As we jump into the story, I want to make something clear to everyone: Marvels is not your typical comic book. The original idea was conceived by Alex Ross as a way of looking at the Marvel Universe through the eyes of normal, everyday people instead of the heroes and villains. This unique approach was expanded upon once Kurt Busiek came onto the project, and I dare say that Marvels may be the strongest work of Kurt’s career.
The story follows the career of photojournalist Phil Collins, starting right at the beginning of WWII. Phil, wanting to get in on the action and report the goings on of the war, gets pulled into the world of superheroes, early on naming them “Marvels. Throughout the book, we see him bear witness to the birth of the Human Torch, the battles between the Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner, the return of Captain America, the wedding of Reed and Sue Richards, the arrival of the X-Men and Avengers, the coming of Galactus, the Kree-Skrull War, the Atlantean Attack on New York, and finally, the death of Gwen Stacy. Through these events Phil tries his best to chronicle them, doing his job while being caught up in the wonder that the Marvels produced where ever they went.
This unique approach takes the readers through nearly every major Marvel storyline in history, but instead of following the heroes and villains as the battle it out it shows things from the human perspective. As I said before, you feel like you’re right there in the middle of it all, viewing these events through Phil’s eyes, feeling the wonder, and fear, of what the Marvels were and what they could mean for humanity’s future.
What really blew me away about Marvels is just how brutally honest it is. Many writers (and artists), tend to look back at the past through rose-tinted glasses, saying how wonderful everything was back then. Kurt doesn’t do this. Instead, he shows us the blunt reality of the way the Marvel Universe was, and by allegory, the way our world was at those times. Today, we expect people to be awed and excited to see Superheroes. But that’s what would really happen, is it? If you saw a man, or what looked like a man, burst into flame and then soar through the air, you would be scared, wondering what the hell is going on. If you saw in the newspapers that “mutants” were cropping up, bigotry might just come into your mind out of pure fear, just like it did in Marvels. Kurt depicts these emotions on every page, from the fear Phil and his fellows first feel when the Human Torch awakes, to their adulation when the Torch and Namor join Captain America and the rest of the WWII heroes to fight the Nazis. You feel the fear and disgust at the mutants, but then, you see the horror in Phil’s mind as he meets a scared mutant child, seeing the same look in her eyes that he witnessed in pictures of the Jews at the Death Camps. After that, you feel the frustration in Phil’s mind when after all the Marvels had done to save humanity (especially after the battle with Galactus) people still look at them with suspicion. And finally, you feel the despair at the death of Gwen Stacy, a Marvel failing right in front of Phil’s eyes, and an innocent dying because of it. My heart genuinely broke for Phil in that moment, and it was one of the most powerful moments I’ve ever had reading a comic book.
In the world of Marvels, the public is not unanimously in love with the heroes. The emotions vary as widely as the people of our own world. Yes, they are heroes, but what do they really want? Why are they doing this? Where did they come from? And why can’t they trust us with who they are? These are the questions that people ask about a lot of things in life, and in Marvels, Kurt using them to illustrate the reality of a world of superheroes like it never has been done before, and it was fascinating.
For those of who don’t know Kurt Busiek, he is a comic book historian of sorts, and as such, the perfect person to pen Marvels. I cannot tell you how many amazing conversation I have had with Kurt about the history of the industry with both love so much, and after reading Marvels, I see that not only is a he historian of this industry, he loves the worlds that were created, and how much care he put into writing this book.
Point blank, what Kurt did here was truly amazing. He retold Marvel’s history, and by doing so connected dots that I didn’t even know existed. More than that, he gave us a new perspective to view that wor.ld from. Yes, the heroes and villains of the Marvel Universe are incredible and wondrous, but they are also flawed, as are the people they seek to protect. Even sitting here now, I am still still completely awestruck by the majesty of Kurt’s work on Marvels, and consider some of the finest I have read.Bravo sir.