The nineties get a lot of flack nowadays from comic fans, and some of it is very well deserved. Many things happened in the nineties that made it a very dark decade for the comic industry, many things we would like to forget happened at all, and some things we just can’t seem to let go of. And pouches, so very many pouches.
For as many reasons as there are to speak in hushed tones when referring to comics in that rather fateful decade, there are many more reasons to shout at the sky in praise. Each Tuesday I discuss the many things that made that decade truly a great time to be a fan. This week, I bring you another reason the nineties weren’t all bad.
This was not only the book that launched Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ comic careers, but also brought painted comics back to the forefront in American funny books, for a while at least. These four issues, published in the first months of 1994, changed the game in many ways, and changed the way I thought of superhero comics.
I remember seeing the first issue of Marvels when it first came out, flipping through its gorgeous pages at my local 7-11 on the way home from school, and having my mind blown! It was unlike anything my young collector’s mind had ever seen. Ross’ realism grounded these four color caricatures in the world I lived in, working in total step with Kurt Busiek’s script, breathing new life into the stories I thought I knew backwards and forwards.
Starting in the Marvel universe’s formative years, Busiek gave us a window into that fantastic world in photographer Phil Sheldon, using him to re-tell these stories, and build upon them with new insight and a freshness they needed to be reinvigorated for a new era. Busiek and Ross told the stories from a man-on-the-street perspective, using these major superheroic events almost as a backdrop to the everyday.
A treatise on the history of Marvel Comics, and comics in general, Busiek uses the story’s tone to perfectly encapsulate the feel of each decade, beginning with the original Human Torch, and comic’s Golden Age. Busiek’s knowledge of that history was phenomenal, and you got the feeling that this was a story he was compelled to tell. These were two altogether fresh voices telling the same old stories in an all new way. And the fans ate it up!
There was humor, as well as heartbreak, as Phil tried to document these wondrous events, all while attempting to grasp the enormity of them. Sure, there were costumed heroes and world-bending villains, but at the heart of it all, this was a very human story, one of acceptance in an ever changing world, of understanding that world around you when it is hardest to do so.
The book was an undeniably huge hit, being nominated for, and winning numerous awards, and plenty of imitators. There were many less successful sequel series’ in the years that followed, along with a parallel look at a Marvel universe gone wrong in Warren Ellis’ Ruins, and even a Busiek scripted sequel 14 years later called Marvels: Eye of the Camera, but nothing quite captured the moment and the magic like the original.
Both of these creators have gone on to work on the biggest characters in not only the Marvel Universe, but countless other company’s properties as well, telling some amazing stories along the way for two decades! But these four issues are where it all began, with a photographer, the emergence of the Marvels, and two creators that were destined for big things.
Marvels has been printed and reprinted numerous times in both hardcover and soft, and is well worth picking up, as it still holds up as a fantastic, and very human look at what a world with superheroes would be like, and is one of the reasons it was great being a comic fan in the nineties. Next week I’ll bring you another.