Friday, August 26, 2011

Good Reads :: All of That and Secret Wars II :: MARVELS Eye of the Camera.

"My name is Phil Sheldon. I'm a news photographer by trade, and I thought I'd seen it all. Wars. Heroes. All the heights and depths this sorry world is capable of. I'm known for taking pictures of the Marvels ... the super-humans around us, from the Avengers and Spider-Man to the armies of Atlantis and the Incredible Hulk. And I've seen people celebrate the Marvels, be scared of them, dismiss them as nothing special, or claim they're the end of the world. But now ... it's like things have gone sour, like we can't tell the good guys from the bad anymore..."

To show you how slowly things tend to coagulate into some form of coherency around these parts, when it was announced that Disney had purchased Marvel Comics back in -- hell, I can't even remember, but it was a while ago, the first thing that popped into my head and rattled around that cavernous echo chamber was a thought of how freakin' cool it would be if Brad Bird and PIXAR adapted Kurt Busiek's and Alex Ross's MARVELS with the look, production design and overall aesthetics of The Incredibles. Noodle that for bit, True Believers. Yeah. Wow.

For those unaware, MARVELS was a four-issue limited series that gave readers a historical everyman's view -- here, in the form of photo-journalist, Phil Sheldon -- of the birth of the Marvel Comics universe, from the exploits of the original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner to Captain America's entry into World War II, and gave us a ringside seat for the birth of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the X-Men, and earth-shaking events like the Sentinels gone sentient, the first coming of Galactus, and the Kree-Skrull War, culminating with the events surrounding the tragic death of Gwen Stacey. The painted, photo-quality art was beautiful, and the ambitious scope of the story was like a shot of adrenaline for continuity junkies like myself.

So, getting back to the Marvel-Disney merger, the second thought that entered my mind was that I really needed to track down the book's sequel, MARVELS Eye of the Camera, and give it a whirl. And that's about as far as it got -- until now, finally, I managed to get my hands on a copy and am happy to report it was worth the wait. Busiek returns as writer with an assist by long time Marvel scribe, Roger Stern. Taking over the art chores, Jay Anacleto does, I think, more than an admirable job of filling Ross's shoes. His style isn't quite as fluid but has a more defined line that separates the characters from the background a little more.

Together, after a brief preamble about the Silver Age of heroes (-- a lot of it coming from some aborted plots from the original book), Eye of the Camera picks up with a jaded and terminally ill Sheldon trying to come to grips with his life and career in the age of anti-heroes like the Punisher, Ghost Rider and the outlaw X-Men, and earth-shattering events like the Secret Wars and the Fall of the Mutants. (My god, I'm getting old if stuff I read firsthand is now featured nostalgically like this. Yeesh.) Yeah, even Secret Wars II gets some major play, here. I never thought it would be possible but the, what, four of five pages dealing with the Beyonder and the aftermath of his death in Eye of the Camera have more impact than all nine issues of that piece of shit mini-series combined. Color me baffled. And even though it reduces the gut-wrenching impact of the conclusion of one of the arcs of the first series, it did my heart, at least, a lot of good to see Maggie the mutant alive and well to fill the role of Clarence the Angel for our lost and forlorn protagonist.

See. The thing is, you gotta think of this whole series like a Ray Harryhausen movie. We've come to see the animated monsters (the Marvels), sure, they're the selling point, but its the story of Jason or Sinbad or Phil Sheldon that glues it all together. And in the end, Sheldon realizes this, too, as his real life's work is not his photography but his family and extended family and friends. A pat George Bailey end that reeks of Capra-corn to the more jaded and cynical among us but, eh, I can dig it.

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