Monday, March 9, 2015

Monsters: Marvels 2

Marvels #2 (February 1994)
Kurt Busiek-Alex Ross

Karen: I finished Marvels #2, and it put me in a melancholy mood, which I'm pretty sure it has every time before. The initial stuff with the Avengers battling the Masters of Evil is very exciting of course. The great shot of Giant-Man looming over Phil has to be one of the most talked about visuals from Marvels; it certainly makes an impression. Say, I actually found a website, Comic Coverage by Mark Engblom, that did a panel-by-panel comparison of the battle in Marvels #2 with the one in Avengers #6; here's the link. It was interesting to see the way Ross had changed perspective and yet kept all the details from the original Kirby drawings, right down to the same civilians in the scenes!

Doug: It's amazing how "brightly optimistic" this issue opens, because like you I recall what's coming in the later parts of the book. You know, at first I thought it was funny that the first time we see the Avengers corresponds to their adventure six issues into the group's history. But then I asked myself what they'd done publicly ahead of that; the big brouhaha against Zemo's goons seemed fitting then.

Karen: I think we've both discussed before how some of the very early Marvel books are less than exciting. I know I was extremely disappointed when I read the Marvel Masterworks collection of the first ten issues of X-Men; I thought it was deadly dull for the most part. The early issues of the FF and Avengers were also hit or miss.

Doug: I was reading Kurt Busiek's commentary that is tucked in between the first two issues of Marvels in the tpb I'm using. He talks at length about the research both he and Alex Ross did for this mini-series and some of the roadblocks they encountered. The story that really struck me was how to fit the X-Men, given their own continuity, into the Reed & Sue wedding. Talk about continuity issues -- Busiek tells that to the best of his reading and inferencing, the X-Men had to participate in the wedding in about a 4-hour window in the middle of one of their own adventures. How's that for being thorough?

Karen: That's either extremely diligent, or just insane. Maybe both!

Doug: As in the first issue of the series, we see genuine "hero worship" directed at Captain America. This is magnified in the second issue as he seems to be the greatest of the Marvels. Though technically powerless (certainly as compared to his Avengers teammates), we get the impression that Busiek and Ross are giving Cap the Superman treatment -- the so-called "greatest hero of them all".

 Karen: But after this of course came all the ugliness over the 'mutant threat.' Even after having read this a half a dozen times it still got to me. Seeing Phil, our everyman, pick up that brick -stomach churning. I realized that the reaction of his neighbors reminded me of a Twilight Zone episode (I had to look up the title) - "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street' - where aliens just cut power to some houses and let human paranoia and fear take their course. I can't help but think Busiek might have been influenced by that. In the back of the book I'm using, Ross explains how the look of the mutant girl the Sheldons are harboring was based on a Wally Wood character from a 1953 EC comic. I mean, when you see it, it's a dead ringer! Ross really doesn't pull any punches with the child either: at first you're hit with revulsion, yet this is undeniably a frightened little girl, and you can feel that coming out of the page. Just like Phil, quickly you shift from fear to sympathy. Yet for Phil, he has to fear for the safety of his family. This is one of the very few stories that dealt with mutants that actually got across a real feeling of what it would be like on Marvel-Earth during mutant paranoia. However, I didn't feel that Busiek and Ross explained why the fear was not more widespread to all super-heroes. They did have the debates with Professor X and Trask but how would the public know how Giant-Man or some of the other characters got their powers? This was true of course during the Lee/Kirby era as well, so it wasn't really their job to explain anything. I guess it's one of those things that just bothers me. But the mood they get across here is much more affecting than anything from that earlier era.

Doug: I have also always wondered what, at least in the public eye, set the X-Men apart from other super-powered beings. Maybe it goes back to Magneto's ramblings about Homo superior and mutants being the next step on the evolutionary scale, superseding Homo sapiens? And I agree that taking the focus off the longjohn types and putting it squarely on folks like us does add to the tension over the perception of this "threat". So think about it -- Communists, mutants, Kennedy had been assassinated, the civil rights issues... for the denizens of the Marvel Universe, these were unsettled times to say the least.

Karen: Oh, I get the whole idea of humanity being driven out by the mutants, but honestly, who could tell which super-powered hero was a mutant and which wasn't? Just because they say so? Never made any sense to me. But the overall value of the X-Men as an analogy for the outcast in society was valuable enough that it was worth "just rolling with it."

Doug: As to this book's visuals, I can't think of another image that is as "Wow!" as the Giant-Man image... except perhaps two others: I love the full-pager with Galactus on his knees, picking himself up while levitating several stories above the street. And I am always washed over in trepidation when I see the panel with the Green Goblin perched on the window sill of Gwen Stacy's apartment, her body limp in his arms. Ugh... talk about foreboding.

