alex ross, civil war, comic books, frankenstein, greek mythology, Human Torch, john milton, kurt busiek, mark millar, Marvel, mary shelley, paradise lost, prometheus, science fiction, victor frankenstein, violence
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Here’s yet another graphic novel with an explosive cast, another ‘alternative’ view on superheroes. But unlike Millar’s ‘Civil War’, the ‘Marvels’ creators Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross get the art AND the storyline spot on. This time the story actually works and I think that may have something to do with the fact that not only are they putting the reader firmly in the place of ‘helpless spectator’, but cementing this angle with a narrator who (by default) is in that situation too.
Meet Phil Sheldon, a rookie photojournalist who recounts first-hand experiences and close encounters with the ‘otherly race’. Sheldon is unique in that he witnessed the initial advent of these synthetic gods and takes us not only through their creation and evolution, but also conveys the hopes and fears their presence triggered among mankind. Initially hailed and feared as gods, they are later reviled, and then supported as heroes only to fall yet again in the eyes of the public. This is a complex story to tell, especially from the perspective of your average American citizen who is struggling with his own inner demons.
As a character Sheldon was extremely likeable. I found that he added credibility from both a professional and private stance. Him being a photojournalist meant we really COULD look at things through a ‘lens’ of sorts, and experience what the average person would feel if a world full of unruly superheroes was our everyday reality. Too many graphic novels glorify superheroes; make them the safe, good guys. At least here there is a questioning of motives and a look at the destruction that they leave in their wake and what this really means for normal people.
Other aspects of the book I applaud is the literary nod in the direction of Mary Shelley, as Busiek cleverly parallels the legendary creation of Frankenstein’s monster with that of ‘The Human Torch’. The panels are artfully done, and the short history of ‘The Human Torch’ really does strike a mixed chord of terror, pity and sympathy.
Using ‘The Human Torch’ was a stroke of genius, as the little known second title of ‘Frankenstein’ is in fact ‘The Modern Prometheus’. For those that don’t know, Prometheus is famous in Greek myth as the man who stole fire from the gods and was duly punished for his transgression. Needless to say, this ties in very nicely with the Busiek’s ‘homage’ to Shelley and also (maybe I’m reading too much into it) Milton’s Paradise Lost, as angel’s are purported to be made of ‘holy fire’, which makes ‘The Human Torch’ the perfect character to use.
I don’t want to give away the story too much, but it is definitely worth a read. I was especially amused by a section at the back of the book that showed how the creators captured poses by using models (usually themselves, family and friends) to make the characters more realistic. The colour scheme suited the 1950’s feel of the story/ setting giving it a retro effect that I thoroughly enjoyed.
One thing: I would dearly like to know what happened to the alien-faced girl. She was a great character and I still feel very sorry for her, but she just disappeared from the story without a trace. Very frustrating. Please, if anybody knows about her, let me know!
- Superheroes/The Scale of Problems (aproposofanything.wordpress.com)
- Robot Roulette | Kurt Busiek (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- Alan Moore and Superfolks Part 2: The Case for the Defence (comicsbeat.com)
- Artist Feature – Alex Ross (printsblog.com)
- Cleopatra (worldofblackheroes.com)