Marvels Project #7

Posted by on May 21st, 2010 at 9:00 AM

© 2010 Marvel Characters, Inc.

Marvel. Written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve Epting; colored by Dave Stewart; covers by Epting, Gerald Parel, and Steve McNiven and Justin Ponsor; $3.99

People tell me Brubaker is good, but this comic is like walking around in a museum. Panel after panel of looking at displays in rectangles, and a plummy voice in your head gives you information: “Even in his panic, his powers had reacted and protected him. … And the synthetic man calling himself Jim Hammond knew that Toro would be blaming himself. … For his parents’ deaths, for the train crash, for everything.”

My grandmother, when she went to a museum, took this approach: You invest a certain amount of time and tedium, and useful material is thereby dripped into your head. The same attitude is required here.

Every damn page with the somber captions, until finally you’re four pages from the end. Only then do the little boxes fly away and you get a clear space for dialogue and action. I suppose they needed to get people involved for the cliffhanger, which involves a blue-skinned man and Nazis on the beach.

Big, small. The issue suffers from the big-small confusion that plagues superhero comics. Treat a sidekick’s origin story to the somber, tread-of-events narration given above and you have something small getting puffed up. The story isn’t made more real, present, deeper; it’s just the occasion for a heavy sequence of words, as if it were a blunder by Neville Chamberlain in a history show on cable. My colleague Noah Berlatsky has complained about the pomp that present-day superhero comics attach to their warhorses: The Justice League of America is a very important institution. Now Toro and how-he-came-to-be get the treatment. Is there anyone who swallows this?

Meanwhile, the Holocaust is brought in as a period touch: striped pajamas, barbed wire, and “Every description fails, every metaphor is too small.” Which is so true. Then the Destroyer has his origin story in the concentration camp’s laboratory: “Now, now … drink it slowly.”

Consider Star Wars. So much of modern fanhood is dutifulness. Back when I saw Attack of the Clones, a clump of the audience stayed behind until the credits were done, which took God knows how long—consider all the post-production done on Clones. The movie itself had been so bad, and now these people, a dozen or so, were sticking around for the fine print. They didn’t all have friends doing work for George Lucas as digital compositors. The people stayed on so they could be witnesses. They wanted to fully dispatch their duties as audience to the latest Star Wars installment.

The fans’ stern willingness to endure has kept the Star Wars franchise alive. But I don’t think the human sacrifice is worth it. The duty that gets you through Clones or The Marvels Project, or through a museum, is the kind that makes your feet hurt. You carry yourself around like a sentence, submitting to boredom, and there’s no reward but the sense that your mission is good.

When your mission is to do right by a franchise, the whole idea of missions starts to look a bit silly. I suppose hardcore, committed anarchists take a moment every now and then just to marvel at how the rest of us give in to society. All those dopes willing to play ant in the ant farm, and nobody can get them to stop. I would add this: And somebody somewhere is buying The Marvels Project.

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2 Responses to “Marvels Project #7”

  1. Scyzoryk says:

    Ouch! Ed Brubaker should consider himself snapped on.

    DC Universe: Legacies #1 is like the DC version of how you describe this comic — I wrote a positive review of it because the Kubert art was so good, but it really is an embarrassment, this ridiculous solemnity about superhero history. Those comics are so revered because they’re so FUN, for gosh sakes! I’ve read exactly one comic with Toro in it, but they way I recall, he was just setting dudes on fire all over the place, no time for anything but. That was cool.

    I like your examination of “duty to the franchise,” too — but I would submit that those type of fans are the only ones who keep the weird, worthwhile superhero stuff financially viable. For example, the first issue of Brendan McCarthy’s Spider-Man sold just over 15 thousand copies — can there have been many more than… let’s say three thousand readers who bought it for an aesthetic reason beyond “it’s got Spidey in it”? Duty to franchise: it keeps superhero comics published, and superhero comics can be so good.

  2. Tom Crippen says:

    “those type of fans are the only ones who keep the weird, worthwhile superhero stuff financially viable.”

    Have to admit I don’t really have an opinion on whether this dutifulness produces good or bad effects. It just seems a weird phenomenon.