Friday, October 3, 2014

The Twentieth Anniversary of Marvels

Karen: This year marks twenty years since the original publication of Marvels, the ground-breaking limited series by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross that looked at the Marvel universe from the eyes of a common man. I know many of you do not share our enthusiasm for Ross' work, but this series was truly stunning when it first appeared. The Italian website Fumettologica published an interview with both creators (it has an English translation, check at the top of the page), with their thoughts twenty years later.

Karen: What are your thoughts, twenty years on? I still find it a great read, a captivating look back at Marvel history and a simpler (and better) time in comics.


Anonymous said...

Firstly I just want to agree with Karen's view about a simpler and better time for comics...I've just finished reading Winter Soldier #1 and it was AWFUL...this is definitely not the age of Marvel(s).
Sorry, just had to get that off my chest.
As to was stunning(!!) and if I hadn't wasted my time earlier I could have waxed lyrically for ages about all its good points -and its couple of negatives- BUT all I would like to say is that when I first saw that panel of Giant Man striding over the rooftops in #2, page 5 (I think) I sat with my mouth wide open for at least 5 minutes...ah, the memories...To be fair after reading WS#1 I also sat, mouth open wide...wondering why on earth I had bought it!!!

Anonymous said...

I have been out of comics since the Bronze Age. But, I like to browse the Fantasy/Sci-Fi section at the local Barnes & Noble - just to see what's out there. One day, several years back, I remember picking up Marvels and I could not put it down. I just remember thinking what a neat concept and what breathtaking pictures and angles. We often talk about "suspending disbelief" here at the BAB. Well this blew that notion away. It felt REAL!


Martinex1 said...

First I cannot believe that was twenty years ago. How can that be? It seems like yesterday. Secondly, I can only echo the excitement of seeing Giant Man. That was truly astounding and even though I already loved the character, that put me over the top. If somebody could capture that consistently, Hank Pym would be a top tier character. It just took great creators to make his power seem so incredible.

Anonymous said...

I really liked was fun to spot all the cameos and to try and figure out which issue the scenes were from. I need to re-read this.

Mike W.

J.A. Morris said...

It's funny, I thought Marvels came out earlier than '94. I enjoyed it, Ross was a great choice for the art.

Anonymous said...

What I loved most about the series was the new approach to the pictures. Rather than being a moving storyboard of the text, Ross made each panel a "snapshot" of what was happening. As you saw Sheldon moving through the world with his camera, you began to see each panel as the moment in time captured by Sheldon. That was Ross' strength. That stunning visual image, static and frozen in time.

I guess it boils down to that old saying, it had a great beat and you can dance to it, over and over again.

The Prowler (dig if you will the picture of you and I engaged in a kiss).

Anonymous said...

Prowler, most of your song lyrics are a mystery to me but even I know that one - When Doves Cry :)

Anonymous said...

Marvela left me cold; its not that I think it was bad as such, just that the emphasis on past continuity and reworking Kirby, Ditko et al in a "realistic" style seemed like a misplaced idea.

I'd much rather have seen Busiek and Ross put their time and effort into something a bit more forward thinking (like Miller and Sienkiewicz did with their Elektra:Assassin)

But I suspect I'm in the minority on this.


Fred W. Hill said...

Twenty years ago I was in the Navy, assigned to a helicopter squadron at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, FL. I wasn't buying too many new comics anymore, except for the Sandman series and I'd almost entirely quit buying any new Marvel comics -- 10 years previously I may have still been buying about 30 a month but by 1994 I doubt I bought even 30 new issues a year. But I still checked out the offerings, new & old, from the nearby comics shops and so came across Marvels and was intrigued enough to purchase the first issue I saw and liked that enough to get the rest of them. Just a really beautiful take on many of the high profile public events in the history of Timely/Marvel characters from the birth of the android Human Torch to the murder of Gwen Stacy. Busiek & Ross even managed a tribute to a classic E.C. story regarding the mutant child.
Yeah, Marvels was heavy on nostolgia, but I thought it provided a unique enough twist and perspective. At any rate, pretty much everything that was entirely new at Marvel in 1994 left me cold. If my memory serves me correctly, seems there were a lot of characters that had pouches all over their uniforms and shooting huge fricking guns and monstrous versions of Spidey all over the place, so many grossly distorted anatomies, along with so many company wide crossovers, none of which inclined me to get back into my Marvels habit.

