Fourteen years ago Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross made their first real impression on the comics industry with Marvels, a look at the early Marvel Universe through the eyes of news photographer Phil Sheldon. Ross’s next big project was Kingdom Come (with Mark Waid). For the last few months Ross has been revisiting the Kingdom, and now Busiek returns to the Marvels well.
He hasn’t got Ross with him, but Jay Anacleto and Brian Haberlin do a passable job of reproducing the Ross vibe. Once again we see a lovingly rendered New York of the early Sixties, once again we see stiff-looking people, caught mid-pose. While there are impressive shots of the Human Torch and, er, Phil’s darkroom, this style just isn’t my cup of tea for superhero stories. If it’s painterly realism versus comic book dynamism, I’ll take the latter any day.
Reading this book felt like being dragged into a swamp as the art combined with Busiek’s super-wordy, introspective script, which told us that Phil was worried about his family, career and the future of a changing world. The book is set in the early Marvel U, yes, but there’s none of the joy Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and friends poured into every panel. The ending of the book is a particular downer, and you’ll likely see it coming when you notice something going on that Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada won’t allow in his books.
I get the impression we’re meant to identify with Phil’s everyman nature, but his ordinariness equals zero charisma. There’s even a ‘Phil Sheldon created by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ credit, as if he were the character find of 1994. I turned every page desperate for a nice big shot of Galactus or Fin Fang Foom; instead I got developing fluid and My First Spectacles (courtesy of the Metaphor Fairy). The FF turn up occasionally, and there are a couple of great Ant-Man gags, but these are mere passing pleasures.
Whether there were any more photo opportunities in the Marvels genre I don’t know. All I can say is that snapper Phil left me feeling negative.