Sunday, July 20, 2008

Galactus Trilogy: the Marvels #3 take

In 1994, almost 30 years after the Galactus Trilogy originally saw the light of day in Fantastic Four # 48-50, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross spun a tale of the Marvel Universe. This was quite a different take, however, than almost anything we’d seen before. This story was approached from the perspective of Phil Sheldon, a journalist/photographer who was witness to the dawn of the “Marvels” – from World War II to his then-present (c. 1974). Busiek and Ross revisited many of the key (and even some of the trivial) moments in Marvel history. But the one event that got the special treatment, where Ross pulled out all of his artistic stops, was the first appearance of Galactus and the Silver Surfer.)

Doug: Kurt did a great job seguing from Attuma’s flooding of New York (Avengers #26) to the appearance of the signs of doom that hearkened to the invasion of Galactus. He also just did a fantastic job of putting as many Marvel moments as he could into the story. Even going from major event to major event was a fun ride, as somewhere there’d be a newspaper headline or a picture on the television or a news flash over the radio announcing some calamity that the long-time Marvel fan would instantly recognize. I’ll tell you, to read Marvels is to re-live a wonderful lifetime of four-color fun!

Karen: I can still recall when “Marvels” first came out, how amazing it looked. I had never seen anything like this before. The art appeared so real, I almost felt as if I was looking at photographs!
Sharon: While I think that Alex Ross is supremely talented, I’d rather look at “typical” comic book art, with its idealized characters and perfect physical proportions. I’m not crazy about looking at heroes/heroines wearing slightly baggy costumes; I want the fantasy! But I will say overall Marvels has an extraordinary concept and is a great read.
Doug: I think Karen remarked that when she first read FF #48 she wasn’t immediately registering that the fire in the sky and the meteor swarm were the doing of the Watcher. I echo that – and as I stated, I don’t think it was until I read Marvels that I firmly grasped the whole idea.

Karen: I think because we are getting the view of the guy on the street, the whole event seems far more frightening than it did in the FF issues.
Doug: Alex obviously treasures this story as one of the most significant events in the history of the Marvel Universe. While his artwork is stunning throughout the four volumes, I just feel like he went all out in this portion of issue #3. There are twelve splash pages or near-splashes during the first contact with Galactus and the Silver Surfer. The large artwork serves to heighten the reader’s excitement and magnify the detail of the scenes.

I also got a kick then and now in Ross’ use of “real” people within the story. Of course there’s newsman John Chancellor as himself, but how about Phil’s colleague Don Knotts, the crowd shot under the large panel when the Torch first engages the Surfer (featuring young versions of Gene Colan and Stan Lee), and of course “Gilligan’s Island”’s own Russell Johnson as Mr. Fantastic. Throughout the rest of the story are shots of the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and many others!

Karen: I got a huge kick out of all the ‘guest appearances’ in the series! It made me look very closely at all the panels. I think my favorites were multiple sightings of Lois Lane and Clark Kent; Robin Williams as Popeye; Denholm Elliot (‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’); and Timothy Dalton as Tony Stark.
Sharon: I really like the use of famous people, but sometimes it didn’t work for me. I have always found Russell Johnson attractive, he was never my idea of Reed…at least, not the conventionally handsome Kirby/Sinnott Reed. Dalton as Stark was spot on, though.

Also, does anyone know if there is a guide or resource detailing whom Ross used as his models? I’ve seen some references (in Mythology and in the Marvels tpb), but nothing comprehensive and I’ve never been able to discover who was used as his model for the Black Widow (glimpsed in chapters three and four) and whether she was based on a friend of Ross’ or a celebrity. Natasha is shown with her short black hair and her long red hair, and you can absolutely see it’s the same person. This is an area in which comic book art typically falls short, since hair and coloring is what is normally used to distinguish characters—at least, back in the Silver Age (known as the Betty and Veronica syndrome).

Doug: While not a New Yorker, I couldn’t help but liken the panels where Phil Sheldon walks through the auto tunnels to scenes of Manhattan in the hours and days after 9/11 (of course, this is on a re-read of this story). Phil’s sense of impending doom, of the need to be with his family, and of his observations of others and their reactions were very eerie in that sense.

Sharon: As a New Yorker who just read Marvels a couple of years ago, these scenes were hard to get through.

Doug: Although there is no dialogue heard by any of the combatants, Ross conveys exactly what is going on. Certainly someone who has read the source material has an advantage over one coming to it for the first time in Marvels, but the power of the art drives this part of this issue.

My favorite panel is Ross’ depiction of Galactus regaining his “balance” in mid-air after being toppled over the side of the Baxter Building. Although Kirby had shown us 28 years earlier, Ross did it better.

Karen: That was one of the best things about re-reading all the material for these reviews. I enjoyed comparing the two versions. Ross’ realism makes the battles much more dramatic.
Sharon: Since it’s told from the ordinary person’s point of view, the feeling is one of utter helplessness. I don’t know if I could take a steady dose of this sort of storytelling.
Doug: So the prime draw of Marvels is the “everyman” aspect of Phil Sheldon’s life and proximity to these gods that live among the denizens of New York City. A witness to history, Sheldon guides us through momentous events with his perspective, his emotion, and his persona. It is a nice ride, and serves to ably augment what Stan and Jack (and others) had done so many years before!

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