This week, a new Marvel Comics series debuts that’s arguably the publisher’s most ambitious title ever. The Marvels will encompass the full Marvel Universe, with stories spanning the entirety of Marvel history. Does the debut issue of the new series show promise for the project?
We’ve got a review of The Marvels #1, plus a Rapid Rundown of other new Marvel releases, all ahead in this week’s installment of The Marvel Rundown!
The Marvels #1
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Yildiray Cinar
Color Artist: Richard Isanove
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover Artist: Alex Ross
Reviewed by Zoe Tunnell
Reading The Marvels #1, I could see the skeleton of a series I should love. Kurt Busiek taking the sweeping “anytime, anyplace” structure of his beloved Astro City series and blending it with the humanist perspective and heart of the iconic Marvels miniseries its title pays homage to sounds like a winning combination. However, in execution, the debut reads less as a love letter to Marvel’s history than a reshuffling of continuity minutiae, weighed down by a central focus on an inherently flawed and offensive concept.
The backbone of The Marvels is Siancong, the fictional nation that recently rose to prominence in the Marvel Universe following a retcon in the History of the Marvel Universe miniseries that reframed the country as the site of a war that spanned decades. The retcon (which has been thoroughly dissected elsewhere, including a fantastic piece at WWAC) created a new conflict for Marvel characters who previously fought in Vietnam, World War 2 or Desert Storm, and served to remove any timeline concerns continuity sticklers may have. For example, Flash Thompson is now a veteran of the Siancong war, rather than Vietnam. However, treating American wars as interchangeable and, specifically, taking a character out of Vietnam and placing him in a fictional tropical Asian nation that could easily pass as Vietnam, if not for helpful narration, is emblematic of the lack of care and nuance that utterly guts The Marvels.
The plot of the issue jumps across eras, ranging from the Golden Age of the Marvel Universe to the near future, but every jump is centered by a tie to Siancong. Whether it is spotlighting the Siancong native Lady Lotus (more on her later) or following The Punisher amid a shootout in New York’s Little Sin-Cong neighborhood, it is an inescapable aspect of the title, and one that taints just about any praiseworthy moments in the issue. For full context, I had previously spoken with Busiek about my concerns via Twitter and he requested I judge the book by its own merits and said his intention was to handle Siancong with respect. I am, admittedly, white as hell so I am only able to speak from my perspective, but having now read the issue, I can safely say that nothing about the story and its focus on Siancong is respectful.
Beyond the reinforcement of Siancong as a MU fixture, the series attempts to introduce a handful of new faces to the party, all designed by cover artist Alex Ross and drawn by series artist Yildiray Cinar. Among them are Kevin Schumer, a superhero tour guide using a defunct Fantasti-Car; Ace, a motorcycle riding mystery man; Threadneedle, a David Bowie-styled reality warper; and an unnamed heroine who makes a brief, silent, appearance in a splash page. Unfortunately, the new arrivals either don’t have enough page-time to make an impact or, in Kevin’s case, are just not particularly compelling.
Alongside these new faces is a very old face, the previously mentioned, and poorly named, Lady Lotus. A yellow peril villain from Marvel’s early years, Busiek has stated his intent with her role in the book is to elevate her beyond her origins. While her story is admittedly still early on, it is hard to see her as elevated when her appearances include being mistaken for a sex worker while hiding post-WW2, and sporting an incredibly stereotypical design in her modern appearance.
As a concept, The Marvels has potential. A book with a rotating cast, spotlighting every possible corner of the Marvel Universe in a time-spanning epic from the creator of Astro City is a hell of a pitch. But it is impossible to divorce the idea of what this series could be from what it actually is, and the reality is that the debut is irrevocably weighed down by the creative choice to focus on Siancong. If the series moves beyond this focus down the road then it could very well develop into a series I would like to read, but in its current form it is little more than a well-drawn feat of continuity organization at the cost of erasing the real-world legacies and scars found in Marvel’s characters.
Final Verdict: Skip.
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Miles Morales: Spider-Man #25
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Star Wars: Darth Vader #11
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Next week: Heroes Reborn!