Told from the perspective of Phil Sheldon, a freelance photographer, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ MARVELS captures the arrival of a group of superheroes and supervillains that ultimately wreak havoc on the lives of ordinary people. The story moves through several decades ultimately ending in the 1960s corresponding with an explosion of tights-wearing super-beings and the retirement of Sheldon.
With MARVELS, we don’t have the luxury of knowing the origin stories of these characters nor do we know what they’re thinking or what they represent in the realm of good vs. evil. All we know is what regular folks think when they look up at the sky and see these ultra-powered beings beating the crap out of each other – fear and helplessness. While not all heroes are hated (the superheroes enter the Second World War as crowds cheer on Captain America while he takes the fight to Hitler’s Third Reich), conspiracy theories and fear spread through the population leaving many to develop hatred borne out of simple ignorance. We see graffiti splattered on the walls of alleyways wishing “death to all mutants”, we see the creation of The Sentinels – mutant-hunting androids tasked with eliminating The X-Men – and we see the arrival of Galactus, an ultra-powered “eater of worlds” who threatens to end life as we know it.
Phil Sheldon’s ride through the Marvel Universe’s creation was memorable. Seeing key moments in the publisher’s history from street level and without context provided this novel with something special – a unique viewpoint from the average person during these big, legendary events. I thought using a newspaper photographer was a great idea. He had to be at these moments and his first-hand experience was perfect for establishing inner-turmoil.
While I enjoyed the story here, what really blew me away was the beyond excellent artwork by Alex Ross. Known for his beautiful watercolor-like art, his style firmly places the story in the middle of the twentieth century giving this an authenticity that I believe may have been lost by choosing another artist.
MARVELS was a fun ride through some of comics’ most enduring events from a perspective rarely used.