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Another Look at the Marvels

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If you think of Marvel during the 1990’s, you usually think of variant covers, poly-bagged issues, and the company playing the role of the jilted girlfriend in the forming of Image Comics. What you don’t think of Marvel doing during this period is putting out masterpieces that revolutionized the comics genre.

But that is just what they did with 1994’s Marvels, a groundbreaking take of Marvel’s history and the series that jump started the careers of Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.

Marvels was a look at 34 years of Marvel continuity through the eyes of the common man—photo journalist Phil Sheldon. We get to look at events such as the fight between the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, the wedding of Reed Richards and Sue Storm, the coming of Galactus and the death of Gwen Stacy as they would be viewed by an ordinary civilian.

Busiek captured the concept perfectly. Phil Sheldon was a man just like us and was the perfect avatar to represent us in the story. Through him, we were able to find out what it would be like if heroes truly existed in the real world.

Adding to the realism was the photorealistic painted art from relative newcomer Ross. He made the Marvel characters look like real people (and more than one famous person at that) but also captured the awe and majesty they inspired. Looking back even now, I get goosebumps looking at Ross’ work on the series. He created a plethora of iconic images throughout the series, which was enough to make a lifetime fan out of me.

If Marvels simply introduced relative novices such as Busiek and Ross into the public consciousness and allowed them to have long and successful careers in the industry, its legend would be sealed. But its effect goes far beyond just that. It changed the look and feel of comics forever.

Busiek and Ross definitely caught lightning in a bottle with Marvels, but it didn’t stop comic companies from trying to repeat the experiment to see if lightning could be caught twice. Marvel published a pseudo-sequel with Code of Honor, another painted artwork book which took a look at the 1970s Marvel through the eyes of another street level character (a police officer this time). But it really wasn’t the same.

In July 2003, Marvel announced that Marvels will be getting an official sequel. Kurt Busiek would return to write it but Ross, who by that point was a much-in-demand superstar artist, was much too busy to return. Another newcomer by the name of Jay Anacleto would take over art duties.

The series was originally scheduled to hit stands in early 2004, to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the first series. However, that estimate was much too optimistic, as Anacleto took almost five years to complete the series. The series was delayed so much that Busiek left Marvel and established himself as one of DC’s hottest writers.

But the series is finally going to hit stands. The miniseries will cover the Marvel of 1970s and 1980s, with some aspects of the 1960s not covered in the original series getting some love this time around. Phil Sheldon is back, and now we will get his perspective of the first appearance of the Punisher, the supposed death of the X-Men during the “Fall of the Mutants” crossover, and the event of Secret Wars II.

Some might believe that the lack of Ross will be an obstacle Marvel will not be able to overcome. And I’ll agree that his contribution to the story will be missed. But I believe that Kurt Busiek will provide us more things to “Marvel” at. And I can’t wait to see what they are.

Also out this week:

Haunted Tank #1:

Growing up, I always thought that the concept behind the Haunted Tank was, well, kind of inappropriate. It focused on a World War II tank commander Jeb Stuart aided by the ghost of his deceased ancestor, General J.E.B. Stuart. The disturbing thing is J.E.B. Stuart was a general in the Confederate Army (and one that existed in real life to boot!). I was never too comfortable with a man who essentially fought to preserve slavery being a hero of a book.

I guess somebody at Vertigo felt the same way, because they have decided to turn the concept on its ear.  J.E.B Stuart is back to help one of his descendents—an African-American tank commander by the name of Jamal Stuart, fighting in Iraq. I’d imagine Jamal will feel even more uncomfortable than I did.  

Frank Marrafino (W), Henry Flint (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1:

When you are hunting ancient reanimated giants across England, you must be sure that your hunting party is 100% trustworthy. Hellboy didn’t and now he must deal with unbelievable odds with a metaphorical knife in his back. Pretty much all in a days work for Hellboy, but this time, the stakes have never been higher.

Aficionados of Hellboy probably already have this one on their pull list, but if you are a casual Hellboy fan who really liked the 2007 miniseries Darkness Calls, then this one is for you. This miniseries follows-up on the events of that story, so if you want the complete tale, this series is a must buy. Heck, you can argue that anything Hellboy related is a “must buy.”

