Tuesday, October 13, 2009

New Comic Cavalcade

It's time for a new batch of comic reviews. Now, I know what you're thinking: god, not another review of Jonah Hex and Warlord. Fine. Be that way. Just for that, I'm going to branch out and review two new titles that are thematically related instead. Happy now? Jerk.

Anyway, let's take a look at two limited series that fit right in with Marvel's 70th anniversary celebration: The Marvels Project and Marvels: Eye of the Camera.

The Marvels Project
writing by Ed Brubaker, art by Steve Epting

For the last four years, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting have been one of the most acclaimed creative teams in comics thanks to their run on Captain America. Now they've turned their eyes to an even bigger prize: the very creation of the Marvel Universe.

If that sounds like a fairly broad topic, well, it kind of is. And if it sounds like something we might have read before, that's pretty much true also. In The Marvels Project, Brubaker and Epting are by definition dealing with origins and stories that have been told and retold probably dozens of times over the past 70 years. The origins of Captain America and the Human Torch are pretty well known to most comics fans, so you might be wondering what purpose this series serves other than introduce these stories to a new generation.

The answer, like the devil, is in the details. Over the first two issues, Brubaker and Epting seem to be laying the foundation for something a little different than has been done before: an integrated origin for the Marvel Universe. Like superhero comics themselves, Brubaker is suggesting that these characters didn't appear in a vacuum, but rather are all interconnected by the threat of the coming World War. Thus, it is hinted, the origin of the Human Torch and the origin of Captain America aren't separate, isolated incidents, but rather part of a larger escalation of pre-war experimentation. The emergence of the Sub-Mariner isn't coincidence, but a direct result of those very same initiatives.

While on the surface this sounds revisionist, it reads as more revelatory; Brubaker here isn't altering these old stories so much as highlighting the common themes that have always connected them. Wisely, much of the action is seen through one of the few Golden Age heroes that has never been revived or retconned, the original Angel, allowing Brubaker to play with a central character without risking either damage to Marvel history or raising the ire of the fans. And as a bit of a cipher, the Angel acts as a stand in for the reader as he comments on the strange events slowly building to the creating of the Marvel Universe as we know it.

Long-time readers will be pleased with some of the touches Brubaker has included, such as a young, pre-war Nick Fury helping smuggle Professor Erskine out of Germany to continue work on the Super Soldier Serum. And old Avengers fans will be very pleased with the opening sequence, where we see an elderly and dying Matt Hawk (a.k.a. the Two-Gun Kid) relaying his knowledge of the superheroes of the future to a young doctor who, inspired, goes on to become the Angel.

In all, then, the first two issues show a lot of promise. While the stories are well known, and this sort of Year One has been done elsewhere in comics, it still manages to be fresh and interesting and adds a new layer to some beloved classics. If you're a fan of the Marvel Universe, you might want to check this one out.

My Grade: I'm a sucker for well done period pieces like this (see: Sandman Mystery Theatre) so I have to give this an A so far.

Marvels: Eye of the Camera
Writing by Kurt Busiek, art by Jay Analceto

Just as The Marvels Project is giving us a new look at the beginning of the Marvel Universe, Marvels: Eye of the Camera is giving us a new look at the history of Marvel. Following up on one of the 90's most acclaimed series, Marvels, writer Kurt Busiek returns to show what happened next in Marvel as seen through the eyes (well, one eye, I guess) of photographer Phil Sheldon. Picking up pretty much where he left off, at the end of the Silver Age of comics, Busiek now uses his "man on the street" aesthetic to a explore new, darker chapter in Marvel continuity: the Bronze Age.

For those of you not familiar with the Ages of the Comics Earth, this means darker stories, more violent characters, weird and offbeat horror-inspired heroes and a general disillusionment with the four-color innocence that the Silver Age represents to many comic readers. Of course, as we saw in Marvels, the Silver Age Marvel Universe wasn't exactly the most fun place to actually live for the average guy; but, Busiek posits here, at least they didn't have to deal with dudes like The Punisher. It's not all bad, though, because as we see in issue 3 when the Punisher saves Spider-man, the loss of innocence is also accompanied by new understanding about the complexity of the world. The Bronze Age might not have been as fun as the Silver Age, but it allowed for a more nuanced type of storytelling by introducing these more morally ambiguous characters.

If there's any flaw with this series its simply that it will be inevitably compared to both the original Marvels as well as Busiek's own Astro City: Dark Age, which for the last several years has been exploring these same themes. And it's no wonder, since Dark Age is based on Busiek's original pitch for a sequel to Marvels. So if you're a Busiek fan, chances are some of this might seem a little familiar in spirit if not in detail. With a series specifically designed to play off of reader familiarity with the stories, though, it seems a bit unfair to criticize the series for feeling too familiar. So let's just focus on what the series does provide: excellent writing, beautiful artwork and a return to an era of comics that many readers still look on with fondness. That can't all be bad, right?

My Grade: A- for what's actually on the page, B for a familiar reading experience just because people are like that.

Bookmark and Share