Originally set for a May 2020 release, Kurt Busiek and Yildiray Cinar’s new ongoing finally finds its way into comic shops this week. With designs by Alex Ross, this new series seeks to play within the borders of Marvel Comics in a way, introducing new characters and not necessarily abiding by strict canon. It’s Busiek telling a story within the boundaries of the characters and universe, but a story that is “wrapped up with superhero history and ties beyond Earth” as Busiek put it. So in that way, this series is entirely new, but also familiar, and in many ways is for the reader who likes their heroes grounded in reality, but also limitless in possibility.
As a spoiler-free review, save for a superhero team reveal in the preview, I can say with certainty this book is going to work for longtime readers. Given the writer of the book is the very same who gave us Marvels with Alex Ross and Astro City, it goes without saying you should be aware of what kind of story you’re getting here. Busiek and Cinar are essentially messing around within another reality where new heroes and villains have augmented the timeline. Captain America still speaks and acts the same, but he’s also not in the same place mentally or physically.
As the solicit revealed, there’s a lot here in this first issue, including, “a picnic in Prospect Park, super hero sightseeing in Manhattan, the All-Winners Squad in 1947, Reed Richards during his time in military intelligence, cosmic beings beyond space and time— and that’s only for starters.” In truth, only a few of these elements are present in a real way as many are blips or nods that will be further explored as the story goes. For that reason, this book reads like it’s expertly weaving a tapestry for readers to dig into. It’s not filled with answers, but it’s certainly filled with short notes that will play louder and bigger as the orchestra continues to play. That adds a mystique to the narrative that’s intriguing.
This is a narrative that does ask a lot of its readers out of the gate. It opens in a foreign land with unfamiliar characters and immediately after that proposes familiar characters in unfamiliar situations, at least for them. The bigger themes of imperialism and America messing around where they probably shouldn’t are there, though it doesn’t get too deep into those elements. It’s surface-level stuff to allow for a level of realism you don’t normally get in a superhero comic. There are certainly good ideas at work–wait until you see what KSHOOM is–but it opens in a way that’s hard to wrap your head around. It might have played better to open the book in Prospect Park and move the first half of this issue to the back half.
For a book like this though, is it doing enough to pique interest? For many, especially those who enjoyed Busiek’s previous works, the answer is likely yes, especially since it doesn’t skimp with the bigger superhero appearances. Whether it not it hooks you is a bigger question and for many, it likely won’t. Then again, like with many serial stories, if you come back for more with issue #2 and issue #3 you’ll probably find more you’ll like. All that is to say, this issue doesn’t do quite enough to hook the reader.
The issue is also a touch unconventional with how it shows off a few heroes. They seem to be in the book simply to remind us they exist within this world, but as it stands it’s hard to gather why these scenes are here. It could be too early to say — the story is only getting started — but not enough is relayed to give Thor or Punisher a purpose to be here. The prospect of new heroes is also introduced which is exciting.
The art by Cinar with colors by Richard Isanove is good at conventional scenes and environments. This goes a long way with the opening to convey where we are and when. It doesn’t quite have the pizazz of other books to make dialogue scenes riveting, but when heroes are flipping and diving around it looks great. Of course, that could be the point as it makes the fantastical superheroes otherworldly and the normal day-to-day life scenes grounded in reality.
It’s the world outside your window, but in such a way it’s as if the reader was dropped into another reality where this was the status quo of the Marvel Universe. This first issue introduces a story that’s exhilarating, but also foreign and a touch confusing. The Marvels #1 is as entertaining as you allow your suspension of disbelief to go, not quite knowing the boundaries at work here. For that reason, The Marvels is challenging.
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