Marvels #3 (March 1994)
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.
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Karen and Doug met on the Avengers Assemble! message board back in September 2006. On June 16 2009 they went live with the Bronze Age Babies blog, sharing their love for 1970s and '80s pop culture with readers who happen by each day. You'll find conversations on comics, TV, music, movies, toys, food... just about anything that evokes memories of our beloved pasts!
Doug is a high school social science teacher and department chairman living south of Chicago; he also does contract work for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He is married with two adult sons and a daughter-in-law.
Karen originally hails from California and now works in scientific research/writing in the Phoenix area. She often contributes articles to Back Issue magazine. She is married. She hangs out with Joe Biden occasionally.
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