Written by Steve Darnell, Sajan Saini, and Kurt Busiek
Art by Alex Ross, Frank Espinosa, Steve Rude, and Steven Legge
Lettering by Clayton Cowles, Steve Rude
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
It’s been thirty years since Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek released the ground-breaking Marvels #1, and this week, the pair return with a host of other contributors new(er) to the Marvel Universe ready to take on some of fans’ favorite heroes in this new anthology series. It may not be the most consistent in terms of storytelling and art, but in the end, there’s enough going on in this first issue to whet most readers’ appetites for more.
Steve Darnell and Alex Ross open the book with the framed narrative, which sees Nightmare informing the reader directly about the power he attained through his realm of dreams. It’s your typical villainous monologue, but what truly stands out are the haunting background from Ross, which appear like bluish-green clouds only to slowly form into the sleeping – yet also tortured – faces of giant men and women locked in sleep while tendrils of darkness issue forth from their mouths, noses, and eyes. It’s a scene that feels akin to The Matrix but perhaps even more disturbing. Clearly, Ross hasn’t lost his touch. And Nightmare hasn’t lost his hunger, as he then decides to take a “taste” from one of the dreamers, which leads us to the first story in this issue from Sajan Saini and Frank Espinosa – “Spider-Man: Make My Day.”
In terms of the story Saini and Espinosa tell, it’s the sort of slice-of-life that works incredibly well for Spider-Man as we see him trying to reconcile the real world costs of being a superhero – from out of control credit card bills thanks to expensive web ingredients to navigating the demands of social and romantic responsibilities. It’s the sort of story you’d expect from Spider-Man, and Saini and Espinosa do a fine job of creating tension between Peter and MJ to include the decision to fly solo or work for Tony Stark (and thus, alleviate any of the financial troubles he was experiencing).
The painted aesthetic Espinosa usesin this story has its ups and down. His skills as a painter are without questions, and there are some panels that one could easily linger on well after the dialogue is read. In particular, his knack for the still moments is particularly noteworthy in terms of being able to capture the emotion and frustration of Peter in his arguments with MJ.
On the other hand, the action scenes are a little challenging to make sense of. Espinosa has less of a clean cut style, and instead, feels a bit more abstracted; as a result, his depictions of Rhino make it difficult to make much sense of. Of course, it’s important to keep in mind this is a dream sequence, so abstraction isn’t necessarily something worth penalizing; however, it does seem Rhino is the only humanoid character who looks more like a whirling dervish and less like an oversized, rhino suit-wearing human. And there were a few times when it was a little challenging to connect the dialogue to what was happening in that panel. Still, it’s a good story, and it has enough heart to make up for any inconsistencies.
“The Boy and the Brute” is the next story, which comes from Kurt Busiek and Steve “The Dude” Rude along with Steven Legge on colors. Although this anthology aims to bring in some creators new(er) to the Marvel Universe, it’s clear from the word “go” that this team is anything but new, and is in fact, steeped in a love for classic Silver Age Marvel superheroes. The Dude adopts a style that is both uniquely his own while still employing the classic Jack Kirby aesthetic for the Avengers used in the first year of their run from the Mark III armor for Iron Man to the original red suit for Giant Man. Likewise, Busiek expertly channels Stan Lee with his exposition, as seen in Thor’s slightly patronizing and formalized tone to the brooding and melancholic Hulk.
While the story itself doesn’t add anything new to continuity nor does it push the envelope in terms of offering readers something new and thought-provoking, it does do one thing that most readers will appreciate: It brings you back to yesteryear when we didn’t need continuity-laden stories about our heroes, and a simple standalone story was more than enough to satisfy. Make no mistake: Busiek and The Dude aim to bring readers back to the best of the 1960s, and in this regard, they hit a home run.
Like any framed narrative, Ross and Darnell offer readers a little taste of what’s to come with the small reveal from Nightmare as to the catalyst for his increased control over the world of dreams. Ultimately, however, this isn’t what will bring readers back – though some might argue the promise of more Alex Ross is sufficient. Instead, Marvel offers readers an opportunity to enjoy some “no strings attached” stories about the heroes they love, and given the strength of this first issue, it is likely the follow up will be well-worth reading, too.