Fiziko noted that we have never reviewed Marvels, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’s look at the Marvel Universe, late 30s to early 70s, from the point-of-view of the average, non-super-powered guy.

General Information

Title: Marvels
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Alex Ross
Lettering/Interior Design: Richard Starkings and Comicraft

ISBN 0-7851-0049-0

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A reporter follows key events in the Marvel Universe or, rather, in Marvel’s terribly busy New York, from the creation of the original Human Torch to the death of Gwen Stacy and the engagement of the Vision and the Scarlet Witch.

High Points

The Artwork. Does Ross have any peers? In addition to illustrating his comics with a beguiling realism, he also fills them with Easter Eggs. His work may be found at his website. Two images from Marvels appear at my Crossover Comix page. Ross’s take on the marriage of Reed Richards and Sue Storm appears here, while a cameo by Popeye is featured here. (Superman also makes an appearance in Marvels, though the notes insist that the figure leaping a tall building at a single bound in red-and-blue tights is the Golden Age Angel).

For Busiek’s part, the EC-inspired story of Maggie the Mutant in Book Two is genuinely touching, and disturbingly open-ended.

Low Point

The artistic virtues of Ross and Busiek, to some degree, work against this story. Ross insists on photorealistic detail. Busiek researched Marvel’s history and organized events, as they happened, meticulously. At times, yes, the results are breathtaking.

Equally often, they illustrate just how ridiculous Marvel’s superhero universe is. The very realistic, serious approach forces you to wonder why Phineas Horton’s research wasn’t continued, how New York survived Namor’s tidal wave, and why Marvel-Earth even vaguely resembles ours.

By the time our intrepid reporter and Gwen Stacy stumble into an invading Army from Atlantis, I found myself laughing rather than being awed.

(Especially when the narrator notes, “There was hard science behind it all.”)

The Scores

Originality: 6/6 Other comics have attempted to show the everyday aspects of a superhero-filled world, but none, prior to Marvels, have undertaken so meticulous and thorough (some might say, “obsessive”) a presentation.

Artwork: 6/6 See High Points.

Story: 3/6 The story is fragmented and incomplete, because of the project’s nature. People unfamiliar with Marvel Comics may find it impenetrable at times. Busiek does link events through Phil Sheldon’s personal story.

Characterization: 3/6 The reporters have personalities of sort, and the heroes have been handled, at least, no worse than in typical comic books. The initial narration by the Torch intrigued me; I almost wish he had continued it.

It wasn’t the heroes, however, who presented the biggest problem for me. I found most of the average citizens unbelievable. Their attitudes towards the heroes changed too easily, too often. And given that we’ve adjusted to internal combustion engines, electricity, and the Internet, one imagines that we would, over a half-century, develop some perspective about metahumans, if they actually existed.

At the same time, we might be a trifle more shaken by frequent, planet-threatening alien invasions.

Emotional response: 4/6 Ross’s spectacular art evokes the gee whiz sense of wonder comics may have had for you when you were a kid. The story features some good moments, but the lack of characterization presents some problems. I can reread Ghost World or Watchmen. I look at Marvels again.

Flow 3/6

Overall: 5/6

In total, Marvels receives a score of 30/42.