The 'Marvels' Age of Comics
An abridged version of the following article appears in the new issue of MARVEL FREE SPOTLIGHT, available at participating comic retailers today! The full version appears below:
The groundbreaking MARVELS (1994) series celebrated its 25th birthday in 2019—but the party shows no sign of stopping in 2020, with a number of new projects from Kurt Busiek, Alex Ross, and other collaborators, all invoking the spirit of the original series. So we caught up with Busiek and Ross about what’s in store!
First off, Kurt, you’re curating MARVELS SNAPSHOTS—a series of eight stand-alone Annual-size stories in the MARVELS tradition. What can you tell us about them?
Busiek: We’ve got a wonderful team of people working on them. The idea behind it was, as part of the celebration of MARVELS, let’s look at the Super Hero experience from the perspective of other people. A project that shows some of Marvel history, and what it’s like to live in the Marvel Universe, through different eyes—not just different eyes than Phil Sheldon’s, but different eyes than Alex’s and mine. Let’s bring in some other people on this concept, and see what they can do with the idea—always through the experience of what it’s like to be an ordinary person in the Marvel Universe. We cheat a little bit—one of the “ordinary people” is Scott Summers, but we see him back when he doesn’t know he’s not an ordinary person. For his story, it’s what is it like to be a teenager in an orphanage when the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Iron Man debut.
The first one we’re doing, the Sub-Mariner one, is from the point of view of Betty Dean, who was a longtime supporting character in the Golden Age Sub-Mariner strip. Namor is back from his time overseas—and, for that matter, underseas—but she’s the human eyes through which we see the post-war experience of Marvel, New York, and the Super Heroes. The Human Torch story we’re doing features Glenville, Long Island, the town he grew up in—the town that knew him before he was a Super Hero. Naturally, the appropriate viewpoint there is Dorrie Evans, the Torch’s first girlfriend. So let’s do a story set at the Human Torch’s ten-year high school reunion, where all the gang is getting back together.
With Captain America, when Jack Kirby returned in the 1970s, he had a big epic story with the Madbomb—one of my thoughts was, what’s it like for one of the people in the neighborhoods that got destroyed by a Madbomb? What’s the Marvel Universe experience of living in an area devastated by Super Hero activity?
And what were you looking for in the talent you’re working with on MARVELS SNAPSHOTS?
Busiek: I wanted people who would dig into that viewpoint and have a blast. One of the reasons we have a Namor issue is because it was on my list to get Alan Brennert to do a story. Alan is an Emmy Award-winning TV writer, a best-selling novelist, and one of the genius comic book writers of the 1970s and ’80s. Alan’s work was hugely influential on me for MARVELS. I thought, maybe I could entice him, because I know he’s a huge Golden Age fan. I called him up, and he said, “Honestly, you had me at Betty Dean.” We asked Jerry Ordway to do the artwork, because not only is he a wonderful artist, but he is known for work set in the 1940s. I did make sure to say, by the way, the All-Winners Squad show up, and he replied, “Oh, I haven’t gotten to draw the All-Winners Squad!” So part of the process was enticing wonderful people with opportunities they hadn’t had before.
We wanted great names, classic names, modern names, newcomers—we wanted it to be a showcase not for just one approach. We wanted to cast the net pretty widely—so, for the Human Torch story, I went to Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, and let’s bring in Ben Dewey to draw it and let them basically play with this era of Marvel history. Half the readers out there are gonna say, “Oh man, I wanna see that!” And the other half don’t know they want to see it yet! For the Madbomb story, I wanted a story about the human cost that would illuminate the Marvel Universe; so for a writer I went to Mark Russell, and he came up with a wonderful script, and we have Ramón Pérez on art. I knew I wanted Jay Edidin to write the Scott Summers story—he does the podcast Jay and Miles X-Plain the X-Men. Jay knows the X-Men inside and out and has an interesting viewpoint on Cyclops that dovetails with my own. We’ve paired Jay with a newcomer voice, Tom Reilly—and we were surprised because it turns out Cyclops is Tom’s favorite X-Man too.
