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Tuesday, 16 August 2011


Writer: Kurt Busiek
Art: Alex Ross
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Publisher: Marvel

What's it about?
Marvels is the story of the Marvel universe, from 1939 to 1974, told through the eyes of journalist Phil Sheldon.  From the elegant black cover, to the back page, it's an astonishing story of the rise of the superhero and what it means for ordinary people.  As the name suggests, it's a book to inspire awe and wonder, it is truly a marvel.

What's good about it?
It's a beautifully drawn, original and remarkable book.  Even now, nearly twenty years after it was first published there is not much else truly like it.  The concept of telling Marvel's history through the eyes of a non powered observer, was something new back then, and even today, this sort of perspective isn't a common one.

Phil Sheldon brings a sense of humanity to the narrative.  In the best tradition of superhero books, he is a journalist.  He starts the book by telling us that Europe is where it's at, that that's where he's going to make his name.  Then he attends a presentation by Phineas Horton, who is introducing the first Human Torch to the world, and Sheldon realises that something big is happening right on his doorstep.  Soon after, Namor the Sub Mariner makes his appearance.  The general public doesn't know what to make of these new powered beings, some think it's a hoax, some are terrified of the damage they can cause.  Sheldon wonders how he can bring up a family in a city as unpredictable as New York has become.

Then Captain America arrives, bringing a sense of reassurance and patriotism to the American public, and then there's the Hulk, and Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, the Silver Surfer and more.  Public perception of the Marvels changes, sometimes they are hailed as heroes, sometimes they are vilified.  Throughout all this Sheldon reports on them, investigating tragedies and celebrating successes.

If you want to get into Marvel this book serves as a potted history of all the important events in Marvel's back catalogue and is an excellent start. 

What's bad about it?
There's very little bad about this book.  I love it.  I wish it had gone on longer, covering events past 1974.  It gives a broad outline of the major events in the Marvel universe, but it doesn't go into specifics about everything.  If you've seen the Marvel films (Spider-man, X-Men, Fantastic Four etc) you'll certainly recognise many events.  To get more detail on each incident you will have to go and read the original stories! (I know, it's a tough world isn't it ;) 

What's the art like?
It's beautiful.  Alex Ross paints everything and uses real models to base his characters on.  Yet he still manages to produce decent sequential art, where the story is told in the pictures form panel to panel.  In short, he draws (paints) real people, with real clothing in amazing situations.  This splash page covering two pages is a good example of the ambition and sense of grandeur he gives to his work:

Or look at this piece of the Silver Surfer.  Take note of the detail and texture of the Surfer's body. the rocks behind him and the reflections:

My edition of the book has a section at the back showing how he creates this pieces.  One particular age really stood out for me, as it showed how he used his parents as stand ins for Richard Reed and Sue Storm at the wedding:
Not only is it an interesting look into Ross' artistic process, I also think it's just lovely that he used his parents as the base models for the most solid, loving relationship in the Marvel Universe.  This doesn't really add anything to the story, but it does make the book a nicer 'thing' to have.

Other information
You can buy it in paperback or hardcover, the price varies from £12.99 to £18.99.  I have it in hardback and I think it's well worth spending the extra money.  Have a look at those links as they have a 'look inside' feature where you can read the first few pages of the book.

If you like Alex Ross's work check out Justice and Kingdom Come published by DC Comics and his website.  For Kurt Busiek check out his Conan series, Superman: Secret Identity or his Astro City series.

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