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Cover of Marvels 1. Art by Alex Ross.
|Publication date||January – April 1994|
|Number of issues||4 + #0|
|10th Anniversary Edition||ISBN 0-7851-1388-6|
Set from 1939 to 1974; the series examines the Marvel Universe, the collective setting of most of Marvel's superhero series, from the perspective of an Everyman character: news photographer Phil Sheldon. The street-level series portrayed ordinary life in a world full of costumed supermen, with each issue featuring events well known to readers of Marvel comics as well as a variety of minute details and retelling the most famous events in the Marvel universe.
Marvels was a success, winning multiple awards and 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.
In the German edition of Marvels, Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek revealed that the whole concept was originally intended only as a collection of classic Marvel Comics stories, seen from the point of view of ordinary people. But as the project grew, the two creators felt that the social issues underlying the retold stories were too relevant to ignore.
According to Ross and Busiek, Marvels #1 dealt with scientific progress while the Human Torch and Namor fight, Marvels #2 showcased the fear of the unknown with the X-Men, and Marvels #3, featuring Galactus, was about powerlessness. The creators did not state the underlying theme of Marvels #4.
When the series was completed, a fifth "issue 0" was printed, which included Alex Ross art and sketches and a reprinted Human Torch story from Marvel Fanfare, featuring the Golden Age version's thoughts during his creation.
The story begins in early 1939 with the origin of the Original Human Torch (Marvel Comics #1) from his point of view. After the android is created by scientist Phineas Horton, his project is considered a success until the android catches on fire when air is projected into its glass chamber, only to go out when the air is gone. Horton shows his creation to the public, only to be demanded by the terrified civilians to destroy it, so he decides to bury it. Learning all there is to know about humanity, the android describes it as "aware of everything, understanding nothing", when he thinks of his "father" Horton and the people who saw the Torch for what he was. A crack in the chamber gives the android freedom as he is again engulfed in flames, and escapes. As he tells us, the Human Torch describes his appearance as the beginning of a "golden age".
At the same time as this, young Phil Sheldon, complete with photography career ambitions, and young J. Jonah Jameson are shocked by these "Marvels", but Sheldon is more confused by the weight of the spectacle and worry, reaches toward his love and fiancée, Doris Jacquet. More costumed avengers begin to appear all over with Namor the Sub-Mariner (Marvel Mystery Comics #4), and his early fights with the Human Torch. This is enough for Sheldon to decide that it would be irresponsible for him to raise children in a world where these Marvels run rampant, and thus he breaks his engagement with Doris. It is only when Captain America is unveiled to the world (Captain America #1) that Sheldon begins to become less pensive about the Marvels. When World War II begins, and Namor and the Human Torch join Captain America and the Allied Forces as seen from a news reel that Sheldon, Doris, and many others see, they all applaud and all of their fears are eased. After rekindling his romance with Doris, Sheldon hears that the Human Torch and Namor are fighting again (Human Torch #5), but the battle this time damages New York City's landmarks from the flooding. During the fight, they approach but do not catch Sheldon, and he is knocked out by a small chunk of masonry and permanently loses the ability to see out of his left eye. Still, he has lost all fears of the Marvels and goes on to marry Doris. Later, he is in Europe where, as a war correspondent, reports on the Allied Forces and the Marvels as they go against the Nazis.
Much later, in the mid 1960s, Sheldon is now a husband and father of two; Beth and Jennie, and is preparing to write a book called "Marvels". At this point, New York now has two superhero teams, the Fantastic Four and The Avengers. With recent news of the return of Captain America a hero from his youth, he is excited. But not all is pleasant with the growing fear over the knowledge of the mutants, human beings who are born with superpowers and the so-called "next stage of human evolution", more importantly the mutant team known as The X-Men. He joins a mob and comes face to face with the original incarnation of the X-Men, who the leader, Cyclops, says "they're not worth it" toward a rageful Iceman as they escape. Not knowing what he meant, the words stay on Sheldon's mind. On the bright side; the Marvels are treated as celebrities, as seen by Sheldon at the gala opening of Alicia Masters' sculptures, in which some are of Marvels, and gossip spreads over the upcoming marriage between Reed Richards and Sue Storm. However, Sheldon runs home hearing an anti-mutant mob in the area and finds that his daughters are hiding their friend: a mutant girl with a skull-like head. Sheldon sees the importance of hiding this girl, but is worried for the sake of his family. Following the wedding of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl, Sentinels are unleashed during a television debate with Professor Xavier but instead malfunction and begin rampaging throughout the city. A mob forms, attacking and destroying everything in sight, with only Sheldon helping the injured. The newly repaired Sentinels stop the mob, but Sheldon runs home to find that the mutant girl is gone. Though Sheldon does not know if she will be alright, he prays for her safety.