Teresa said...

Marvels really did it for me. The "man on the street" perspective played to the strengths of the Marvel Universe. Marvel's supporting cast has always been an underrated strength.
The Giant Man scene striding down a New York City street is etched in my mind to this day.
One thing that stood out for me in Marvels, the display of the advanced magic-tech.
Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross gave the Magic-tech detail and pulled into the foreground.
I really liked that added detail.
20 yrs....? Surely you are mistaken. (-;

Garett said...

I'm on board with Sean. Marvels didn't do much for me, although the art caught my eye. I enjoyed Kingdom Come more, and especially the Shazam/Superman/Batman/JLA/Wonder Woman books which I think are still Ross's best work.

Elektra Assassin was innovative and edgy. Sienkiewicz and Miller pushed each other to create something dramatically new.

I liked Winter Soldier, and think it's one of the better of the new comics. Kirby's my favorite Captain America though, his stuff from the '60s.

By the way, the New Teen Titans by Wolfman/Perez comes up here from time to time. A new inexpensive reprint just came out.
The Omnibus has shot up to over $200, so this is a way to go if Marvel fans want to try this series out.

William said...

I liked "Marvels" when came out. I especially thought the art was cool. It was neat to see an artistic take on what Marvel's characters would look like in "real life". However, I thought the writing was just OK. But then, I've never been a huge Busiek fan.

Busiek has had a lot of opportunities to do some really incredible work, and IMO he's dropped the ball almost every time. His run on the Avengers started with real promise but ended up being extremely forgettable, IMO. His Avengers vs. JLA, was just a convoluted mess that was over complicated by a weird "cosmic" twist that detracted from the main theme of the project. Even his "Untold Tales of Spider-Man" didn't do much for me. As I felt Busiek failed to really capture the spirit of the early Spider-Man era.

But I digress - "Marvels" was very good, but left me feeling the same way as all of Busiek's other projects. It was a really great concept, and it was written fairly well, but it didn't leave any kind of lasting impression on me. So, I guess it could have been better (for me anyway). When I see an article like this about "Marvels", I'm always like, "Oh yeah, that was a pretty cool mini-series." But I rarely find myself thinking about it on my own.

And while I really dug Ross' art at the time (for that project). I'm not wild about the lasting effect it's had on comic art in general. The slant toward "realism" and a more illustrated (as opposed to cartoon) approach to modern comic art is a big contributing factor to my not reading new comics anymore. As I very rarely like the art.

In closing I can say that I really liked Marvels, but I didn't love it. As an art piece it is beautiful, but as a story, it's just OK. In other words, if it wasn't for the ground-breaking artwork, then I think Marvels would be pretty much just a footnote in the annals of comicdom.

Humanbelly said...

So, I only finally purchased and read the series this past spring (!).

As is my relationship with many artistic endeavors, the fact that I had some quibbles and minor criticisms had not one iota of bearing on the fact that I flat-out loved it. This may be an ages-old complaint in the history of artistic criticism, but I'm generally driven mad when a review of any work falls into the "Oh, I would have enjoyed XYZ, but one small element didn't work for me, therefore XYZ is an abject failure and embarrassment. I couldn't surrender to it at all." The Washington area's most prominent theater critic uses this form as his bread & butter, and it's absolutely maddening. But anyhoo. . .

Ross' ability to capture these characters as truly real people, coupled with Busiek's generally accessible and believable dialog- and exploration of his characters' inner life- pulls the reader in almost immediately. And you come away from it feeling like you've seen it as a film-- possibly a Kapra film, in fact-- rather than having read it. There's an incredible juggling act in play that manages convey both familiarity (even intamacy) and reverance-- all to the benefit of the story.

Again, I loved it-- 5 stars.

Couple of quibbles?

Well, even 20 years ago it seems like the nailed-down timeline couldn't exactly add up to what the characters' ages and then time "in costume" could have been. How old was JJJ supposed to be exactly? And Phil, too, now that I think of it? There's just no getting away from "Marvel Years", I fear. This may have been the last gasp of realistically trying to truly and realistically connect the Golden Age events and characters with the Marvel Age ones w/out an obvious seam showing.

In my issue of #1, at least, Phil's last name is "Seuling"-- and then switches to "Sheldon" after that. Anybody else have that glitch?

