If you dig painted comics you can’t find a collection quite like this.

Back in 1994 and 1995 Marvel Comics produced three 60 or page one-shot comics attempting to recreate the magic of Marvels. That’s explained by then editor Ralph Macchio in the foreword of this book. In this two page essay Macchio explains the debate that went on as editors weren’t sure if they should try and renew the magic Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross released with the world famous and one of a kind painted series. With that in mind, this collection captures some of that magic, even if it can’t quite match the historic levels of greatness of Marvels.

So what’s it about?

The official summary reads:

Classic comic book titles from the past inspire fully painted Marvel masterworks featuring some of the world’s greatest heroes! When a sadistic killer who claims to be descended from Loki goes on the rampage, it will take three Avengers to face a mad Viking – Hank Pym, the Wasp and the Hulk! Things take a turn for the monstrous in stories featuring Doctor Strange, the Thing, Human Torch and Nick Fury! And old friends Captain America and Iron Man are recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to stop a deadly new terror threat using Stark technology! Celebrate the heroic legacy of the Marvel Age of Comics with these strange tales of suspense guaranteed to astonish!

Can I jump in easily?

Definitely. This book collects three stories which have full arcs in themselves. They’re also inspired by classic stories from the past so they may be familiar too.

Reason 1: There are many beautiful panels and pages.


Nice looking boat.

The first story is painted by Colin MacNeil and it uses shadows and darkness very well. The tale involves a secret Nazi group that has ties to Iron Man and Cap so the darker tone works nicely. When light is used it’s particularly nice and it gives the story feelings of dread and dramatic flair. John Estes paints the second story focused on Loki attempting to bring on Ragnarok as Hank Pym, Wasp, and Hulk do what they can to stop him. The closing pages are some of the best in this book as they capture the villain’s size very well and utilize the light in the room very well. The final story is painted by Ricardo Villagran (which appears in Doctor Strange Epic Collection: Afterlife) and has some of the coolest Doctor Strange comic art you’ll ever see. There are some interesting Native American layouts that are quite pretty and like nothing you’ve seen before. Thing and Human Torch have some nice texture and dynamic coloring so that they look more realistic than ever.

Reason 2: Even an average transitional panel has deeper meaning.

Early in this book, there’s an interesting crosscutting scene with Cap getting information from Dum Dum Dugan and Iron Man getting info from Nick Fury. Between these panels, we get some average looking outdoor scenes as they get debriefed. The use of lighting and shadow give these average scenes an extra level of reality. There are plenty of close ups throughout the book and the painted style helps add an extra level of drama.

Reason 3: The Marvel universe is a crazy, supernatural, and epic place.

The stories in this book are quite dramatic and it’s a wonder Marvel went with these stories given how realistic Marvels was. The approach here appears to be to open up the painted style to more of the wonders even if they defy reality. This book captures things that are straight up just impossible, which forces the artists to capture things that are downright impossible to capture in a comic book. Stuff like mystical magics of Loki, supernatural unknowns from Doctor Strange, and a giant Nazi dreadnaught creeping through the night in a realistic painted style are all present in this book. Whether the creators pulled it off or not is up to you, but you can’t deny they didn’t hold back with their ideas in this book.


Nick Fury, smashing in!

It was teh

Reasons to be wary?

There are certainly a few hiccups with the art and it can look half-baked or not quite as marvelous as the intent might have been. The first story with Cap and Iron Man is sometimes too dark for its own good. Macchio points out in the foreword one fear of painted style was a stiff portrait look to the art and there’s definitely a few of those in this work. I can’t imagine the work and foresight required to paint a comic so it’s without question the pages are gorgeous here, but it’s safe to say a digital paint style is going to help artists do amazing things in the future.

As far as stories, the Cap and Iron Man story does have an odd and unbelievable approach to the character dynamic. They envy each other, which doesn’t really suit the characters. Macchio even points this out in the foreword and it might take you out of the story. The second story is also very slow to start and doesn’t get to the superhero action for awhile.

Is there a rationale to the reasons?

This is a good representation of the early days of painted style in comics. If you dug Marvels you’ll get a kick out of seeing Marvel Comics attempt to recreate that magic via three stories using various characters.

Avengers: Tales to Astonish
Is it good?
While the art can't quite compare to Alex Ross' epic images in 'Marvels' it's still a great collection that shows painted comics are unique and sorely underappreciated.
Some wonderfully painted panels and pages in this book
Shows the wild supernatural, action packed, and mystical side of Marvel
Even the boring side scenes can look marvelous
The standard Alex Ross set isn't quite matched consistently here
There are some issues with story to be sure
8.5
Great

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