Monday, March 23, 2015

Judgment Day: Marvels 3

Marvels #3 (March 1994)
"Judgment Day"
Kurt Busiek-Alex Ross

NOTE: As in the past, we're apologizing up front for the quality of the art scans in today's post. Doug happened to have a digital copy of today's featured issue, but in attempting to convert the images for use some distortion took place. Hopefully you'll still get some utility from our images.

Doug: It's funny how a mood can change, even on the same subject matter. Two weeks ago Karen led off our comments on Marvels #2 by stating that she had a real sense of melancholy after reading that book. I'd argue that her (and mine, as well) feelings were due in no small part to the ugly way in which the citizens of New York's Homo sapiens community reacted to the coming genetic apocalypse allegedly to be wrought by Homo so-called superior. The dominant thread in today's fare is also the apocalypse -- yet I found myself on the edge-of-my-seat giddy as I re-read this for perhaps the fourth time. Alex Ross, in paying tribute to the source material of Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott, really knocked the Galactus storyline out of the park.

Karen: I suppose it's stating the obvious to say there are a lot of strong visuals in this issue. But it deals with one of the most significant storylines in comics history. 

Doug: I'm trying to think of another Marvel story that would be splash-page worthy (the equivalent of Elaine Benes' "sponge worthy"), and I don't think there is one. Stan, Jack, and Joe truly crafted a tale of universe-shaking proportions and the decision to retell it in full pages was a stroke of genius! Every one of the 8+ full-pagers contains so much majesty, so much peril...

Karen: I like the way those spectacular scenes are juxtaposed with those of everyday people, including Phil Sheldon, dealing with what may very well be their last day on Earth. For all that Ross is adept at portraying epic moments, he gets all the little ones right too. 

Doug: The other thread running not only through this issue but the two previous installments is the personality of Phil Sheldon. We noted from the get-go that he has some hang-ups. Early on, it was feelings of inadequacy that led him to postpone his wedding with his fiance' Doris. Now here, 25 years later (real time, which seems about right -- Ross draws Sheldon as looking to be around 50), he's as absent from his domestic situation as any superhero. When I think of how many times Peter Parker stood up his aunt, or Gwen, or Mary Jane, it seems that Sheldon has done that just as often to his wife and two daughters. And even when he's home he seems to be emotionally barren to them.

Karen: He appears to have obsessed on the 'Marvels' -- is he a reflection of the reader? The issue sets  up his disconnect with his wife and family, but then through the crisis with Galactus, Phil seems to recognize that they are more important to him than his job, or chronicling the doings of the super-beings. Yet, at the end, he leaves his family again to get pictures of Count Nefaria. So what has really changed? He criticizes his fellow citizens for not showing the Fantastic Four, and the other Marvels, the respect they deserve, yet how much respect does he show his family? I don't know -- I just can't figure out how I feel about Phil, honestly.

Doug: I agree. He seems duty-bound, as the heroes he wishes to portray on film. And I cannot decide if he is in love/awe of the Marvels from an existential standpoint, or if it is the potential to profit off their existence with his proposed book of photographs that drives him. Why does he continue to take the photos? He's good at it -- much better than Peter Parker, for example, simply because Sheldon has to work at it. Unlike Parker, he doesn't have the luxury of suspending some high-tech camera from a lamp post while the action takes place. Does he drive himself, indeed putting himself in harm's way over and over because he is obsessed with being a part of this epoch in human history, or is it the lure of financial gain, of financial independence in his golden years that pushes him to place all his energies on his vocation? The character does bother me in that I don't feel like I can get a handle on who he is and what he's all about. Your point about the potential that he is a reflection of the reader, of the comic fan who can't get enough is interesting. Might Phil Sheldon be a "real life" completist?

Karen: That's where I was coming from. With each issue his need to get closer to the Marvels, to make others understand their importance and share his obsession, seems to grow. Although I think he does want to profit from them, his motives seem to be based more from hero worship or even a quasi-religious drive -and doesn't that sound like fandom at its worst?

Doug: So aside from the Sheldon interest, another aspect of this series that continues to captivate me is the research that Busiek and Ross did in crafting their plot. Right from the splash page, there are a bazillion bits and pieces of Marvel history on display. It's really visually appealing to see it presented as if it were real -- and the inclusion of newsmen we know such as a very young Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor adds authenticity to this man-on-the-street perspective.

