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Kurt Busiek

Marvels

Happy New Year! 2020 proved to be a trash year, so I am hoping that this new year will be as marvelous as this graphic novel is!

After enjoying two podcasts about Wolverine last year, I heard Marvel had put one out about The Fantastic Four without realizing it was based partly on this graphic novel. I enjoyed the Marvels podcast and picked up this source material to accompany it. I was in a bit of a reading slump at the time, so after skimming it and seeing it was worth a deeper read, I put it aside to read after the holidays. 

This amazing story gives the perspective of everyday people living in a world populated with superheroes, villains and mutants. We see the world through their eyes as they try to make sense of the incredible things happening around them. Begining in 1939, we first meet Phil Sheldon a young photojournalist and his friend Jonah Jameson who are amazed when superheroes begin to appear in New York City. The populace is at first scared and then in awe of these costumed avengers and soon admire them as they help fight for American freedom in World War II. But as the decades go by, in a 35-year span, perception of them waxes and wanes. The Fantastic Four are beloved for awhile but later pilloried. Later, the poor mutants get the brunt of the public’s hate. 

Divided into four chapters, the narrative moves forward chronologically with Sheldon marrying and having two daughters as he follows and photographs the heroes, that he calls the Marvels, both for his career and for a book he is planning about them. He is an everyman, who at times succumbs to mob mentality but as the years go by he thinks critically about what having heroes in his world means, despite losing an eye when he gets too close to a fight between Namor and the Torch. There is a poignant scene set in the 60s where Sheldon recounts seeing a mob react during a Sentinals attack, and a riot breaks out. Sheldon comments: “The real story was the people who’d been scared too long…who’d been wound too tight and cut loose”. This has uncomfortable parallels to today, 25+ years after this graphic novel came out, as a certain populace seems to be glorying in a changed America and violence is a daily worry during this contested election. 

Alex Ross’s work is a marvel! He did for the Marvel universe what he would do again later in  DC’s Kingdom Come– he made all the heroes fleshed out and real. His trademark painted photo-realism style is exquisite, as each panel is a work of art. The research he did was evident, showing the heroes in their original costumes from the Golden and Silver eras of comics. He also is great at recreating period pieces, as the narrative takes place from 1939-1974 and he gets the clothing styles and the inevitable aging of the characters spot-on. 

To further strengthen this unique story, author Kurt Busiek shares his thoughts about creating this tale. He plumbs the Marvel comic universe for a timeline on how the heroes developed, and they are worked into the story. Thus, the book becomes an encyclopedia of sorts as heroes and villains move in and out of the narrative in cameos as Sheldon, his family and regular people are the true main characters in this story. In addition, Marvel great Stan Lee adds an introduction and other artists share their insight during chapter breaks. The story is then bookended with comic sources for all the hero references and Ross shares his artistic process. While the podcast based on this graphic novel was interesting, it centered on the second and third chapters only, and this entire book fleshes out the story more thoroughly.  Although only one day into 2021, I’m guessing this book will be a contender for my Best Reads at the end of the year!

-Nancy

Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition)

Clark Kent is just like any ordinary boy. He got his famous name from his parents and their highly original sense of humor. He grew up in Picketsville, Kansas, just a regular ordinary kid. He’s the frequent butt of jokes at school: asking if he flew to class, why his super-speed didn’t kick in when his books are knocked out of his hand, and the like. Clark Kent is ordinary – until he’s not. Overnight, he gains all the powers of Superman. Now he has a secret to keep from everyone he knows. His parents. His friends. The bullies. Snoopy reporters. As he grows and finds his own way in the big city, his secret threatens his work, his private life, and his blossoming romance (with a woman named Lois, of course). How can Clark possibly keep his secret and live a normal life?

Wow. Just wow! I haven’t read much Superman yet, but this is exactly what I expect a Superman comic to be. Part of the allure of Superman is, that Superman believes in you! In your ordinary self! To stand up and be a hero! This is what this comic is about. An ordinary kid from an ordinary town finds himself bestowed with powers and helps people in his own way.

The art is spectacular. It’s quiet, with muted pastel colors and soft shadows. But with the quiet comes the power. It underscores the utter ordinariness of the life Clark Kent lives, and that he tries to maintain as he grows older. The extraordinary powers he obtains can’t take away the contentment he has with his life – they only supplement it. The art, which is not flashy or over-the-top like so many other graphic novel art today, underscores this idea. Brilliantly done. This is already on my “Best of 2018” list ;D

– Kathleen

Busiek, Kurt, and Stuart Immonen. Superman: Secret Identity (The Deluxe Edition). 2015.

