Is there anything more that can be said about Marvels, the five-issue, mid-’90s mini-series written by Kurt Busiek and painted by Alex Ross that really showed what it would be like to live in a comic book universe, in shocking, wondrous detail? Yes, apparently, there are six more issues to expound on the topic.
You might be forgiven if you forgot about Marvels: Eye of the Camera, which was imagined as a follow-up to capitalize on the 10-year anniversary of the revolutionary work. Busiek had long felt that there might be one more story worth telling with Phil Sheldon, the fearless photographer who captured how the world changed, but it wasn’t the collection-sized event that Eye of the Camera became. That was editor Tom Brevoort’s idea.
And it didn’t exactly happen at the Marvels 10-year anniversary. “Most of it came out for the 15th,” says Busiek in the new printing’s bonus content, which also includes a source list (much like in the first story), something close to Busiek’s original outline for Eye, and an intro by Roger Stern, who co-wrote the book. Busiek was feeling buried by the continuity of the Silver Age, so Stern was brought on to help, as he wrote many of the events that would be referenced. Maybe that’s why it took eight years before the entire mini-series would see print.
Though Stern says the art had a lot to do with it, while praising the “meticulous” pencils of Jay Anacleto and the colors of Brian Haberlin. It’s clear that this is not Ross’ work, as it’s not quite as detailed and maybe looks a little too vibrant at times, but it’s similar enough that the change isn’t jarring and the whole thing still feels like it takes part in the same Marvels world.
Even if the timing seems a little off. In Eye of the Camera, we see the first appearance of the Fantastic Four, although they fought Galactus in the original Marvels. The public learns of the X-Men, even though mutant hysteria was already running wild. Some of the continuity you might not even be familiar enough with to question, as pushing into the publishing of the ’70s and ’80s necessarily means losing the most familiar touchstones of Marvel history, since fans and interests change. I’ll admit to not immediately understanding why Sheldon is so bent out of shape about the “X-Terminators.”
Maybe it’s because he’s an old guy seeing things get “darker,” and the name is another manifestation of that. There’s a definite meta-narrative running through Eye, as Sheldon renders scathing judgment on the grimmer Marvel developments, like Hank Pym’s mental illness and Spider-Man working with “that killer,” the Punisher, much the same way aging comic readers bristled when exposed to them. But then, Sheldon had the same mixed emotions in the first Marvels, so much of the “how good are these people?” stuff seems like a retread.
It’s a scarier world in other ways, and I don’t think I’m revealing too much to say that Phil Sheldon develops terminal cancer in Eye of the Camera. It’s an interesting plot twist, but (and yes, this is going to sound weird) it puts too much of the story’s focus on the protagonist. In the original Marvels, Sheldon served as our own eyes into this magical and terrifying world; in Camera, it’s hard not to prioritize his well-being over all the other stuff happening around him.
But it does allow for a gasp-worthy moment and recollection that fans of the first book will melt for. That I won’t spoil.
Marvels: Eye of the Camera doesn’t live up to its predecessor, but how could it? How can anything? The art team doesn’t quite rise to the heights of Ross, and the story feels a little narratively inconsistent with the original, but it’s still some nice insight into later Marvel happenings. I don’t think anyone really wanted to see Phil Sheldon on his deathbed, but that moment makes it all worthwhile.