Karen: Oh, indeed, the effort that went into weaving together all of those past tales was impressive. The book I'm using has an index in the back that lists all the comics they drew upon for each issue of Marvels. For the splash page alone, they reference  Avengers #16, and Tales of Suspense #s 66, 69-72. It made me so curious, I looked at those Iron Man stories on my DVD and saw that Stan Lee and Don Heck stretched out a fight between Iron Man and the Titanium Man over three issues! 

Doug: And speaking of perspective, I know you and I and certainly some of our readers have criticized some of Ross's questionable lay-outs on his Marvel 75th anniversary covers. I don't have that problem in Marvels #3 at all -- in fact, during the entire Galactus sequence is made even more dramatic due to the way Ross renders the crowd scenes. His shots looking straight down on the spectators adds tremendous scale to the battle atop the Baxter Building, and the times he uses an upshot to show Sheldon and the other journalists from their skyscraper windows is equally effective.

Karen: I went back and looked at Fantastic Four #48-50 to see those original scenes and it's really amazing to see the way Ross takes what Kirby and Sinnott did and then interprets it. He's very faithful to the source -- the shot of Galactus blasting the Torch, you still have the thick, billowing black smoke, for example, but in Ross' composition, we have both Galactus and the Torch in the same frame, giving us a sense of the space god's size. Or when Reed curls into a ball and knocks Galactus off the Baxter Building momentarily, we get the shot from a slightly different angle, with Galactus' foot in our face, again, giving a sense of size. The full page shot of him halting his fall , floating above the Manhattan streets, is spectacular. Another item of note: Ross is completely faithful when reproducing Kirby's wild machinery -- I checked and every odd screw, coil, and gizmo is copied exactly!

Doug: What did you think of Ross's Peter Parker? He's certainly snarky-looking, which fits that scene perfectly. But I'll tell you -- I got a real Andrew Garfield vibe off Pete. And you know how I'd feel about that!

Karen: Oh, I laughed, but you can understand Phil's ire! And yes, Andrew Garfield could have played that scene well.

Doug: Lastly, we'd be remiss if we didn't hit on a few of the cameos in this issue. In addition to the above named journalists, did you catch the Monkees? 

Karen: Oh yeah, of course, how could I miss Mike Nesmith's beanie hat? There were a lot of faces that looked familiar, but I couldn't place them. Maybe it's just due to Ross' realism. As one of our readers mentioned, I do think Ross makes Foswell look like Don Knotts. I thought Kurt Busiek himself was a reporter in one panel. I also thought the man in the restaurant bar behind Phil's family on the next to last page might have been Stan Lee, but not so sure about that one.

Doug: Yes to all those, and then some. And Ross even managed to work his father, Clark Ross, into a crowd scene -- years before he would be the model for Norman McKay, the cipher in DC's Kingdom Come! I can't tell you how strange it was to meet Mr. Ross at an art gallery show in Chicago that featured Alex's DC Comics work -- the page cometh to life!

Doug: Join us in two weeks for the conclusion, a portrayal from Busiek and Ross that I feel was just as gut-wrenching as the Conway/Kane/Romita/Mortellaro source material. 


Anonymous said...

I see that Galactus has the G on his chest so this was certainly faithful if even that embarrassing blunder was included.

Doug said...

Funny you mention that, Colin. Reminds me of the scene in Man of Steel when Superman says "It's not an 'S'".


david_b said...

I absolutely love this series.., from what we've talked about here. I enjoy the untold tales from the 'everyman stance' that certainly remained untapped (or unimagined..) for decades. Wow.

Also, it's certainly the most innovative way to herald and pay tribute to our beloved Silver Age Marvel.

Non-Zuvembies out there.., don't take this the wrong way.., but glad Marvel got these story treatments and not DC.

Anonymous said...

I love that G - Kirby's work had a healthy current of absurdism and playfulness running through it, even at his most epic. Like a cosmic alien on a surf board!
Theres a lot that could be said comparing Kirby and Ross...

Following an average guy while the Galactus stuff goes on around him makes for the best bit of Marvels, but for me its undercut by all of the extended continuity around it. Not sure the more realistic approach works with that idea - maybe Busiek and Ross would have been better off doing a period piece centered more on one event?


Doug said...

Sean --

Curious about your comment "comparing Kirby and Ross".


Anonymous said...

