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| 5.7.03
Marvels, by Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross

I was in the public library a few weeks ago, looking at the collection of graphic novels touted in the lobby when I ran across Marvels. I had just been conversing with a friend about the difference between the Marvel universe versus DC universe, and how the Marvel universe --while just as populated with superheroes as the DC universe-- seemed to approach its characters from more of a human interest angle. Marvels represents the epitome of this approach.

Narrated entirely from the point of view of photo-journalist Phil Sheldon, Marvels traces the history of the Marvel universe's New York City from roughly 1900 to the present. The Great Depression, World War One and World War Two in this version are punctuated by the appearance of "the Marvels," Sheldon's term for the Marvel superheroes, supervillians, and X-men. Practically every Marvel hero from greats like the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man to lesser known Marvels like the Silver Surfer make an appearance. A major section is devoted to mutants and the X-men --with the issue of mutant rights and mob violence against those who are different a minor but poignant theme.

If you've ever wondered what it would be like --as an ordinary person-- to live in a world populated by mutants and super-beings, this book will speak to you. I felt that Kurt Busiek's story and Alex Ross' realistic drawings accurately captured the fear, ambivalence and apathy that an ordinary person would feel living in a city where super-forces beyond one's control regularly wreaked havoc and did damage to people and surroundings. Phil Sheldon experiences all of these emotions firsthand as he sees his career and his family's destiny intertwined with the Marvels. Watching Captain America fight for the US in World War Two sparks his pride; witnessing Silver Surfer and Galactus threaten to destroy Earth highlights his helplessness. Guiltily participating in a riot against mutants underscores his fear; later hiding a mutant child from rioters in his basement displays his ambivalence.

While I thought it was a wise choice to invent a new character through which to see the wide scope of human emotion played out against the field of super-humanity, it was also a stroke of genius to use J. Jonah Jameson's classic hatred for Spider-Man as a lens through which to see insecurity with super-power. In Marvels, as in the original Spider-Man comics, Jameson hates Spider-Man because if Spider-Man really is a hero, then no ordinary person can hope to compete with his heroics. Ordinary people and ordinary heroism are rendered meaningless if Spider-Man will always swing in to save the day. Therefore Jameson has convinced himself that Spider-Man is evil in order to leave some room for the goodness of ordinary people.

As I turned these pages and participated in all the conflicting feelings the characters had toward their super-heroes, I couldn't help but be reminded of theological issues. On many levels I feel that the Marvels are stand-ins for God, and the love-hate relationships that characters have with their heroes in comic books mirror the way people in the real world struggle with their image of God. What can we expect from God? What does God expect from us? If God would swoop in and save us from ourselves, what does that do to human responsibility? After finishing Marvels, my eyes were opened to the intricate dance that is the interplay between humanity and That Which Is Greater Than Us.

PUBLISHER: Marvel Books; (January 2003); ISBN: 0785100490

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