Busiek, Kurt. Marvels.

NY: Marvel Publishing, 2008.

I read a lot of graphic novels, but not often of the superhero variety. Comic books, in the traditional sense, just don’t do much for me, especially those from DC and Marvel. Still, I know who the main characters are, and the Justice League and all that — it’s been part of American cultural history since the ’60s, after all — and this one came highly recommended, so I gave it a shot.

What it is, is the purported history of Marvel’s costumed heroes from the first appearance of the Human Torch in New York in the late 1930s, as seen from the perspective of Phil Sheldon, a news photographer who chases them around town, making a living with his camera, through apparently the ’70s, when Phil retires. His buddies at the beginning include Jonah Jameson, who eventually becomes Spiderman’s editor (so to speak), but Spidey never gets much time on-screen. None of the heroes do, actually. We only see them the way the average New Yorker does — bigger than life, often scary, and never to be trusted. In fact, these flying types flip from hero to villain and back again quicker than you can say “story arc.” And if you’re not already a longtime fan of basically all the Marvel series, very little of what happens will make much sense to you. Still, it’s an interesting take on the whole phenomenon.

But there’s one problem: The story just stops. There’s no resolution of the conflicts Bushiek has been developing through the whole book. We never find out about Phil’s own book. We don’t know whether Spiderman is ever cleared of murder. This thing was originally published in monthly installments, of course, but it feels as if the final year’s worth has been omitted. Busiek is usually pretty good, but all in all, this is not one of his better efforts.

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