Mike Mignola (W), Duncan Fregredo (A), Dark Horse Comics, $2.99. Eight-Issue Miniseries.

Secret Invasion #8:

This is it, what you have all been waiting for. The Marvel Universe versus the Skrulls, winner takes all! It’s a battle that will take a lot out of the winner and might completely destroy the loser. And, judging by future solicitations, the worse villains are just waiting in the winds to jump start their own Dark Reign.

In the battle between this series and Final Crisis for crossover of the year, I think this one wins hands down. Sure, it wasn’t perfect (would it kill you to have more Skrull reveals, Bendis? And, speaking of killing, that’s something Hawkeye never does. Ever!), but it was a barnburning action-adventure story that worked on a number of levels and was cohesive at the same time. So, kudos Marvel, you’ve won this one.

Brian Michael Bendis (W), Lenil Francis Yu (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Final Issue.

Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the Eighth Grade #1:

Being in a new school is tough. Being in a new school on a new planet is even tougher. There is nothing harder than trying to make new friends when you are trying to protect a secret identity. How can you find out about new people when they can’t find out anything about you? Yeah, being Supergirl is not easy, but it’s nothing compared to the eighth grade!

DC’s continuing revamp of the Johnny DC line gets another entry, with Supergirl stepping up for the kid-friendly treatment. This series seems to be aimed at the tweener set, slightly older than Johnny DC’s usual target. Could this series succeed where MINX failed? I guess we’ll find out.   

Landry Walker (W), Eric Jones (A), Johnny DC/DC Comics, $2.50. Ongoing Series.

Cleburne:

The date is 1864 and the American Civil War is just about to enter its endgame. The momentum is beginning to shift from the South to the North, and enlistees in the Confederate Army are dwindling. Patrick Cleburne, an Irish-born Major General for the Confederates, comes up with a crazy idea to increase manpower—offer Southern slaves their freedom in return for their help fighting to keep their brothers enslaved.

This sounds like an imaginative, if a bit far-fetched plot. That can only mean it has to be true. Patrick Cleburne was in fact a real person and he did indeed suggest slaves be utilized in the war effort. This historical graphic novel deals with Cleburne’s offer, the negative reaction to it, and what it did to Cleburne’s career. It should stand as an interesting view of an overlooked piece of history and an examination of how big a role prejudice played in the Civil War.  

Justin Murphy (W/A), Rampart Press, $24.95. Original Graphic Novel.

X-Infernus #1:

How far will a demon princess go to get her soul back? If you’re Illyana Rasputin, the answer might just be “too far”. The mutant formerly known as Magik is on the hunt for her humanity, and she is willing to stop at nothing. What will her friends in the X-Men do? Will they help her? Will they stop her? Can they stop her?

I came into the X-Men right about the same time Illyana did, and, really, I wasn’t a huge fan. I know I was never clamoring for her return. They pretty much lost me with the character when they turned her from a child to a teenager for no good reason. But I might be in the minority because here she comes back again and people seem somewhat excited about it. Good for them.  

C.B. Cebulski (W), Giuseppi Camuncoli (A), Marvel Comics, $3.99. Four-Issue Miniseries.

The War at Ellsmere:

What can you expect from a boarding school which is considered “prestigious” if you are a scholarship student? Well, you can expect cliques you can never get into because they think you are a “charity case.” And in a place like this, it means that you are in for a pretty miserable time where you’d be lucky to find a friend.

Of course, if the school is the Ellsmere Girls’ Boarding School, you can expect fantastic tales of mythical beasts who live just outside the grounds in the forest. And you can expect that these tales might just be true and they will change your life. So, in other words, you can expect the unexpected.    

Faith Eric Evans (W/A), Amaze Ink/Slave Labor Graphics, $12.95. Original Graphic Novel

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William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY and is expecting his first child with his wife Jennifer. He also is a comic reviewer for PopMatters and is the comic book movie editor for Film Buff Online. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

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