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COMICS REVIEW The Marvels Project

Timely reminder of Marvel's Big Bang...

Marvel • $3.99 • OUT NOW!

Writer: Ed Brubaker

Artist: Steve Epting

The secret origin is integral to the superhero myth: bullet-riddled parents, exploding planets, pesky radioactive bugs. But can a comic universe itself have a secret origin, a mythic big bang that echoes in everything that follows?

Enter Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting, bringing us the four-colour equivalent of the Hubble telescope, fixed on the distant birth of the Marvel universe. The centrepiece of the House of Ideas’ 70th anniversary celebrations, it’s an ambitious eight-part epic intent on uniting the Golden Age pantheon of heroes and charting their impact on the decades of adventures that followed.

Sure, there’s a superficial resemblance to Marvels, Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ acclaimed 1993 mini-series that explored similar pre-war turf in its first issue. But where Marvels unfolded its tale through the eyes of everyman photographer Phil Sheldon, The Marvels Project opts for the insider perspective. Brubaker’s run on Captain America oozes espionage and there’s a spy thriller vibe here, too, mapping the superhuman arms race between America and Nazi Germany. It’s a shadowy, paranoid realm of black ops, clandestine science experiments and jittery transatlantic chatter.

Issue one is a tantalising, effective opener. We witness the dying days of Western gunslinger the Two-Gun Kid, whose recent time-hopping in Marvel continuity has left him with visions of a strange, thrilling future, an age of “gods and monsters and heroes with shields and armour.” It’s a smart metaphor for the pulp fantasies that helped drag America’s psyche out of the Depression. Elsewhere, flame-licked android The Human Torch is revealed to a rightfully wary public and the Sub-Mariner vows vengeance on the world of surface dwellers.

Brubaker cleverly shades these familiar, 70 year old narratives, resisting nostalgia in favour of contemporary twists. The Torch’s unveiling is exposed as a carefully orchestrated piece of government propaganda, psychological warefare to destabilise the Nazis. And the Sub-Mariner finally has a compelling motive for his longstanding hatred of the human race: the Nazis are trawling the seas for their fiendish ends, harvesting the bodies of Atlanteans (one of the book’s most haunting images).

Epting’s art is gorgeous, photorealistic and yet capable of comic book operatics: check out the Sub-Mariner riding the crest of a tidal wave like an angry god. And a word for Dave Stewart’s sympathetic colours, bathing the tale in rich, warm shadows. You can almost taste his New York.

A brilliantly promising, start, then. And we still haven’t met Captain America…

Nick Setchfield

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