I get the narrative reasoning for Phil's fixation on Gwen-- but it can't help but come across as ever-so-slightly creepy. Also (and this is sort of broader issue I've long had with the revered memory of Gwen Stacy), this doesn't really sound a whole lot like the Gwen Stacy I distinctly remember at all. Gwen wasn't at all star-struck or smitten w/ the spectacle and pageantry of superheroic goings-on-- she tended to be rather more serious than that. If anything, she comes across sounding MUCH more like MJ, here. Boy, though-- I can't praise Ross enough for capturing such a wonderful photo-realistic image of Gwen. You believe that she was alive.

Anddddddd-- gotta run!


Rip Jagger said...

Marvels was one of the first and best of the everyman superhero stories. The startling realism of the artwork really made it stand out when painted work was relatively rare. (Good painted work still is.)

The series gave rise to Astro City which is still insightful and fascinating today. It's one of a very few comics I still keep up with.

Rip Off

Humanbelly said...

You know, William, although I do like Kurt Busiek quite a lot-- he may be one of my favorite overall comic writers, in fact-- I don't entirely disagree with the problem you do have with him.

I think he does a terrific job with both dialog and distinctive characterization-- he has a rare knack for truly capturing "voices". Along with that, he's also great at growing characters and their arcs over the course of time. I think he's also a solid, staunch practitioner of what we'd probably call "traditional" comic book story pacing-- i.e., he tells a story in a very well-paced, engaging manner. Other things that are very worth reading by him are his ASTRO CITY titles, and his soooo-engaging run on THUNDERBOLTS (a book that, to my mind, shouldn't have worked-- and yet it did!).

BUT-- I think he shares a problem with Stephen King in that the way he handles his "bigger" story/overplot isn't always the best-- like, I'm not even sure his ideas in that realm are first-rate. And I think that's why his Avengers run is remembered with definite general fondness even as the specific events are a little fuzzy. . . or even critically suspect. I most definitely did not care for the Triune Understanding stuff, nor for the over-large mess of Kang Dynasty-- even though I still was wrapped up in the Avengers themselves. Also like Stephen King, he seems to have a tough time wrapping up his bigger arcs with a satisfying ending ("IT", anybody? Or NEEDFUL THINGS?). But- that's a bogeyman that has plagued writers forever, from Shakespeare to Fitzgerald to Kaufman/Hart to whoever wrote the finale of LOST. We see it a LOT with new plays, in particular.

There's probably a writer or two out there reading this-- whatcha say? Does that sound true? Is finishing a piece satisfactorily the toughest part?


Doug said...

I loved the series then, and do now. It's one of the few arcs I've gone back to again and again. I was in on the ground floor of it, and met Alex Ross at a small show in Rosemont, IL shortly after the first issue was printed. That was back in Alex's VERY HAIRY days! But he was a super-nice guy, and has been a true gentleman in the 3-4 times I've met him since.

As to the story, I just feel like it's a love letter to Marvel Comics, and to those readers who frequent sites and blogs like this one. Sure, there may be some holes in the story here or there, but I would never let that detract from my enjoyment of it. And there are so many great aspects, from the panorama of the big Torch/Sub-Mariner brawl in the first issue to the "Invaders" parachuting into Europe to close that issue to the FF-Galactus storyline told all in splash pages. While I get the problems with the Gwen Stacy storyline, for me Busiek and Ross treated it with respect and managed to boil up the same emotions in me that Conway and Kane had the first time I read ASM #121.

Shoot -- I may go read this again in the coming week!


William said...

You know. It has been quite a few years since I last read "Marvels". Maybe I'll go back and read it again. Looking at it as a "love letter" to Marvel Comics may give me a whole new appreciation for it.

Also, looking at my post again, I feel kind of bad. It seems a little bit like I was bashing Busiek, and I really didn't mean to. I actually like quite a lot of his work, but he's just never made my Top 10 list of writers or anything. But I don't think he's a bad writer.

Oh, and I did enjoy Astro City. I think that was definitely Busiek's best work of his career. I felt he nailed the writing on that series.

Crowdaddy said...

The Galactus trilogy issue is my favorite. It's so well done. Really captured the excitement of the original story, but from the civilian viewpoint. And Ross' art really did justice to Kirby's original visuals. But I loved the whole series. Excellent stuff, and my favorite of Ross' stuff, still.icend

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