Karen: There are so many stunning images from this series -and it was just four issues! Hard to believe when everything seems to be stretched to 12 issues any more. I really don't think Marvels gets the credit it is due. People talk about Watchmen and Dark Knight with such reverential tones, but for me, I'd much rather look at this series any day. I'd rather examine and admire my heroes than tear them down.

Doug: I've often wanted to read Watchmen again -- I've only ever read it once, in serialized form as I purchased it. I'm sure I'd get much more out of it in tpb form, which I own.

Doug: So let's have a discussion on the title of this story, as I feel it ties directly into your comments above about Phil Sheldon's getting sucked into the scenes with the angry mobs. How do you interpret "Monsters"? At first blush, it's obviously about the "mutant menace", right? Or is it Busiek being ironic? I don't feel that this story is overtly "preachy", yet I think in your reaction to Sheldon's behavior you've hit on what is perhaps the true meaning -- it's not the mutants who are the monsters, is it? 

Karen: I think it's pretty clear who the "Monsters" are (funny -- my version of the books does not include titles). I agree that the story is not too preachy -- perhaps it is bordering on it, but I think when you take the books as a whole, it's more the progression of Phil's attitude toward both the Marvels and the public. 

Karen: OK, let's not forget the cameos: How about Maude herself, Bea Arthur, at Alicia Masters' exhibit? And it looked to me like Alicia was modeled after actress Linda Hamilton. Tony Stark looked like Timothy Dalton.

Doug: Agreed on all fronts -- and don't forget Phil riding the elevator with Jack and Jackie Kennedy (which again is somewhat morbid as the events in these stories would have taken place in 1964...). Of course the wedding page has some special guests of the Richards', notably Rob and Laura Petrie (Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore) and the Beatles! Clark and Lois also made a second appearance at the Daily Globe's New Year's party, this time with Jimmy Olsen on tow.

Doug: And if the big purple robots put a start in everyone, that's nothing. Wait until the next big fellow draped in purple shows up. And what an issue that will be -- splash page city! 


david_b said...

Will definitely have to pick up this issue. I'd love a huge blow-up of the iconic Giantman picture to matte/frame next to my Legends BAF Giantman figure in his case.

All in all, I love the spirit (yes, optimism) of this entire product. Just a wierd-at-first, yet wonderful portrayal of the Marvel Universe as I would have dreamed living in it.

"...take me home..."

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

"And if the X-Men really existed they wouldn't be "hated and feared" (yawn), they'd be international media superstars like every super-hero would."

Or they would be tracked down by the CIA and either recruited or assassinated!


J.A. Morris said...

Thanks to Colin, I was trying to figure out who Alicia looked like!

As for the anti-mutant sentiment, this portion of Marvels it took place around the same time that Wanda & Quicksilver joined the Avengers (we see them in Marvels #2 for 1 panel). I always thought it was silly that the X-Men were feared outlaws while 2 former members of a team that called themselves "Evil Mutants" were allowed to be Avengers, not to mention Beast later on.

Humanbelly said...

Man, I hope I have a chance to pull this out later this evening.

Regarding the thoughts on early anti-mutant sentiment/hysteria in the MU-- ya kind of have to put it back into the very specific societal context of the U.S. in the early sixties. Stan has said a few times that the X-Men had a basis in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement, as well as the unfounded paranoia left over from McCartheyism in the previous decade. The reaction to someone being "different" was that they were bad. And while Stan admirably tackled that issue, it's clearly not something he thought through terribly carefully. He also tended to be inconsistent at times on just how "secret" the X-Men were, and even whether or not they were viewed as conventional heroes after all. The whole conceit doesn't hold up gracefully under intense scrutiny. . . but I honestly prefer a complex, feet-of-clay universe where those kinds of issues have to be tackled, y'know?


Martinex1 said...

What a great series. I wonder how long it took Alex Ross to create all of the paintings. I am not always an Alex Ross fan, but this series was incredible on so many levels of both writing and art.

Regarding the public identification and fear of mutants versus other heroes, I agree that the differentiation always seemed odd. Even though this gap in storytelling exists, I thought this issue did a great job of crystallizing the fear that would exist on some level. How frightening would it truly be if in real life you ran into the Hulk, Iceman, Mr. Fantastic, Human Torch, or others in the Marvel universe? I always wished that Marvel focused more on the fascist element and how that created fear, that these characters were using might to define right. In the comics, people live in a world where a small band of villains would call themselves the "Evil Mutants" or "Masters of Evil" and another team would have to fight them to stop them, but all safety and security came down to who essentially won a street gang fight. That would be extremely stressful to a population who couldn't stand up to these beings on their own at all. In a world like that, I am surprised the civilians aren't armed to the teeth. And as civilized as we are (or uncivilized depending on how you look at it), wouldn't there be a normal fear if Giant Man can step on your house, or Invisible Girl could spy on you, or Dr. Doom could launch a war, or Skrulls can impersonate you? Not to mention that some of these characters would just be creepy in appearance. As much as I love the Thing in literature, if I really bumped into ol' Ben Grimm, would I stare or be afraid? Possibly.

