History of a Universe

The Marvels Project #3
By Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting
with colors by Dave Stewart
Published by Marvel Comics

The next installment of The Marvels Project goes deeper into the history of the Marvel Universe proper. It’s a story we’ve seen unfold many times but none ever like this. Listening to a recent episode of Word Balloon by John Siuntres featuring Brian Michael Bendis, the two talked about comic book origins. Before this thing we call the internet and modern day comic books shops with their distribution, comic companies would retell origins on all levels every couple of years for new readers. Modern day readers seem to have some sort of problem with this but I think they forget their own origins sometimes. It’s a good thing Ed and Steve are there to remind them.

We start off in the summer of 1940 in New York City, because that’s where all Marvel stories originate from (mostly), at the offices of a private detective. This one is called The Ferret. A woman’s mother is missing and The Ferret (we never do get his real name) is on the case. We also get another very brief look into our revealed traitor from last issue but from there we’re thrown across the pond.

In what is probably one of the coolest panels of the comic we see Nick Fury dropping in by parachute at a secret air base just outside of London. His off-the-record save of Erskine (the man who would create Captain America and soon) can’t be reported but didn’t go unnoticed. Erskine is giving up German bases and Fury, along with Red and the Sky Devils, are going to go in and destroy some hidden Nazi fortresses. I couldn’t help crack a smile. I’m told these comics, those set in the 1940s, don’t sell well, but everything good and classic about comic books are right in these pages. I can only hope my own Sergeant Zero can one day live up to this standard.

Back to New York City we see The Human Torch, Jim Hammond, in his new role on the side of good. Or at least making up for the bad he’s done since his creation. He’s Officer Hammond now. The super cop that doesn’t use his powers (and apparently never sleeps) in his fight against the evil of New York City. Gangsters and everyone on the side of evil gets their due as he makes the rest of the force look bad. They make him take a day off but he’s unsure what exactly he should do. His captain tells him to do what any other normal person would do: go to Coney Island.

With this issue we start to see more and more the dark underbelly of the city, be it the people or the places. One of these places is the dockyard where the Angel is now covering the beat of a recently murdered superhero, The Phantom Bullet. What he uncovers, however, is something more sinister. It seems that certain ships are sneaking in people that shouldn’t be in the United States. Some of them may even be Nazi spies, which is never said, but I can only assume it’s where our traitor came in through. Could be that it’s something worse.

We’re given some insight of the mind of Namor. All he’s ever seen of the human race is violence and destruction. Atlantis has been decimated, its people murdered, and upon further inspection of the people of New York, Namor can only become more enraged. He sees them as all the same, and not from separate countries with different ideals. The people of Coney Island’s amusement park are smiling and having fun. But Namor won’t have any of that. They must pay.

If you’re not familiar with Steve Epting’s work, you would only have to look at his pages of Coney Island to see why he’ll end up a comic legend. I may be dating myself here but it’s right up there with the work of John Buscema. Steve is historically accurate, sure, but with that authenticity comes dynamic layouts that thrust you into the middle of the action. We’re high atop the Cyclone roller coaster, literally sitting in a seat, in complete fear as this monster tears apart the tracks. We’re going to be thrown off to our deaths and nothing can help us. But this is New York City, 1940, in the heart of the Marvel Universe, and we’re shown why that is something to behold.

One of the all-time greatest battles in comic books is the one between the original Human Torch and Namor. We get that in its full glory here. Again the dynamics of the panels and layout from Steve take hold of the reader, as Dave Stewart keeps us there with his stunning color. The battle above the amusement park never looked so good, or so real. In the end Namor is thrown back into the ocean to lick his wounds and the Torch becomes a hero.

The issue ends on a series of little events that will shape up later issues. We see first glimpses of the giant robot Electro. The bases that Erskine experimented on the Atlantans is being bombed by the Red Devils. But one of the experiments gets out. He’s still alive somehow.

Of course the last panel is one of the reasons for many people reading this series. We see Professor Erskine in his American laboratory mixing chemicals and running experiments while a tesla coil charges in the background.

This is a comic filled with the hearts of its creators. It’s also where my heart is creatively on many levels. These are the kinds of comics I wish I could read every month and, for at least 5 more, I can.


Anthony Schiavino can be found talking comics, movies, television and all things pulp at his website PulpTone.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

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