I cannot really remember how I came across this one. If I had to guess I would say that it popped up on my Amazon account somewhere and naturally I clicked on it. This is not one of the books that I had heard a ton of people talk about nor had I ever heard of it. Lucky for me I was able to find this one at my used book store so there was no way I could pass it up, besides Alex Ross was the artist so I was sold immediately.
Kurt Busiek is quite the accomplished comic writer. He has written for all the top publisher and on just about every title imaginable. This is the second of his books that I have read, the other being Astro City. Surprisingly these two titles are the ones he is most known for(Marvels and Astro City). He has won a few different awards for his work including a Harvey Award, Eisner Award, and a Comic Buyer’s Guide Award for his work on Marvels and Astro City. Busiek is quickly becoming one of my favorite comic writers because his books are more sophisticated and have a lot more depth to them while still dealing with the genre of superheroes. That is not an easy task to do.
The plot in this one is quite different, if follows a reporter named Phil Sheldon as he documents and reports on all the new superheroes showing up around New York City. He is majorly conflicted on how to fell about them, and calls them Marvels, as they are truly a wonder to behold. Throughout the story we see how Sheldon interacts with this strange new world and tries to be impartial and free of opinion, but as with most things that is near impossible. The story is a retelling of the golden era of Marvel comics events through the eyes of a Sheldon and his fellow reporters and citizens.
The main character in this one surprisingly is not a superhero. If fact it is just a normal every day person, the kind that is so often overlooked in the superhero world. I love this idea and thought it was first done inAstro City, but Busiek first got the idea and wrote this story. I love the concept, and to me makes the idea of superheroes more real. How do every day citizens deal and live in this world, this story explores that idea and does an excellent job. Did I already mention I love this idea, it is not new, but certainly puts a whole new aspect and a different insight into the superhero world that is shown so very little. The realness often gets lost in these worlds but it only takes a book like this to put it right back in. This is certainly a wonderful story that brings so many new and fascinating ideas back to the Marvel universe.This story makes the Marevel Universe real and adds so much more feeling, by that I mean, it brings something much deeper to the surface. The ordinary citizens are scared of the world they live in and this story shows the fear, excitement, joy, and so many other emotions that they experience in their day to day lives.
Speaking of emotions I love the main character and his emotional journey through the story. The reader gets to see how he develops and deals with things that are most certainly out of his control, much less that he can explain. Watching him struggle with what is going on around him is really interesting. It is also neat to watch him grow and stand up to what is wrong knowing the consequences. This is the most interesting thing in the story, watching this character grow and figure out this world that is seemingly new and alien to him. Imagine what it would feel like to know that there are super people both good and bad that could pretty much do whatever they want, all sense of security would be lost. If you think as a society we are paranoid now, I do not want to live in the superhero world, it would be madness. I would think most people would feel vulnerable and that is certainly what the main character is feeling. Watching him grow and confront this fear is very cool and I think makes this book so much more interesting than what is on the surface level.
There is something deeper in this one, something that I think will take me some time to truly reflect on the story as a whole. Phil is a very interesting character, one that is very unusual in the superhero universe. He seems to understand the whole idea of the superhero, not necessarily love or hate them just appreciate them in a very surreal way that most people in that same universe never seem to think about. Basically he gets is, and is struggling with how to explain it to anyone else. I am still trying to piece together the emotions and thoughts that Phil portrays in the story and I don’t know I will be finished any time soon, if ever. On the surface this book is good and just reading it at face value you will enjoy it and think, what a neat story, but if, just for a second, you stop and internalize what Phil is saying and thinking t about his world, there is something so much deeper that he is trying to explain. The cool thing is that he does it without saying directly what he is feeling, only when you read the book will you understand. It is near impossible to put into words, at least right now. He talks about his many emotions but does not say directly what he means, rather paints an outline of his emotions and the reader is able to put in the fine detail and understand what his emotional state is building.
Phil is also the first character that I have seen in a roundabout way question his environment, now I am not saying he broke the 4th wall, but he seems to understand how special and bizarre the world he lives in is. This is very interesting and the normalcy that the character displays is great. By that I mean that I totally relate to Phil and I think most readers would, so Busiek did an excellent job of portraying the character and making him real, almost too real. I also liked how the superheroes are kind of like the background of the story, and now that I think about it there are two sort of plot lines going on at the same time. The superheroes are obviously one, but then there is also Phil’s that shows how he is struggling to understand what the superhero is and why they are so loved and hated at the same time.
I also loved a particular scene in the story where Phil and J.J. Jameson are talking about the Marvels. As you know Jameson is not very fond of Spiderman, but in this one scene Sheldon corners Jameson and asks him a few questions. Jameson’s’ answers were quite surprising and interesting. I never thought much about Jameson’s character but this story and this one particular scene really puts a whole new light on him for me. I love the way Busiek develops so many different characters throughout the story.
I usually talk about the artwork, but there is too much to discuss about the artwork in this one so I am putting that in a separate post. The amount of time and detail that went into that process warrants its own post. Alex Ross is truly an extraordinary talent, and I will explain more in my follow up post.
The more I think about this one I love it. Honestly I think this book is better thanWatchmen, yeah I said it! Although I will say Dr. Manhattan is one of my favorite comic characters of all time, I can now throw Phil Sheldon up there as well. This is just such a great deep story that you do not often get when superheroes are involved. This one is different, but what makes it different is the underlying complexity of the character and his view of the world, that is what is so fascinating. I loved this book and I cannot believe no one else is talking about it. It is a bit older so that could have something to do with it, but that just means it is now a classic. I also wanted to say that the ending is great and yet reveals another level that gets peeled back from the complexity that is Phil Sheldon. The more this book sits in the gray matter between my ears it is becoming one of my all-time favorites. I highly highly recommend this one, to my I feel that it Marvel’s magnum opus as Watchmen is to DC. You have got to check this one out, truly a remarkable well thought out read.