The Marvels Project
Written by Ed Brubaker,
Art by Steve Epting
Marvel Comics - Eight Issues
USA October 2009 - May 2010
Warning: Very mild spoilers.
The Marvels Project is not a title I was expecting to get much out of, to be honest. It was obviously yet another attempt by Marvel to cash in on their huge nostalgia fest Marvels (reviewed here) but when they’d released one shots and limited editions in the past attempting to capture the same readers, well their efforts were a bit hit and miss, to be honest... I reviewed these in a collected edition, Marvels Companion, right here.
However, I thought I should give it a go and, as it happens, this is one of the better written of the Marvels spin offs I’ve seen, although my knowledge of some of the heroes featured here and their modern day counterparts is not all that great so, I didn’t always understand everything.
The comic starts off with a bit of a false lead, to be honest, which got my expectations up that this was going to be covering a whole load of decades of Marvel characters. As it happens, though, all the adventures covered here are set from around the creation of The Human Torch and the first appearance of Namor, The Sub Mariner in 1939... and more or less finished with the formation of The Invaders, just after the attack on Pearl Harbour which forced America into the Second World War.
This is because the comic is not dealing with the Marvel comics characters as we know them today but the original versions of those characters as published in Timely Comics at that time, which is the company which eventually transformed itself in the more familiar Marvel in the 1960s. Like the earlier Marvels, the comic is told from the point of view of one specific character although, it has to be said, it follows multiple character arcs in different countries so the narrator is giving you ‘second hand knowledge’, so to speak, throughout the story. That narrator is the original hero detective character The Angel.... and I find that interesting because, if memory serves, this character only had a small, non-speaking cameo in one panel of the first issue of Marvels.
What makes this interesting is it starts off with an account of this character, a psychiatric ward doctor, being given a ‘heads up’ of the impending Age of Heroes by an old man everybody thinks is crazy. It turns out this old man is the Western hero the Two Gun Kid who, in some stories, went time travelling to his future and helped The Avengers at one point. Here, that character’s death and his leaving his guns to the hospital worker who is so interested in his ‘wild stories’ is the impetus needed for Tom Halloway to become The Angel and, from then on, the eight issues tell of the plot to foil nazi spies and the tale of The Torch, Namor, Toro, Captain America, Nick Fury and Bucky Barnes... plus another interesting bulletproof human (I never did figure out which super powered character he was meant to be)... as backdrop to these shenanigans.
Once I’d shaken the idea that the publishers wouldn’t be setting any of his tale in the modern world I really began to enjoy the simplistic but somehow poetically dark story line as I watched each character’s progress as told by someone who was, after all, a low level detective character with a Batman-like penchant for masked vigilante shenanigans.
I have to admit I didn’t completely understand the time travelling aspects, or the fact that one of the later characters can be supplied a similar set of guns by a younger version of the same Two Gun Kid... if I’m reading this right.
Anyhow, the art is good, the story hits most of the right buttons and some of the colour palette choices are amazing. Most of the wartime stuff is given dingy and washed out colours which is, obviously, a good idea to give things contrast when it comes to the sudden, vivid stabs of primary colour whenever one of the costumed heroes lets rip or, in the case of The Human Torch and Toro, catch fire and light up the skies as they cut a burning path towards their enemies.
Not much more to say about this one. I preferred it to some other attempts to dip into this period in Marvel Comics history but, at the same time, it felt a little short at eight issues and so didn’t exactly feel like I was reading an epic. What it is, at the end of the day, is one of the more entertaining but light weight comics and, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with taking this approach to a book. There were probably some more clever things going on which I wasn’t really aware of and a more extensive knowledge of a couple of the characters might have given me a more enriched viewpoint through the narrative but I did at least spot the two big, infamous smack-downs between The Torch and Namor which really did happen in those early comics... so not everything here went over my head, I think.
Either way, if you are an expert on characters like the original incarnation of The Angel or the Two Gun Kid or are just a novice at some of them, like me, The Marvels Project is still an entertaining little yarn and fans of the Timely period of Marvel should get a kick out of it. Definitely one to have a crack at some time.