As the 1960s continue, Sheldon is preoccupied with his work, to the detriment of his family. But after the news from the Avengers being declared menaces, the law going after Tony Stark, Spider-Man sightings, and possible comings of Judgement Day; the Silver Surfer appears to the world, and defeats the Fantastic Four. This leads to the appearance of a greater threat who plans to consume Earth: Galactus. With the city in panic, Sheldon believes in his heart that Earth will end and goes home, to spend time with his family. Suddenly, news comes that the Fantastic Four have managed to defeat Galactus, thus saving the Earth. In the wake of the Fantastic Four's victory, Sheldon promises that he will spend more time with his family. However, he is later disgusted by the way the public has turned on their heroes, with one newspaper claiming that the Galactus threat was a hoax. He finally rages at a crowd carrying on an anti-mutant conversation.
Finally in the 1970s, Sheldon releases his book "Marvels", an instant best-seller. He is still dismayed at the public's reaction to the Marvels, and is particularly disgusted by J. Jonah Jameson laying into Spider-Man, who has been framed for the death of NYPD Captain George Stacy. He resolves to investigate the murder, and clear Spider-Man's name. Whilst talking to a witness with Luke Cage, he learns that not only do the police not suspect Spider-Man for Stacy's death, but that they suspect Doctor Octopus. It is revealed that Spider-Man is being blamed due to Jameson, who reveals the true reason why people hate the Marvels: a mixture of jealousy and insecurity, the belief that humans cannot compete with the selfless heroism and nobility of the Marvels. It is also by befriending Gwen Stacy, Captain Stacy's daughter, that he learns from her, during a brief Atlantean invasion of Manhattan led by Namor, that the Marvels exist to help the innocent, beyond petty human jealousies and spite. This revelation leads to Spider-Man being cleared, but not soon after Gwen is kidnapped by the Green Goblin, and during the chase that leads to the Brooklyn Bridge, where the fight leads to the death of Gwen after the Goblin pushed her over it, despite (or because) of Spider-Man's attempt to save her. The police forensic report reveals that Gwen died from the shock of the fall. Sheldon's faith in the Marvels has been irreparably shattered, as Sheldon cannot reconcile Spider-Man's failure to save Gwen with what he sees as the hero's purpose in life. In the end, he decides that he has had enough, and plans to retire. Before he can hang up his camera, a final photo is taken of Phil, his wife, and a "nice, normal boy". Unbeknownst to him, the boy is Danny Ketch, who will eventually becomes the demonic hero Ghost Rider.
In 1995, Marvels was compiled into a trade paperback that featured the Human Torch short story (2003 re-release ISBN 0-7851-0049-0). For the tenth anniversary in 2004 Marvel released a 400-page hardcover (ISBN 0-7851-1388-6). In 2008 the original was reprinted as a hardcover (ISBN 0-7851-2784-4) and softcover volume (by Panini Comics, ISBN 1-905239-97-1) and in 2012 as issue 15 of The Official Marvel Graphic Novel Collection as number 13.
Marvel later published similar limited series under the "Marvels" header, with other writers and painters, though none of these titles were as successful as the original.
In 1995, Marvel released the darker Ruins by writer Warren Ellis and painters Cliff and Terese Nielsen, was a two-issue parallel world series in which Sheldon explored a Marvel Universe that had gone terribly wrong.
In 2008, the long promised direct sequel, Marvels: Eye of the Camera, a 6-part limited series, began. It returns to Sheldon's perspective, after his retirement. Alex Ross did not return for this sequel, however Kurt Busiek returned as writer with Roger Stern as co-writer for issues 3-6, with artwork by Jay Anacleto.
Ross also did the artwork for the DC Comics mini-series Kingdom Come. Phil Sheldon makes a cameo at the superhero press conference held at the UN building in Kingdom Come #2. He also makes an appearance in the last page of the epilogue in the Kingdom Come trade paperback. He is seated next to the Spectre in his civilian guise of Jim Corrigan and Norman McCay.
Phil Sheldon is mentioned in Peter's first scene in the Daily Bugle in Spider-Man: Blue. J. Jonah Jameson requests Sheldon cover the photo op of Harry Osborn in the hospital. He is reminded that "Phil is covering the Tony Stark trial".
In other media
- Phil Sheldon makes a cameo appearance on The Super Hero Squad Show episode "This Al Dente Earth!" voiced by Charlie Adler. He takes a picture of Iron Man, Silver Surfer, and Galactus after Silver Surfer convinces Galactus not to devour the Earth.
- 1994 Will Eisner Comic Industry Award Nominees and Winners, the Comic Book Awards Almanac