Well, Doug, a lot of the debates around Ross' work seem to be centered around his "realism". So his versioning of a classic Kirby work seems to offer a chance to examine two different approaches to comics in some detail. Ratther than just assert a preference.

And not just the different styles, but also how they relate to (and reflect) broader changes - de luxe editions v the old cheap monthlies, that kind of thing.
Does that make sense?


Doug said...

Sean --

Makes sense.

Reimagining takes us back to Osvaldo's review last Monday of Spider-Man: Blue. I think any time there are revisions, updates, what have you, there's a debate that could take place concerning creativity vs. execution.

In the case of Marvels, for the most part we see Ross executing these ideas in a fresh format; the original artists would get credit for the creation of these scenes and ideas. This is not at all to suggest that Alex Ross has no creative role in this story. Quite the contrary, I'm sure he spent a tremendous amount of time trying to decide new and interesting angles with which to present these classic tales. I'd think the same of Tim Sale, and Osvaldo remarked as much.

I think Ross's storytelling skills (or for some, lack thereof) would be on better display in books like Kingdom Come or Justice (did he do breakdowns for Doug Braithwaite on that book, or just the finished paints?). In Marvels it's the life and reactions of Phil Sheldon that pace the story, rather than any action scenes.


Allen said...

I have a question about this issue. There is a panel at the top of a page where the Avengers are being honored for Avengers Day. On the stage is Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Hawkeye, and what appears to be a cut out of Captain America. Does anyone know why Cap was absent or why he was represented by a cut out of himself?

Anonymous said...

Yes Doug - Ross' work is less to my taste than yours, but I think its ridiculous to claim theres no creativity involved in the way he reimagines stuff.
Its like saying Watchmen was old hat because its just the Charlton characters - by that logic, Rob Liefeld is the most truly creative guy in US comics.


J.A. Morris said...

Re:Peter Parker, my first thoughts were "he's too handsome." But this story would've taken place during the Romita Sr. era, when Parker and everyone else was drawn to look like movie stars.

Doug said...

Sean --

So some have leveled a charge at Ross's work that it shows no creativity? I'd sure argue that, if true.


Anonymous said...

Doug, I thought you were suggesting that some might think Ross had no creative role in Marvels. That the heavy lifting, so to speak, had already been done by Kirby and Lee?
But yes, more generally, I have seen it said that the heavy use of photo referencing and models in Ross' work is somehow uncreative. Which I think misunderstands how artists actually work; if its so straight forward, why isn't everyone doing it?


Doug said...

Sean --

Hahaha; this is definitely one of those conversations where the electronic transmission is killing it!

Let me try again: As to the story elements from the Silver Age that are depicted in Marvels - in terms of whatever story elements Busiek and Ross chose to use, those stories had already been written. In terms of creativity, there's not much to do in regard to the arrival of Galactus, or Gwen Stacy going off the George Washington Bridge. However, in determining the angles to use, which characters on which to focus, the lighting, etc. Ross is certainly fully involved. His re-imagining requires the creativity of presentation if not of the original circumstances of those tales.

I've said around here several times that former DC artist Don Kramer and I have known each other since high school. Don uses photo references for his backgrounds (parks, buildings, etc.) and models when he wants a particular shot where he wants to get the angle/lighting right. I and my oldest son participated in a couple of modeling sessions when Don was drawing the JSA strip. Our likenesses weren't used facially, but it was clear from having seen the photos that Don took and then the printed product that we were looking at the results of those afternoons spent with him some months before.

So I don't at all blame Ross for that -- shoot, his father is the closest in likeness to the models I've seen him use, and that was certainly intentional. In the back of my Marvels tpb Ross offers up gratitude for his models, and several of the people stood in for multiple characters. I see what Ross does as no different from what a film director does. He wants to get positioning, lighting, perspective, and backgrounds correct. How is that not creative?

Even if it is a reimagining.


Anonymous said...

Doug - Yes... I'm not sure how the sort of full colour painted thing Ross does could even be done without heavy reference. But I don't think its unusual, even with artists not associated with that kind of hyper realism - Al Williamson and Robert Crumb for instance use(d) photorefs a lot.

I guess Kirby would be at the other end of the spectrum - he seemed quite willing to sacrifice, say, anatomical correctness to impact, and his work gets almost abstract in places (not a criticism in my book).
So Ross had to figure out how to render all that stuff from the FF in a different idiom; didn't he use a Silver Surfer action figure to work out lighting and reflection on a shiny humanoid surface? Seems creative to me too.
Although, again, less to my taste than yours I think.


