From Academic Kids

Marvels is an acclaimed, four-issue comic book mini-series, written by Kurt Busiek, painted by Alex Ross and published by Marvel Comics in 1994. The series examines the Marvel Universe, the collective setting of almost all of Marvel’s superhero comic books, from the perspective of an everyman Phil Sheldon, a news photographer. The series attempted to portray everyday life in a world full of costumed supermen. Each issue featured events already well-known to readers of Marvel comics as well as a variety of minute details that occurred in the Marvel Universe:

Marvels was an extraordinary success, launching the significant careers of Busiek and Ross, who would both return to the "everyday life in a superhero universe" theme in the Homage Comics series Astro City. Marvels has been reprinted as a graphic novel, which was remained in print for the past ten years. The graphic novel featured a Marvels #0 which is told from the perspective of the Human Torch, describing his creation by the great scientist Phineas Thomas Horton. Marvel has also published other similiarly-themed mini-series under the "Marvels" header, with other writers and painters but none have been as successful as the original.

In 1995, Marvel released a dark parody of sorts. Ruins by writer Warren Ellis and painters Cliff and Terese Nielsen, was an two-issue parallel world series in which Sheldon explored a Marvel Universe which had gone terribly wrong.


Marvels #1

In Marvels #1, taking place in the early 1940s, Sheldon witnessed the arrival of the first superheroes, the Original Human Torch, the Namor the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America and their involvement in the Allied forces during World War II. It opens with Sheldon describing his photography career ambitions to J. Jonah Jameson and then running off to witness the public unveiling of the Human Torch (Marvel Comics #1). He reacts, along with the other spectators, in shock and eventual horror when the scientist Phineas Thomas Horton reveals the Human Torch's inhuman ability to generate fire.

The reporters urge Horton to destroy his creation, which is eventually buried underground for safe keeping. But the spectacle weighs upon the young Sheldon who is worried for the sake of his love and fiancée, Doris Jacquet. After the appearance of the Sub-Mariner (Marvel Mystery Comics #4), and his early battles with the Human Torch, Sheldon decides it would be irresponsible of him to raise children in a world where these Marvels run rampant. He breaks his engagement with Dorris but continues to run into her around New York City.

When Captain America is unveiled to the world (Captain America #1), Sheldon begins to become less pensive about the Marvels. World War II then becomes the focus of Sheldon's world and he dreams of being a war photographer. When the Human Torch and Namor join the Allied forces against the Nazi's, Sheldon fears are eased enough to listen to his heart and rekindle his romance with Dorris. The climax of issue #1 occurs during an enormous battle between the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner (originally chronicled in Human Torch #5, published in 1941).

Namor had decided to declare war on the human race and was moderately successful until the Human Torch intervened. The Torch and Namor proceeded to beat each other all over famous New York landmarks until Namor uses super-turbines attached to whales to generate a huge wave that washes over the entire city. Sheldon manages to climb to the top a skyscraper and photograph the wave pushing its way over the Brooklyn Bridge and much of New York (in some of the most amazing artwork ever seen in comic books).

As the Torch and Namor's battle approaches Sheldon, he is knocked out by a small chunk of masonry and permanently loses the ability to see in one of his eyes. At the end of the issue, Sheldon is recuperating in the hospital and decides that he is so awe-inspired by the Marvels that he loses all his fears about their existence. He marries Dorris and is sent to Europe as a war correspondent.

Marvels #2

In Marvels #2, taking place in the mid 1960s, Sheldon, now a husband and father, grows worried about the arrival of mutants such as the X-Men, human beings born with superpowers. At this time New York city has become populated with all sorts of superhero teams, including the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. Sheldon's work for The Daily Bugle takes him to many key battles, including the Avengers battling the Masters of Evil (Avengers #6). With his pictures of the superheroes, Sheldon plans to write a book about the Marvels.

Early on, Sheldon becomes swept up in anti-mutant hysteria that plagues New York. He has a run in with the first incarnation of the X-Men in which he throws a brick at Iceman and calls names after the mutants alongside a crowd of racist New Yorkers. This issue also shows for the first time the celebrity attached to being a superhero in New York. Sheldon attends a gala opening of Alicia Master's sculptures which is also attended by Mr. Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Human Torch (Johnny Storm), the Thing, Tony Stark, Matt Murdock, Professor Xavier, Scott Summers, and Jean Grey.

The first few of that list are swamped by reporters looking to write a gossip column. The brightness of this event is contrasted with what Sheldon feels is the dark side of the Marvels, the mutants. Things continue on as normal until Sheldon returns one day to his suburban home and finds his neighbors forming a mob to hunt down a mutant they suspected was in the area. Sheldon runs to his house and finds that his two daughters had been hiding a small mutant girl with a head like an alien skull.

He quickly realizes the importance of this girl, imagining his friends and neighbors tearing his house and his family apart to get at the girl and decides to help hide her. But Sheldon continues to worry for the sake of his family as anti-mutant tensions mount in New York.

The wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl begins the climax of this issue and is a huge event, attended by hundreds of celebrities (including the Beatles). Unfortunately that night, while the town is celebrating, Dr. Bolivar Trask unveils his solution to the mutant problem during a televised debate with Professor Xavier; giant robots known as Sentinels that are programmed to hunt down and kill mutants. When the Sentinels turn on their master and begin a rampage on the town, the city explodes in violence. Raging mobs roam the streets searching out mutants to kill and wreaking havoc on the city.

While the night erupts in violence, Sheldon takes out his camera to record this event and let people see what their hatred brings them. When the Sentinels pass over the violent mobs, the scanning lights serves to make people aware of their actions and they dissipate. Sheldon returns home and finds that the young mutant girl has left on her own again. His daughter, Jenny, approaches him late in the night for comfort as to the safety of the young girl. He hugs Jenny and says he doesn't know if she's alright but that he hopes she will be. (However, one hint to the girl's fate may be the cover painting. which shows her being carried -- to safety? -- by Angel of the X-Men.)

Marvels #3

In Marvels #3, taking place in the late 1960s, Sheldon and other ordinary people brace for the end of the world is at hand when the alien being Galactus arrives in New York City. Silver Surfer appears as Galactus's herald.

Marvels #4

In Marvels #4, taking place in the early 1970s, Sheldon investigates the death of an NYPD captain, blamed on Spider-Man, and befriends the captain’s daughter Gwen Stacy who is later murdered by Spider-Man's archenemy, the Green Goblin.


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