Retro review: Marvels by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross. As a change of pace, I read Marvels over two nights before I went to sleep. Since it came out in 1994, Marvels had won many awards and was the springboard for Busiek and Ross to become superstars. (Previously, Busiek was known as a fan turned prolific writer, but not really tied to a major title, while Ross had a few assignments here and there).
Granted I’ve read Marvels lots of times, but it’s 2010 and the world has jumped the shark, so I wanted to test it. I am proud to say that Marvels is as perfect as when I first read it as a 17-year old.
For any of you who have been living in a cave (or weren’t born yet) Marvels is about the history of the Marvel Universe through the eyes of the common man, in this case photographer Phil Sheldon. It is 4 issues (5 when you include #0 that came after) and showcased a different era of America in each issue, spanning from the birth of the Marvel (Timely) Universe in 1939 to the Death of Gwen Stacy in the 1970′s.
When it comes to paying homage, Busiek is of the Roy Thomas mold, but also writes like a mainstream published author and has a heavy social context. With Ross…well, Ross pulls off the best artwork that I’ve ever seen in a comic book. It’s insane when you think of the level of detail Ross puts into it as well- he has a bunch of heroes and characters like George Perez, but also is the master of “the little things”: the wardrobes, cigarettes, stores, and houses from each era fit perfectly.
Considering that 1994 was still amidst comic book gimmick covers, sloppy art, no plots, retcons, speculators, and just a massive output of crap that’s in the $0.25 bin at your local comic book store, what Ross and Busiek did is beyond words.
Their social message is deep: the citizens of the Marvel Universe are fickle, to say the least. You know, kinda like how our society is. And just like you deny, so do the citizens of the Marvel Universe. The short term memory, the love/hate relationship with celebrities and authority figures, the flip-flop- it’s all there in Marvels.
Busiek is a continuity freak, and I mean that in a good way. He is the people’s writer. As a fan himself, and an admitted nerd, he HAD to make everything fit in Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s timeline- and it did. Perhaps that is what saddened me a little after I finished Marvels: it contained the REAL history of the Marvel Universe: from the Golden Age Human Torch and Captain America to the Baby Boomers treating the Fantastic Four like the Beatles, to the X-Men dealing with a type of 1960′s irrational racism, to the end of the Silver Age with the Green Goblin killing Gwen Stacy in the 1970′s- everything is intact.
As a child in the 1980′s I’ve always accepted that the Marvel Comics played a large part in 1960′s pop art and pop culture. It’s a shame that current Marvel comics enforces the 10-year timeline or a “don’t ask; don’t tell” policy without recognizing the different eras.
Anyway, I’m giving straight 10/10 ratings for everyone involved with Marvels: Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and editors Tom DeFalco, Marcus McLaurin, and Spencer Lamm.