I think that is what Watchmen went for in some ways, but it was so bleak because everything was dark, everybody was broken or bad. Again, in the real world there would still be some shining lights and hope. The page in Marvels of Captain America and the hero worship would probably also exist and there would be some truth to that especially if Cap held up to his promise.

I agree that some characters would be stars and widely loved; others would be really frightening and hated and infamous. And depending on the particular actions and spin, that impression could probably turn on a dime.

The issues of the Avengers (~#181)where government agent Henry Peter Gyrich tries to establish some rules for the team is interesting because the need for the heroes would have to be balanced with some rules for the heroes.

I thought Marvels did a great job of depicting that paranoia and lack of control. I think having the protagonist participating in the actions is what makes it so compelling, and sad, and real.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I never got the whole mutant/human thing either; you'd think the general public would take Wasp for a mutant...she does have wings growing out of her back!

I liked Marvels...the "common man" viewpoint of Phil Sheldon really gets across how it might be to actually live in the Marvel Universe. One thing that always bugged me is that Spidey isn't shown at the wedding...he helped fight off the badguys (in the original account), so you'd think they'd have let him stay for the ceremony!

Mike Wilson

The Prowler said...

First and foremost, it has rained here all day so, much like Karen, I have those ~~melancholy blues~~.

Second and fivemost, WTF is Don Knotts doing in the bar scene!?! Okay, I know he's reaching for his hat, but he's in just about every panel. And I love the glimpse at management techniques. "Do what he does, just more!"

Third and sixmost, I know Johnny is Sue's brother, but wouldn't the Maid of Honor, Alicia, be on Sue's side not Reed's? I remember that much from my wedding.

Okay, now for something completely different.....just kidding. It's commentary time!!!

From different sources, we know that Stan had certain parameters when creating his "characters" or books. The Avengers was mandated to be a team book, the FF was a family, Iron Man was a rich Industrialist, and so on and so forth, etc., et al, ibid.

With the X-Men, Stan (OMG, I'm calling him Stan) wanted to create a team that was hated for being different. WE look at them and, in hindsight, ask ourselves "What really makes them all that different from any other hero"? IMHO, I see most of the early "Marvels" as products of science, be it intentionally, Capt America, Iron Man, Hank and Janet or accidents, FF, Spider-Man, Hulk or just right out of mythology, Thor. With the X-Men, they're just born that way. In the beginning, it usually popped up around puberty, but they were random uncontrolled and most of all, "inexplicable". Why did this happen to my kid? And what was being thrust upon the public was that "these people" were the future. And the enemy. Just like in the past, a group was being portrayed as the problem. And every problem needs a solution.

Final question, since the fate of Maggie is left unspoken, is the cover an out and out dodge, since that scene never takes place in the story, or is it the answer?

(When she is lonely
And the longing gets too much
She sends a cable
Coming in from above
Don't need a phone at all

We've got a thing that's called Radar Love
We've got a wave in the air,
Radar Love).

WardHillTerry said...

Great comments today! Regarding the trust issue with mutant and non-mutant heroes, I agree that a detailed reading of all the original stories would probably reveal too many inconsistencies. However, viewed in the context of this story, the public seems to accept the heroes who have no secret ID's (the F.F.) and those who work alongside Captain America. Criminal mutants are redeemed just by being an Avenger. Mutants who wear identical colors like a street gang (HT Martinex1) are scary and untrustworthy. Spider-Man is a faceless freak. Whether or not he is a mutant is most likely not a conversation among the general public!

J.A. Morris said...

Did everyone catch the little "inside joke" at the bar after Sue & Reed's wedding? Some calls out "Gavin! Jay!". It's a reference to Jay Gavin, former pen name of artist Werner Roth!

Dr. Oyola said...

I think the fear of mutants critique is irrelevant when it comes to Marvels, since it was just re-envisioning the trope that were already present in Marvel comics of the era, and that was once of them.

That said, I think of it in two ways that are always competing for dominance, 1) Yes, it doesn't make sense given the dangers posed by other super-powered beings, but 2) It is meant as an analogy and story trope, so its "sense" doesn't matter as much.

I guess another way to think of it is the fact that racism invents "race," which is to say society creates out-groups for a variety of reasons, and they are not always coherent.

jim kosmicki said...

one quick point to the "it would be a 12 issue series today" comment. This was only 4 issues, but it was 4 double-size issues.

it is impressive how much story Busiek and Ross got into this mini-series, but it was also twice as long as a traditional 4 issue mini-series would be.

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