Marvels by Kurt Busiek
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Treasure of the Rubbermaids 17: Marvel At Marvel’s Marvelous ‘Marvels’!
The on-going discoveries of priceless books and comics found in a stack of Rubbermaid containers previously stored and forgotten at my parent’s house and untouched for almost 20 years. Thanks to my father dumping them back on me, I now spend my spare time unearthing lost treasures from their plastic depths.
I would hate to be a New Yorker in the Marvel universe because it seems like the city is constantly being threatened by super villains, invaded by aliens, flooded by pissed off Atlanteans, or beset by some other form of comic book mayhem. I’ll bet it’s impossible to get property insurance at all.
Comic book readers get a ring side seat and full explanations for everything that’s happening, but what would your average man on the street think about all this insanity? That’s what Marvels explores beautifully.
Phil Sheldon is a young newspaper photographer during the Great Depression who witnesses the public unveiling of the original Human Torch followed shortly after by the appearance of Namor the Sub-Mariner. Like most people, Sheldon is initially shocked and disturbed by these new super beings he thinks of as Marvels who routinely turn New York into a battleground. With the coming of WWII and the introduction of Captain America, Phil embraces the costumed heroes who fight the Nazis.
Years later in the early ‘60s, an explosion of superheroes creates an odd mix of emotions in Phil and the general public. The Fantastic Four and The Avengers are celebrities who get put on magazine covers while some don’t know whether Spider-Man is a good guy or a criminal, and the mutant X-Men are feared and persecuted. Phil’s work as a photojournalist puts him in the middle of almost every big event Marvel did during the Silver Age, and he frequently finds himself conflicted about how he feels about them.
This does a great job of exploring that idea of how the public responds to larger than life characters and events that make them feel scared and insignificant, and one of the things I’ve always liked about Marvel’s comics is how they've always portrayed the public's attitudes towards the superheroes as being full of contradictions. People cheer the heroes like Iron Man and Captain America, but some blame them for the fights that cause so much destruction. The mutants are the target of hatred and bigotry while stores sell clothing lines based on the many costumes of Wasp. New Yorkers will cheer on the Fantastic Four as they battle Galactus to save the entire world, but just days later their landlord will try to evict them from the Baxter Building for the danger they attract.
Phil’s a great character to use in the midst of this because he’s a decent, ordinary guy who is still fully capable of giving into his worst instincts at times. He makes a career out of documenting the craziness that comes with the superheroes and thinks deeply about what the heroes mean to all of them. At times he almost worships them but can easily swing to resentment and jealously. Phil’s attitude towards them mirror how the superheroes have always been portrayed with a mixture of admiration and fear in the Marvel comics.
The stunning artwork has a retro realism to it that really makes you feel like you’re looking at people wearing tights in the 1960s, yet still conveys all the wonder of seeing someone otherworldly like the Silver Surfer.
By showing us how one regular person reacted to some of Marvel’s greatest hits, this moving tribute to the past gives a fresh perspective on how fans relate to the characters in these wild and amazing stories.
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