You would have expected our gratitude to last forever. You would have expected us to canonize The Fantastic Four–
–to raise statues in their honor–
–name bridges and mountains after them and invite them to dinner at the White House.
At least I would have expected it. Silly me.
Instead of ticker-tape parades, we got doubts–accusations–innuendo. Why hadn’t they acted sooner? Could they prove the world was in danger?
…The whole city seemed embarrassed somehow–ashamed of their terror, now that it had passed and they were still alive. And they were taking it out on the Marvels, denying what had happened–
–and blaming the Marvels for the fear they’d felt.
Nice town, huh?“Phil Sheldon”; Kurt Busiek, Marvels Issue #3
My real induction into modern comic books came in the very late 90s. Like, for sure the last 6 months of 1999. During that period my father got me a subscription to a now defunct magazine called “Wizard.” While I used to only enjoy finding pictures of Spawn or over-the-top sexualized women of the 90s (let’s remember, it was the 90s and if you don’t believe me just do a Google search for 90s Wonder Woman and let your mind do the rest) eventually I did start to enjoy the book for the articles and the writing.
Anyway, within those pages I saw them repeatedly reference a book called Marvels, written by Kurt Busiek, with beautiful painted illustrations by Alex Ross. Upon learning what it was, what it represented, and, ultimately, what it lead to, it changed the way I thought about comic books entirely.
Phil Sheldon, an aspiring photographer, is our main character through the story, set through the 1930s through until the 70s. While him and his friends, including J. Jonah Jameson, are hoping to make it big in the world of reporting with the second World War right on the horizon, they could not predict they are about to enter into an age of marvels, legends, and heroes.
Busieks writes Sheldon with an idealized optimism at the beginning of the book, witnessing the rise of the Human Torch (no, not that one), Namor the Sub-Mariner (it’s okay if you don’t know him), and most importantly Captain America. He’s there to capture the moments, find the angle, and bring the Marvels to the world.
But life isn’t always a golden age, and sometimes reality comes crashing in.
This is why I love this book, and why I think it’s a perfect representation of the Marvel Universe (much like how Ross’ other most famous work, DC Comics “Kingdom Come” is a perfect representation of that comic universe). While heroes are there to save us, to protect us, dressed in garishly bright costumes and wielding powers none of us could comprehend, Sheldon soon sees that people will be people. Soon, they turn on the marvels, blaming them for their fear, thinking their exploits are hoaxes. Falsified in a press that only wants to lie to the general populace.
Strangely, reading this book now felt more relevant than ever before.
I 100% recommend it to anyone with a passing interest in heroes, beautiful art, or an understanding of how humans think when they feel the world is getting away from them. While I’d like to write a 5,000 word thesis on this, I hope this is enough to push you to check it out.
Thanks for reading,