Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Marvels Project

The Marvels Project: It takes a lot at this point to get me to get a Brubaker book. But, I'm a sucker for the golden-age characters and the artwork by Epting was mostly clear and legible so I felt obligated to pick it up. Indeed, Epting is an artist who really has grown by leaps and bounds. I remember liking his style on the GA Invaders heroes in Roger Stern's Marvel Universe and he brought a much needed sense of realism and dynanism to Aquaman. I think the modern coloring still too often renders the pages too dark, muddying their clarity and power, but his line is still allowed to shine through for the most part.

I enjoyed the book more than I thought I would as it wound itself through the early days of Timely and their earliest characters. Links to characters that in-continuity predated them is provided by the inclusion of the Two-Gun Kid in what ultimately is the weakest part of the story. One of the things that may annoy readers is that unless you are a long-time Marvel reader, there are several characters introduced with no real explanation to who they are. Sure, you can look them up on the internet, I did. But, that can be a problem with books that are about continuity, just how much do you tell the reader about a character? Do they really need to know why Lt. Sawyer or Red Hargrove are important to Nick Fury lore? I think stories like this are in part dependent on those connections, it's part of the reason why the story is being told. Even if it's not included in this particular issue, I think it should be at some point before it's over. It's the difference between a cameo and an "easter egg". Cameos are meant to be recognized and dependent on it. Easter Eggs on the other hand are meant to be discovered and hunted for, the thrill is finding where it's from. Some of these will no doubt play out, if you don't know who Erskine is, you will later. But, will they explain who Horton's partner Bradley is? Does this mean we might see the early heroic careers of some of his partners?

In some ways it's not too dissimilar to some of Thomas' books from some years ago that tried to outline the history of the Sub-Mariner and the original Human Torch, complete with their retcons or his America vs the Justice Society. The chief difference is that there's more story tying it all together without feeling like one of those special flashback episodes of your favorite and not-so favorite sit-com (or the ninth or so chapter of many movie serials). Hopefully, it will continue to be more of filling in the gaps and such than any outright complete massacre of the original characters and origins ala Bucky. Brubaker is on record that he thinks the Angel's costume is horrible though it is completely fitting for the time. But, he has to be careful with changing it. Already by adding a mask on the cover and he becomes more generic, not less as with his signature mustache and cape he looks a lot like MLJ's Wizard and DC's Mr. America.

The only real flaw is the opening section with the Two-Gun Kid. He's an old man dying in a hospital in 1939 talking to Tom Holloway who will become the Angel. He talks about how he had been in the future with all these heroes, but when he got old they sent him back. Like Dracula with a base on the moon, it's a cool bit for all about 30 seconds, once you give it any thought. It actually makes not a single bit of logical sense as something that anyone would actually ever do.

The Two-Gun Kid grew up in the Old West circa 1880's. He travels to the future, our present. As presented in this story, he spends about 60 YEARS here. He's an old man and even if he's longing for home, he's NOT sent back to the time he came from and that he'd be remotely familiar with, but the time period he'd be in if he lived all those years in the past. It's a time period that is completely alien to him as it would be to any of us that are currently under 60, a period he'd read about in history books, that's it. He has no friends or family. The ones he left behind in the Old West would be mostly dead and he'd been out of touch for decades. Indeed, the vast majority of his friends and family would more than likely be in the future where he had lived most of his entire life! Instead, he's stuck in a past he doesn't know as an old man with their idea of medicine, cleanliness, hospitals and comfort OVER A CENTURY older than the time he just came from and had been living in for decades. Do you think when Captain America finally gets old and is dying the surviving Avengers will do him a "favor" and send him to 1971 to live out the last few days of his life? It sounds like one of the cruelest things you could actually do to someone. It's a scene that is kewl on the surface but really makes not one lick of sense.

It may seem a minor flaw, but it's the death of Matt Hawk that serves as the hook to draw the reader in and to provide motivational inspiration and the impetus for Holloway to become a hero. It's a basic foundation and theme for the character that is to serve as mostly our eyes and ears. It starts the whole story off on a flawed premise even if plot wise it's only a small part of the history unfolding.

Pay attention and you will spot a pre-Captain America Steve Rogers.

Wonder if this mini will also finish before The Twelve?


Chuck Wells said...

Cash, I flipped through the first issue and decided that it wasn't going to be interesting enough to purchase.

Apparently, I feel the same way about Herr Brubaker that you do. Your nice breakdown of this issue does makes me want to give it another chance, but I imagine that I would in all likelyhood end up feeling the same way about the story points that you raise.

How this writer feels about the "classic look" of the original Angel was one of the reasons that I pulled away from the Marvels Project, too.

cash_gorman said...

I don't understand the comment about the Angel's costume as he said he didn't like it but didn't give any reasonings behind it. The costume is designed along the same lines as Superman's in color scheme and style with just a few sylistic flourishes to distinguish him. For a superhero costume, it seems completely appropriate and fitting with the mustache adding that bit of dashing Errol Flynn feel. I can see adding a mask, otherwise I don't really care to see a more "realistic" costume with muted colors, combat belt, etc. At some point, you have to concede that you are writing/reading a superhero book. If you get hung up on the costumes, go work for Hollywood.

But, every success story where the creators changed the costumes, the success came despite the change not because of it. Look at the movies that failed and the first thing brought up usually is the changes to the costumes, they couldn't even bother to get that right. When you make such basic changes, you have more of a hurdle to overcome, not less of one.