John Wiswell's Reviews > The Marvels Project

The Marvels Project by Ed Brubaker
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's review
May 22, 10

Read in May, 2010

There have been many retro stories since Alex Ross's Marvels, but The Marvels Project feels distinctly like a response to it. It's not just because of the name or time period - though The Marvels Project does retread some of the key historical events of Marvels. Marvels was primarily narrated from the perspective of a reporter whose career spanned the dawn of superheroes; this book is primarily narrated by an investigator in the same dawn. Where books like Marvels and New Frontier were keenly historically aware, The Marvels Project is more interested in comics lore. Our investigator becomes The Angel, a lower-tier hero whose narration is sympathetic to his fellow heroes, even as they completely outstrip him.

At its best, The Marvels Project channels the awe and magnitude of Marvels. During the second fight between The Human Torch and Sub Mariner, New York City is devastated and half-submerged under waves. Rather than focus on the fistfight, we watch as a generation of unpowered or less-powered heroes try to pull civilians to safety and stop buildings from collapsing. It's also there that Dave Stewart's art stands out the strongest, as he and his colorists capture the rapid motion of waves and destruction. The Human Torch is a vague silhouette of a man in a fireball, at once eerie and beautiful. Even at his brightest, the color pallet it muted, tinted as though by the newsreel quality of the time (though the book never descends into mere sepia-tone). With these colors, a flowing green cape fits right into the grey world of 1940s New York City.

Stewart's art direction and the combined efforts at awe are the strongest points, while plot is the weakest. This book was clearly written for people who are familiar with or have unquestioning love for superhero comics. You don't get Namor or Red Skull's origins; you're supposed to recognize U-Man and John Steele. The solace Ed Brubaker's writing offers is that most characters fall into the good (superheroes, U.S. soldiers) and the bad (Nazis, Nazi allies), with The Angel clearly explaining if somebody is in-between, making the story possible to follow for the uninitiated, if less satisfying. You will not fall in love with many of these characters because of their portrayal here; the point is that the world already fell in love with them, and in a pulpy way, this skims along and reflects upon their rise. Like the reporter in Marvels, The Angel's narration is reflecting on a world his audience is supposed to have lived in. Being a history, there is a great deal of character development insofar as characters change dramatically, but with very little depth of explanation as to why. If you read it with the intended sense of awe for the dawn of a new age, this is a fabulous book.
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