Wednesday 4 November 2020

Marvels Companion

Tales To Admonish

Marvels Companion
Marvel Trade Paperback
ISBN: 9780785190592

Marvels Companion is not a graphic novel... please don’t use the term as loosely and inaccurately as Hollywood seem to like doing. It doesn’t contain original words and art printed here for the very first time. This, like many other so called ‘graphic novels’ is a actually a Trade Paperback reprint of existing material. In this case, it collects various issues and self contained story arcs which were the fallout from Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek’s Marvels miniseries (which I reviewed here).

I remember the impact Marvels had on the industry when suddenly the company realised (and probably the creatives were quite happy to be working in this manner) that if you had a comic produced in the same style... with detailed, painted artwork presented in a nice edition bound with an acetate overlay on the front and back covers so you could peel them back and see the full, untarnished artwork... you could probably get away with charging at least five times as much for them per issue and, at that moment in time and striking when the iron was relatively still hot, people would be lining up to buy the second printing after the first had sold out.

So yeah, I remember the comic book marketplace at the time and I bought a fair few of the issues being reprinted here. Not all the quality of the writing even comes halfway close to the original Marvels but the artwork in these tales is certainly excellent... although the tone of the majority of the comics reprinted here, exacerbated by being collected together in one chunk, is somewhat bleak and depressing which, frankly, is not what all comics should be. Usually there is at least some hope but there’s a lot of grimness mixed in with the fantastic feats of the Marvels here.

The tome begins with reprints of the two Tales Of The Marvels issues which I remember purchasing the weeks they were released. Like all of the volumes, apart from the dense and often beautiful artwork, these tell their stories through the eyes of a regular person observing the change and carnage around them. The first one reprinted here, the Inner Demons one-shot (Niciza & Wakelin), is another look at the Sub Mariner from before and during 1962's early issues of Fantastic Four, in which he made his Silver Age reappearance. This is one of the best of these kinds of tales and also works in Norman Osborne and the early Spider-Man villains The Enforcers, as seen through the eyes of a struggling alcoholic. It’s a nice tale and perhaps I responded to this one more because I remember reading the original comic it was based on as a kid (that issue of FF reprinted in a small paperback, perfect for reading on a train).

The next one is BlockBuster (Baron & Martinbrough), which tells the story of a down on his luck private detective who sees his parents and his future girlfriend’s parents accidentally killed by the fallout of an attack featuring the Silver Surfer. This is a pretty nice one too where the man in question spends all the issue trying to track the Surfer down and obtain a weapon powerful enough to kill him, before finally confronting him and having a change of heart.

The next story in the volume is Code Of Honour (Dixon, Shane and Parker), which tells the story of a young cop in the 1970s era of Marvel (although, obviously, the decade is not named as such due to the curious lack of ageing in the Marvel universe) and charts his progress through his career as he tries to be incorruptible and a good influence to his wife and children. This starts off really well but gets really grim quite quickly. We are asked to sympathise with a man who won’t spend the bribe he took from the Kingpin and saves the bank note through the years as we watch him alienate his parents when he marries his girlfriend and, then, see his marriage slowly fall apart. It’s a nice idea but tonally it seems to be all over the place and the finale is like a bizarrely happy ending tagged on which makes no logical sense after everything that’s come before it. Like the lead character suddenly flips on a dime and is forgiven and destined to turn over a new leaf. It doesn’t really seem to fit in with the rest of the story at all and I’m wondering if this had to be rewritten with a happier conclusion to please the editor at the time.

Next up is another of the Tales Of The Marvels, this time the two issue miniseries Wonder Years (Abnett, Lanning and Kordey). This one details the death of famous Hollywood actor Simon Williams, who is also known to the public as superhero Wonder Man. It’s told through the eyes of one of his biggest fans, a teenage girl who had an encounter with him once and who helps run the Wonder Man Fan Club. It’s the story of a group of fans who really are finding it hard to get over the death of the character, which two of them (including the girl whose eyes we see the tale through) having witnessed the event that ended his life. It sounds dark but of all the tales in this collection, this is the one which hits home and is the most emotionally engaging, as the narrator realises a certain truth about her friend and rescues her from a suicide attempt. It’s a nice moment and it’s probably the only one in this book that gives one a sense of hope.

And then we get the two issues of Conspiracy (Abnett and Kordey) which, despite sharing the same artist and one of the same writers as Wonder Years, is a tale I really couldn’t get on with. I’m guessing at the time this was published, The X Files was big because it’s basically like that, as a newspaperman who is in danger for lifting the curtain and following up on a story about who really created and controls the Marvels... or rather, the government group that used them for their own means... fears for his life. It’s got a nicely ambiguous ending but, by the time I got there, I really couldn’t care less about whatever points were being made here.

The last story in here is the two part Ruins (Warren Ellis, Cliff & Terese Nielsen). I usually like Warren Ellis as a writer but this one is as dark as they come. This follows the main protagonist of the original Marvels, Phil Sheldon, once again dying from cancer and trying to complete a book about the Marvels. However, this is an alternate timeline of that character’s world and in this one the Marvels all die or go insane from the things which gave them their enhanced lifestyle in the regular version of the Marvel Universe. So Peter Parker contracting a rare, lethal disease from the spider bites, for instance... or Hulk birthing and then erupting into tumours. We watch the deaths and twisted variants of famous characters here and, honestly, it’s not very pleasant. This is not Sheldon as I wanted to remember him and the ending certainly takes no prisoners and leaves no hope behind (and feels a little rushed, to boot).

All in all, though, Marvels Companion is a good way to get some of these stories if you missed them the first time around in their ‘enhanced’ packaging which, to be fair, whether is was a rip off or not, always looked really great. The artwork is fantastic in this volume but, if you don’t want to go dark with the stories in here then... yeah... don’t read it. If, however, you are happy to try out some of these bleaker, alternate histories of famous (and sometimes not so famous) Marvel Comic characters, then this is a useful collection to own. Maybe give it a go sometime but, be warned, it’s no substitute for the original Marvels, which was far superior.

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