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!