Looking over the list of talent, I am thrilled—it’s an amazing group, and they’re all peculiarly suited to the stories they are doing and will bring different voices and perspectives to a series of stories that are all about different voices and perspectives.
And, of course, you have Alex Ross doing these fantastic covers…
Busiek: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS is something where I am taking the lead in curating it, but the covers Alex is doing are these astounding, powerful poster images of these characters. We couldn’t ask for better—here is this iconic view of these eight characters. Alex was integral to MARVELS—it wouldn’t exist without him. Alex is crucial to all of it.
And he is curating his own project—the wonderfully named MARVEL—the original anthology he wanted to do that ultimately became MARVELS. And you’re playing a part in that, right?
Busiek: I helped work out the framing story for it. Alex and I worked out an outline and then we handed it off to Steve Darnall to write. In addition, I wrote a story in MARVEL #1 for Steve Rude to draw, set in the early days of the Avengers. Much as Alex is joining in on MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, I’m joining in on Marvel to the point of anything I can do that’s useful. But I’m viewing this one as: This is the project Alex always wanted to do. I’m a cheerleader trying to make sure that everything Alex wants to happen with this series gets to happen.
On SNAPSHOTS, I reached out to people who would bring a different style to these various characters, and with MARVEL, Alex did the same thing in his way—he reached out to artists who would have something strikingly individual to say about the Marvel super heroes. So that first issue has Alex, it has Steve Rude, it has Frank Espinosa—you’ve never seen Spider-Man like this before! And Alex has more surprises coming up.
And finally, we have THE MARVELS, your new ongoing series! What can we expect from that?
Busiek: THE MARVELS is yet another different take on the Marvel Universe. One of the reasons to do MARVELS was to step back from the “adventure, adventure, adventure” aspect of the Marvel Universe. To essentially deconstruct the Super Hero genre, not in a dark way, but to take it apart and see all the cool, positive interesting things you can do with it. But there comes a time when, having done that, you have to put it all back together again. The purpose of deconstructing something is to figure out how it works so you can put it back together again, step on the gas pedal and go.
THE MARVELS is, again, a viewpoint on what it’s like to be a part of the Marvel Universe, but in this case it’s much, much more hero-oriented. The tagline I gave Tom Brevoort was: “Anyone. Anywhere. Anytime.” In the first issue, we hit 1946, we hit the years just before the Fantastic Four’s rocket flight, we hit a period six months in the future, we hit the present day. It’s like a Tom Clancy-esque thriller where we have all these multiple threads involving Marvel Super Heroes that braid together to form a bigger story. This is a vehicle that I can drive anywhere in the Marvel Universe.
Will THE MARVELS have a “point-of-view” character or characters, like Phil Sheldon in MARVELS?
Busiek: There is a new character. Where Phil was a bystander, a chronicler of the Super Hero experience, we have a character involved, at least in this first major story, who has one foot in, one foot out of the Super Hero world. But Captain America and Captain Marvel show up in this first issue, and we get a scene where they are just relaxing and we get to see a bit of their perspective on what life is like for them in this world. With THE MARVELS, we want to see the perspective of these characters on their world—not merely a human perspective on the Super Heroes, but a Super Hero perspective on the human.
And Alex naturally has a role to play here too…
Busiek: In addition to having Alex on the covers, which we’re very thrilled about, he has designed several new characters that you will see in the first issue. They’re brilliant designs, and you’ll be delighted when you see them. I hope that as things go on Alex will be able to design more characters as we need them—and he’s someone that I talk to about the stories.
On interiors, you have another fantastic talent—Yildiray Cinar. What is he bringing to THE MARVELS?
Busiek: When it came to artists, I wanted somebody who could do the human side but who could also do the Super Hero side, the thriller aspect—who could do anything. If I asked him to draw the All-Winners Squad in 1946—which I have—he could make that believable, and if I asked him to draw a weird, psychedelic, not-quite-extra dimension with weird, freaky characters, he could do that. Yildiray can do all of it.
So the MARVELS 25th anniversary celebrations are continuing into its 26th year, and hopefully beyond. How do you feel about there being so much demand for new MARVELS-related content, a quarter century on from the original book?
