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Marvels Project #5

Posted: Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By: Paul Brian McCoy

Ed Brubaker
Steve Epting, Dave Stewart (colors)
Marvel Comics
Editor's Note: Marvels Project #5 arrives in stores tomorrow, January 13.

I understand that we have to see the origin of Captain America again, as it's central to the story that Brubaker and Epting are telling here, but I can't be the only one who's just tired of seeing it, am I? I do appreciate that we're at least getting it in flashback this time, which is a bit of a surprise after last issue's conclusion (as the experiment was about to begin), but I'm just glad it's over with, really.

With that little quibble out of the way, I find the rest of the book to be very nicely put together. I like the way Brubaker spreads the narrative focus around, not only to the heroes who are starting to come out of the woodwork, but also to the spies and scientists on both sides of the war. Well, America's not at war yet, but you know what I mean.

Another real strength of Brubaker's writing here, and through the whole mini so far, is the focus on individuals both powered and non-powered taking it upon themselves to step up and take a stand against crime. By paralleling the rise of masked vigilantes in the Marvel Universe with the rise of anti-American interests, specifically the Nazis, Brubaker is essentially building the emotional and moral arguments that were never clearly expressed by lesser writers during Civil War. We are beginning to see why Cap wouldn't be Pro-Registration. We're beginning to see a clear line of reasoning where Cap sees costumed heroes being needed as a set of checks and balances with government operatives. Of seeing the masks as symbols of something larger than intended, both for the heroes and for a villain like The Red Skull.

That seems to be the unstated intention of this series, alongside creating a definitive history of the beginnings of the modern Marvel Universe. These people, powered or not, are the Marvels of the title. They're not just costumed vigilantes. And somehow, during the whole Civil War and since, no one's been able to clearly get this idea across as clearly as Brubaker does here. The conflict of Civil War should have been more easily identifiable as a conflict between Idealism, Cynicism, and the definition of Heroism.

The Marvels Project is a book that develops the structures and themes of the Marvel Universe in such a way as to create a field against which everything else can be re-evaluated and re-interpreted. This is a book that makes Marvel better. It's a reinforcement of the foundations.

And it looks damn good doing it, too. Epting's use of heavy shadow and eschewing of excessive exaggeration helps to ground this in reality, creating a palpable sense of wonder as the ordinary world begins bumping up against the Marvels. Just from a technical standpoint, the layouts are clear, moving the action smoothly along the page, and the level of detail in the settings and costuming do a fantastic job drawing us into the reality of the story.

From a thematic standpoint, Dave Stewart's colors are probably the most striking thing about the look of the book. By keeping most of the world in subdued colors, emphasizing the grays, browns, and blacks, when the costumed heroes (and villains) appear on-panel, they do so in a startling burst of bold color. They stand out like beings not of this world. Like beings from fantasy or mythology. The coloring helps to drive home the narrative fact that these costumed characters are larger than life and more than just simple vigilantes.

But it also makes a similar point for the other side, as well. The Red Skull, striding through the dirt and muck of Occupied France, stands out just as vividly. It's as if the masks somehow immediately and effortlessly move their wearers beyond simple good and evil into something more epic. Of course, the Skull will gun down women and children just to make a statement. His mask allows him to transcend moral limitations and become representative of pure, unquestionable Evil.

And Captain America is quickly to become his polar opposite: Unquestionable Good.

Brubaker, Epting, and Stewart are not only retelling the origin of the modern Marvel Universe, but they're building the moral framework for everything that's happened since. This is how you craft a modern mythology.






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