Marvels Annotated #1 A Retrospective
• Marvel Comics • Get It now (Yesterday)
Marvels is without a doubt my favorite series of all time. It's what all comic books should aspire to be and expresses the magic of Marvel Comics and the potential of the medium as a vehicle of storytelling
Kurt Busiek was God-Tier throughout the series and Alex Ross was in his prime delivering some of the best art of his career. To this day I'm amazed at just home much ground was covered in these four issues. The passion, knowledge, and respect these men had for these characters is part of the reason I'm so down on modern Marvel in 2019. Something clearly has been lost over the years.
I also love that the series touches on the political climate of the eras of the time periods covered in each issue. It's not heavy-handed or divisive. The politics are there and add context to the narrative.
Marvels captures the idealism of the men and women of the time and blend real-world events with fantastical elements. I know it's popular to paint anything prior to the civil rights era as problematic, and there definitely were issues, but there are also good men and good women working together to make the world a better place.
We shouldn't lose sight of that even when litigating past discretions.
I'm not going to review Marvels. Full disclosure, I wouldn't give any of the issues less than the highest of marks so I won't waste time drawing out the foregone conclusion.
What I want to discuss is my feelings regarding key characters and events discussed in these books and how they resonated with me personally.
I'm not the biggest fan of Marvel Comics right now or their pricing practices. Even with those disclosures I think that the quality of these books along with the additional content justify the 7.99 cover price.
Let's Talk Marvels
1. Phil Sheldon
Phil Sheldon is simply amazing. Marvels wouldn't have worked without Phil as narrator. The highest praise I can give for the series was for the idea of shifting the focus of the series from the point of view of the heroes and villains and aiming it squarely on the little guy and his reactions to events. This trope also worked well for Busiek and Ross in their series Astro City, another of my favorites.
For the lack of better comparisons Phil Sheldon is the Forrest Gump of the series. He's there for all of the important events and keeps the story grounded no matter how fantastical they are.
Phil is more than likely your grandfather or great grandfather and is the product of the "Greatest Generation". He feels real and relatable and is what I imagine our forebears to have been like if we view the situations presented with rose tinted glasses.
2. Jim Hammond Finally gets his Due
The first comic from Timely (Marvel) featured The Human Torch. The Torch is android that would spontaneously combust when exposed to oxygen. Most people today probably have no idea that there was a precursor to Johnny Storm. We rarely see Jim outside of one of the Many Invaders reboots that pop up every few years and even then the character tends to be an afterthought.
In Marvels #0 the creation of the Human Torch by Phineas Horton is treated as the catalyst for the rest of the series events. The story is treated as a modern retelling of Frankenstein with the Torch standing in for the Monster. Ross even sets some of the panels up to resemble Mary Shelley's seminal work.
The character was never given this level of respect before or since. Prior to reading the Marvels trade paperback in the 90's I only knew the character from the defunct Marvel tsr roleplaying game. The game featured 2 versions of the Torch and one of them was Jim.
Namor is awesome. One of the things people tend to forget is just how long Namor has been around in the Marvel Universe. Marvels does a great job portraying the character as hero and villain. He's just as bi-polar as ever.
One minute he's fighting Nazi's with the allies. The next he's flooding Manhattan. My favorite pages of the entire series is when the flood happens. It's scaled perfectly and shows just how dangerous Namor can be when he's in a mood.
The main theme of the issue for me is how Agency has been snatched from our central characters. In what I think can best be described as "The Lex Luthor dilemma". Prior to the birth of The Human Torch man was in control of his own destiny.
With the emergence of heroes such as Namor, Torch and even Captain America the best a normal person can do is get out of the way and hope for survival.
At one point in the issue, a bunch of the journalists are huddled in a bar listening to a broadcast breaking down the fight between the Human Torch and Namor. It's a really pathetic moment and illustrates how small man is in relation to these bigger than life characters.
What hope can a normal guy have against a guy that can melt car engines or another guy that is bulletproof?
There are other moments in the issue that were worth mentioning but didn't deserve a bullet point. It was nice seeing Captain America, a young J.J. Jameson and Nick Fury before they fell into their Iconic roles.
Alex Ross also added cameos that I never noticed prior to reading the annotated edition today. If you look closely you'll see Lois Lane, Clark Kent, The Shadow, Doc Savage, Billy Batson, and even Popeye in the issue.
These Cameos and easter eggs make the book even more fun to read. There is a palpable layer of optimism throughout the comic and even when the characters suffer losses there is a greater victory a few pages later.
This is one of the most beautiful comics I've ever had the pleasure of reading. Thanks for sharing this experience with me.
I'll be back with an overview of Issue #2 in a few weeks.