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Kurt Busiek & Alex Ross – Marvels

January 18, 2013

139. Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross (1994)

Length: 400 pages

Genre: Superhero Sci-Fi, Graphic Novel

Started/Finished: 16 December 2012

Where did it come from? / Why do I have it? Lent to me by a friend who thought that I’d like it, and I figured I’d better read it before I moved.

Ah, superheroes!
But won’t someone think of the
people on the streets?

Summary: News photographer Phil Sheldon lives in an amazing world: the Marvel Universe. He was there when the Human Torch was first unveiled, he was there watching Captain America fight the Nazis, he lived through the era of the Fantastic Four and the mutant panic that came with the rise of the X-Men. Many of us are familiar with the exploits of superheroes from their perspectives, but what about from the perspective of an everyday person? What about the people who have to live with the flaming cars and demolished buildings after every battle to save the Earth from destruction by evil forces? What does living in a world full of Marvels do them, and to their sense of what it means to be human?

Review: As I have admitted before, I am only vaguely acquainted with the Marvel Universe, and most of that is via various movie adaptations than it is through any of the comics (and *certainly* through not any of the original comics.) So while I really liked the concept of this book – what’s it like to live in a world where you are one of the shrieking masses fleeing from the Hulk throwing train cars around Manhattan? – I didn’t have the background to get really invested in the story. In some of the vast amounts of supplemental material in the back of the edition I read, Busiek states that his original intent was to write several new stories, but instead was urged to place Phil as a bystander to some of the early foundational effects of the Marvel Universe. Because Phil is, like I was, an outsider, the broad strokes of the plot are easy enough to follow. But I constantly felt like there were huge areas of detail and backstory and meaning and subtlety that I was missing out on… because of course, there were. Still, it was an interesting spin on the typical superhero comic, and I thought it asked a lot of really interesting questions, even if I didn’t always agree with the way it answered them. The art was lovely; primarily paintings done from real-life models (some of the photo comparisons in the section at the back were equal parts amazing and hilarious), it was both realistic and yet slightly more luminous than real life. 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: While this was understandable and enjoyable for someone like me, I think it would be best appreciated by someone who was raised on a steadier diet of superhero comics, and Marvel comics in particular.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: I can’t find any, but it’s possible that it’s getting lost in the search results with other Marvel Universe stuff that these authors have done. If you’ve reviewed this one, leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Horton. Phineas Thomas Horton. Quite possibly the greatest scientist of his time. He was my father.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. January 18, 2013 4:45 pm

    I read this as a kid—my brother had this and Kingdom Come, a DC story done in a similar painterly style. Looking back, I can only imagine he got them at the same time as a gift from someone well-meaning, not knowing that “comics” for Matt McBride meant Asterix and Obelix and Mickey Parade, not Superman.

    In any case, I remembered enjoying it, but I think that’s because my brother also had Les Daniels’ Marvel, so I was already familiar with a lot of the epic story lines covered in this book. I think you’re quite right; this is in no way an introduction to the world, since it’s recontextualizing the most memorable stories in the Marvel universe.

    • January 25, 2013 2:41 pm

      Omni – I have a weird relationship with superhero comics; I’m aware of the world, and the rough relationships of characters within it, but I don’t really know the stories, because there’s just such a huge volume and history and reboots and story arcs and everything that I have a hard time finding a decent starting place. Therefore, most of what I’ve read in the Marvel Universe has been either mostly tangential to the main action (like Runaways), or a complete one-off revamp, like Marvel 1602). Although the collection you linked definitely looks like it might be worth my time.

      • January 27, 2013 11:00 am

        It’s an official history, so it’s quite rosy, but it might give you a handle on the core mythology. And I totally agree; it’s super-difficult to hop onto the bandwagon, with the various titles. My tact is to commit to certain characters, but I won’t lie—while I really hate the DC reboot, it let me get into Wonder Woman, so…

  2. January 19, 2013 6:11 pm

    I wasn’t familiar with the storylines being covered, and I still really loved this. I thought it was such a cool, unique take on living in a world of superheroes. I will say that I knew about the climactic event (you know the one), because my mother always talks about how that one character’s fate ruined her summer when it originally happened. So I was familiar with that part of it.

    • January 25, 2013 2:42 pm

      Jenny – I definitely enjoyed the perspective of this book, I just felt like a lot of the more subtle meaning and in-jokes were passing me by. But then again, the only storylines I really knew about was the Fantastic Four wedding, and the mutant panic, and even those were pretty abstract.

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