Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Alex Ross
Letterer: Richard Starkings
Marvels is one of those comic-books that shows there is genius in simplicity—in ideas that seem so obvious once someone tells you, but you would never have thought of yourself.
Let’s tell the story of the Marvel Golden Age onwards through the eyes of normal New Yorkers.
Marvels at first sounds like it’s akin to a DVD bonus extra—something that maybe adds extra color to the main event of the heroism of Captain America, the Fantastic Four, etc.—except it’s better than that.
Not because of the story, although Busiek’s writing does what it needs to. We follow the appearance and growth of “The Marvels”—in essence, the first appearances of Marvel’s core of superheroes—through the eyes of a rookie photographer. As he gets older, he sees more and more of what this new world looks like. He lives through the mutant hysteria, global panic inspired by Galactus, plus the adventures and destruction created by the Avengers, Spider-Man et al. And it’s fine. It’s broad-strokes and it gallops through the history of Marvel, but it hangs together. J. Jonah makes an appearance as an ambitious reporter; a small, lost mutant child teaches our hero about the destructive power of a lynch mob; and lots more happens way above our heads. Literally.
It does a good job of suggesting what it would be like if gods and monsters lived among—but mostly above—us.
But what elevates Marvels to greatness is the painted artwork of Alex Ross.
To make the world of the superhero into a reality, it has to look real. After all, the story is set up as a photographer’s-eye-view—we should expect something that looks like “reality”.
Not really-real, not photo-realism—these are comic-books after all; the cost of making every frame look really-real would mean the project would never see the light of day. Alex Ross’s work looks instead comic-book real. And the results are beautiful works of art, frame-by-frame.
Ross shows off his skills with flamboyant Human Torch and Silver Surfer frames but his human facial expressions and background details lend the weight and humanity to the story. He brings authenticity to the world of the Marvels…and that’s what stays in the mind long after the story details have faded.