JLA/ Avengers

When Universes Collide!

The DC  and Marvel Heroes go head to head when their two realities combine, putting both their universes in danger.  Kurt Busiek writes and George Pérez illustrates this fun crossover tale in which all your favorites have to work together to save the cosmos!

Evil super scientist Krona (from the DC universe) is desperate to understand how it all began- what came before the Big Bang? In his millennia of searching, he has destroyed planets and civilizations without a second thought, but comes up against his equal when he meets the Grandmaster (from the Marvel universe). The two of them devise a plan to pit the two teams of superheroes against one another, in a game within a game.

The two teams are initially unaware of one another, and are confused when they are tasked to retrieve twelve magical items, found in both universes. Once they move into each other’s universes, they meet, and the competition is on. Initially rivals, their retrieval of the icons is kept track of by Krona and Grandmaster in a competition of which team can find them first. Not surprisingly, the teams eventually forge an allegiance, but not before Galactus gets in on the action and several betrayals and twists and turns occur. This is a hard story to describe, you have to experience it yourself to truly appreciate it.

Look at Scarlet Witch’s hair! She is a permed 80’s goddess!

As a practical person who often struggles with a “suspension of disbelief”, I loved how Busiek explained the two different worlds and their contradictions to one another. The DC heroes are revered on their world, while the Avengers (and definitely the mutants) are met with hostility on theirs. Because of this differing opinion of the masses, they each accuse the other team of being out of touch with what their citizens need. How their powers work on each world is also explained in a plausible way. Plus, the way they touched on the possible future that they had a chance to witness, was handled better in a few pages than Civil War II did in a whole book.

Although released in 2004, this story has a Golden Age/retro feel to it, as Pérez expertly recreates the heroes. He absolutely captures their essence, and without giving away too many spoilers, he also has a chance to show the heroes in different costume eras. That was a hoot, as some of the heroes have had extreme makeovers over the years, or have had different people representing them.  The layout of the narrative had an easy flow, with impressive title pages and two page spreads. In fact, I am on a George Pérez kick right now, because of Kathleen’s recommendations. I bought some of his Wonder Woman books for my library, and have The Infinity Gauntlet on my TBR list.

This was a fun book to read, and I was extremely impressed with the Busiek/Pérez team up and how they wonderfully melded together two rich histories into one outstanding story.

Asides:

I HATE PLASTIC MAN! Not just dislike- I hate him! As a child he creeped me out, and I found his slap stick humor distasteful. Every time I saw him in a panel in this story (which was a lot) I cringed.

Why is Hawkeye such a ladies man? I found him ugly with his purple costume and ridiculous boots.

I enjoyed the rivalry between similarly powered heroes: Hawkeye/Green Arrow, Flash/Quicksilver, Superman/Thor, Batman/Captain America.

Aquaman is a buff, bearded blonde here, as he is in most recent incarnations, so I am anxious to see how the dark haired DC movie actor Jason Momoa handles the role. JM is mighty fine, so I am looking forward to seeing his interpretation of the role.

Avengers Assemble! has a much better ring to it than Justice League Lambaste!  Man, that was funny when Superman tried to come up with his own catch phrase.

-Nancy

My Top 5 Favorite Comic Writers

I can’t remember ever doing a top 5… oops! =P Here are the authors of some of my favorite comics:

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5. J. Michael Straczynski

Straczynski is more known for his Marvel work, particularly his The Amazing Spiderman run from the early 2000’s, but I loved what he did with Wonder Woman in Odyssey. I mean, look at that costume! SHE’S GOT PANTS AND A LEATHER JACKET!!!

 

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4. Kurt Busiek

Busiek has written for both DC (Trinity) and Marvel (Avengers), but has also written plenty of graphic novels that aren’t comics. This includes the Autumnlands graphic novel, which I absolutely adore!

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3. Jeph Loeb

Loeb has penned a lot of great Batman comics, including Hush and The Long Halloween, both of which were beautiful and haunting. He also wrote Batman/Superman: Public Enemies and Supergirl: Power.

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2. Marguerite Bennett

Call me biased… but she writes the Bombshells series =P She’s doing absolutely brilliantly and I can’t wait to see what else she does with the series.

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1. Gail Simone

I would read anything this woman writes. Simone could write a trashy romance novel and I would read it without question. Her characterization is always on point and she makes me love my favorite superheroines even more. Among her titles are New 52 Batgirl, Birds of Prey, and Wonder Woman.

And there you have it! My favorite comic book authors >:D

– Kathleen

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