them. After another race, the two teams end up in a tie.
In this story arc, Zomboss gets access to future technology, and outfits the zombies with Z-Mechs—mech suits that make their imp drivers as powerful as gargantuars. The Z-Mechs also translate for the zombies, so now they can speak in broken English instead of just saying “brains.”
With these tools, the zombies manage to take over almost all of Neighborville, in perhaps their most successful invasion, before finally being rebuffed by the future versions of the kids, the plants, Crazy Dave’s time-portal-closing burping frogs, and their past and future allies, Rose and Citron.