Busiek: I’m flabbergasted and delighted. I can’t say I’m surprised anymore—I can say 26 years ago I was surprised when our little series turned out to be something of a blockbuster! We were not expecting it to be a book that would stay in print for decades. Now that it has, I’m delighted that new generations of readers come along and MARVELS serves as a good entry point to the Marvel Universe for them. I’m so glad that people want to read the kind of story I want to tell, because that’s the reason I get to keep doing it. The fact that audiences are here 26 years later to say, we want more of that—it’s heartwarming, it’s amazing…it’s a Marvel, let’s say!
As the MARVELS 25th anniversary celebrations show no sign of slowing down, superstar painter Alex Ross discusses his new anthology series 30 years in the making, named Marvel, the Earth X prequel series MARVELS X—and more!
Taking it project by project, we should talk first about Marvel—your original pitch that became MARVELS being realized at last. It's an anthology series you're curating, featuring creators whose work you admire. What can you tell us about the talents you have recruited to take part and what you look for in contributors?
Ross: Basically, I thought of heroes of mine whom I’d like to see do anything with Marvel characters. For example, Steve Rude has been one of those career influences who I was gratified to get involved. Other artists I’ve known as my contemporaries who’ve entered the field at the same time as me, like Dan Brereton or Gene Ha, are exactly who I hoped would say yes to the invitation. I initially thought only about painted art styles in 1990, when I conceived the project, but I’ve come to see that as only one style of the unique embellishment of comics that I hoped to showcase.
What kind of stories are we going to be seeing in MARVEL?
Ross: Each story will be whatever the creator had an idea for, usually focusing on Marvel characters they were interested in, with no real limits. The stories can be considered real or apocryphal (much like the rest of publishing), and they only serve to reflect a creative impulse.
MARVEL also gives you an opportunity to collaborate once more with Steve Darnall, who, among other things, worked on the script of your submission that was ultimately published as MARVELS #0. How are you enjoying working with him again?
Ross: It’s great to get Steve in on this project, since he had been an unspoken contributor to the MARVELS series for all of its history. Now he can see his name featured on the lead-in, unifying storyline for this book. Steve has always been a smart and reliable collaborator and, for the last 30 years, one of my closest friends.
We should also talk about MARVELS X—a book with a title that unites your two biggest projects for Marvel. You’re working again with writer Jim Krueger—was the idea really to take that kind of “ground-level” philosophy and viewpoint from MARVELS and apply it to the untold chapter of EARTH X: how the world was transformed?
Ross: The point of view from a young boy looking at the changing superhuman wave over the Earth was always our concept for this series. Jim and I pitched this basic premise 18 years ago and were going to do it then until our last EARTH X chapter, PARADISE X, was shortened from its planned running time. Prequels can sometimes be too competitive with the main projects they are setting up, but our series has a modest perspective to offer from its much larger epic.
You have the artist Well-Bee on MARVELS X—what does he bring to the table on this project?
Ross: Well-Bee has brought an amazing real-life quality to the art, with all of the darkened, foreboding mood we were looking for. From his recent work with Jim on the series The No Ones, I knew he was a perfect fit for our story. He’s been doing a fantastic job.
These and the two books Kurt is taking lead on, MARVELS SNAPSHOTS and THE MARVELS, are adding plenty more to your regular Marvel comic book cover load. Are there any ideas you've had for these books that you are particularly eager to paint?
Ross: As a surprise for a good friend, I’m looking forward to putting his likeness on one of the book’s covers to showcase the character design I based on him. I’ve done this for most of my career with many family members and loved ones, and I know this one will be very appreciated.
So, you wait 25 years for new MARVELS…and then you get a whole load all at once! Are you still enjoying revisiting that world in various different and creative ways—and happy to see how much of a demand there is for it?
Ross: I’m not quite sure who is demanding more MARVELS, but I’m happy Marvel is asking us to do stuff. At this point, between trying an EARTH X tie-in, an anthology, various one-shots, and a series variation with the word “The” added in front of the title, I think we’ll have done everything we could conceive—just short of prepping the streaming series adaptation.
Stay tuned to Marvel.com for more breaking news on all the mighty mags above!
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