It was 25 years ago that Marvels changed the way people think of comics. There have been plenty of moments in comic book history that changed both the industry and public’s perception of comic books, but Marvels stands out as one in which the format gained new respect. Not only because of Alex Ross’ incredible paintings, but also the thorough reimagining of the Marvel Comics universe. It’s why an annotated celebration of the series is a no brainer thanks to the many easter eggs and clever ideas developed to make Marvels so damn great.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Celebrating the 25th anniversary of the series that changed the way we look at super heroes, the landmark MARVELS is back! In the year 1939, young photojournalist Phil Sheldon attends the sensational unveiling of the fiery android Human Torch — little knowing he is witnessing the dawn of the Age of Marvels! Prepare to relive Marvel’s Golden Age from a whole new point of view as Phil covers the superhuman sightings of the 1930s and 1940s — from the terror caused by the Human Torch’s epic clash with the Sub-Mariner to the patriotism stirred by the debut of Captain America and more! Packed with extras and completely remastered, you don’t want to miss this unique look back at the MARVELS phenomenon! Collecting MARVELS #0-1.
Why does this matter?
Aside from reprinting Marvels #0 and Marvels #1 this book also contains 9 pages of densely packed notes with photo references to the story within. It also has all the variant covers and some marketing pieces, essays from Marvel Age #130, some breakdowns of some of Ross’ art, Kurt Busiek’s Marvels #1 script, the introduction by Stan Lee from the Marvels TPB, and introductions from Busiek and Ross from two other Marvel’s related books. This is a very thick and thorough undertaking.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
If you haven’t read Marvels #0 and #1 this is a no brainer to pick up. Sure you could read the collected edition, but this comes with thorough notes and commentary about the story. This comic serves as a historical document of sorts relaying Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s insider info at the back of the book to further flesh out the process as well as document what went into making such an iconic comic. The reprinting is great and is on a thicker glossy paper that’ll stand the test of time. The stories collected here are one of a kind and should be read by everyone.
People who have read this before are in for a treat too. The notes by Busiek and Ross are extensive and range from Ross pointing out coworkers (and even his dad) who he used as models for background characters, to incredible references made in the art to celebrate comics in general. Without a doubt, this series was a labor of love when it comes to all comic books. There are references to classic comic covers, characters from the original Human Torch days, and J.J. Jameson as a kid, for instance. Clark Kent and Lois Lane pop up too, for instance, as well as Billy Batson.
In a fun anecdote Busiek relates how he was afraid of being sued, but Ross would add in cameos from non-Marvel related books for fun. Busiek points out Ross was relatively new to comics at the time as a factor in this. The fact that these things slipped by Busiek was due to the art being sent his way via thermal fax so the image quality wasn’t great. There are many more first-hand accounts in these notes that are well worth a look.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
The only element that threw me off is some of the photo references in the notes section. One in particular, of J.J. Jameson lamenting from Amazing Spider-Man #10 he feels inconsequential with superheroes saving the day, is way too hard to read. The three panels are about as big as your thumb with text that’s legible with a magnifying glass. The notes section runs about 3 columns wide with small text and could probably have been enlarged for readability.
Is it good?
If you buy this book you’re holding a piece of comic book history, that’s without question. The annotated version only strengthens that statement making it a must-read for those who are interested in the craft, but also its importance in history.