Karen said...

Allen, to answer your question, that picture was based on events in Avengers #22. I looked it up, and in that issue, the team had at first been declared public menaces by the city council (I never knew city councils were so powerful). But by the end of the issue, after defeating the Circus of Crime and Power Man (the original), the council reversed itself and declared 'Avengers Day'! Unfortunately, Cap got fed up with the others and quit the group briefly. The scene doesn't actually appear in #22 or even #23 so this was Alex Ross having some fun.

Martinex1 said...

I really enjoy this series. I like that it has a mix of emotions in the story and I think Ross handles it extremely well. I have to say that when I look at the action, my reaction is "wow"! What more can be asked for? I actually think I like Ross better on the sequential action than on his present covers and posters ( though I like those too). I actually find him to be a decent storyteller. And after seeing scenes like the Avengers in those fishbowl helmets, I like to imagine other scenes from Marvel's history that I would love for him to interpret. Imagine him doing some of the lesser known but in their world very public battles such as Red Ronin fighting the Avengers in the harbor, or Spider-Man and Will-O-Wisp in Times Square, or Daredevil, Mr.Hyde, and the Cobra at Coney Island. They had great Perez, Andru, and Colan art in the day, but I'd like to see Ross do it too. Fun to imagine it in his more realistic style. Makes me think how cinematically great a Marvel movie could be; imagine Galactus like that on the big screen.

Anonymous said...

Doug, those scans look OK to me! (Awright I admit I got a small computer screen!). Now this looks like a comicbook I would love to lay my grubby mitts on!

Yes Ross has his detractors, but I for one enjoy his realistic painted style (well, most of the time, anyway). Clearly, it's a labour of love for this guy to go over all the classic Kirby artwork and build something visually fresh from that. Believe me, if he wasn't into this stuff it would have definitely showed in the art!

Phil Sheldon seems to be portrayed as a flawed character, one whose obsession with the Marvels takes precedence over his family. The Marvels are the Moby Dick to Sheldon's Ahab, in a metaphorical sense. Dunno about Ross's Peter Parker here; somehow he doesn't seem to be the down on his luck Petey we all know and love, if you know what I mean.

All in all, another great review guys! Can't wait for the next one!

- Mike 'call me Ishmael' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Fred W. Hill said...

Been away for quite a while but finally wandering back in. I really enjoyed the Marvels series for its then unique re-imagining of classic tales from Marvel's past with photo-realistic style art. Not that I prefer that particular style over any other, but for this particular story it seemed apt to me. Mostly fun, with a few dark moments, just as in the original comics themselves.
To be honest, when this came out in 1994, the only comic I was collecting at the time was The Sandman, and otherwise filling in some holes in my Bronze Age collection and getting whatever else caught my eye the few times I went out to the nearest comics store from the Navy base where I worked and lived at the time. Marvels got my attention with that first issue set in the Golden Age. Presumably like most of us who became comics fans in the late Silver Age or later, most Golden Age material outside of EC strikes me as horribly crude, both in story and art. I know there were at least a few very exceptional artists and even a few very good writers, but most of the superhero stories I've seen from 1938 to the mid-50s is just dreadful. Still, even in those early Timely comics there were some seeds planted that would flourish decades later. The first anti-hero in that very first Marvel Comics, Namor, accidentally killing a human in his introductory story, and within a year getting into an epic confrontation with his company's other big star, the Human Torch, and apparently it wasn't just a simple misunderstanding.
Busiek & Ross created a great, loving tribute to Marvel's past as it stood in 1994. And maybe it was pure nostalgia, because in the ever-more distant years past Marvel Comics brought my young self a lot of pleasure, even if by my early 30s I'd mostly lost interest in them.

Edo Bosnar said...

Hey, Mike from T&T, I know there's lots of Mikes posting here, but I think changing your handle to Ishmael is a bit extreme ... :P

Fred, I agree with your assessment of a lot of that Golden Age stuff - to me that's what makes those exceptions you mention all the more striking. Will Eisner, of course, was both a top-notch writer and artist, and pretty much anything drawn by, say, Reed Crandall, Matt Baker, Mac Raboy or Lou Fine is absolutely beautiful.

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