Marvels Project #3

A comic review article by: Jason Sacks
Some of the most classic moments in 1940s Timely Comics were the epic battles between the Sub-Mariner and the Human Torch. Fire and water, two primal forces in the universe, found themselves in dramatic counterpoint to each other, matched in vicious battles as primal and intense as their very elements.

Sure the art was primitive compared to the art that we're used to, and sure the stories were a bit corny and hokey. But the stories were sincere and intense and vital and energetic, and the art had a special sort of naïve pure brilliance that made the stories totally memorable.

So when Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting took on their respective writing and art roles creating a limited series based in the 1940s, readers just had to know that the man with the flaming head and the man with the winged feet would find themselves in pitched battle. But I, for one, never expected the battle to be as spectacular as the one that Steve Epting draws in this issue.

It all begins on page 16, as Namor swims around the remains of his undersea kingdom. We see the intensity and anger grow from inside the Sub-Mariner, his severe and livid eyes in the final panel bespeaking the sort of concentrated immensity of rage that only the final survivor of a holocaust can feel. This is a young man whose placid and wonderful existence has been destroyed forever by the uncaring forces of the surface world. When he witnesses children and families having a wonderful time at New York's famed Coney Island, Namor snaps. Namor's fury turns into a rage beyond words as Epting wonderfully depicts a Sub-Mariner on page 17 so consumed with a passion for revenge that he can't help himself but from attacking the surface dwellers.

Thankfully Jim Hammond, the Human Torch, is also at Coney Island that day. Jim has been enjoying his previous few weeks as a New York Police Officer. Ironically, the robot has been discovering his inner humanity at the same time that the half-human Namor has been losing his humanity. Hammond is filled with a great joy at his day at the amusement park and naturally snaps into action at the sign of Namor attacking.

Notice how artfully Brubaker draws contrasts between Namor and the Torch. The man of fire is cool and placid, like a quiet ocean beach, while the man of water is hot with rage, like a raging inferno. The robot is behaving like a human being, while the half-man is behaving like a monster. The Torch, who had once scared scores of New Yorkers, becomes a hero, while Namor, who looks much more human, only terrifies them.

The battle is short and intense, a spectacular confrontation made all the more intense through the distance that Epting gives readers from the fight. The scene that ends page 23--of the two characters confronting each other in the sky near Coney Island's famed parachute ride--is strikingly spooky. Though we've all grown used to super-heroes battling each other, Brubaker and Epting team together to drive the confrontation to new heights, increasing the intensity in a way that accentuates the passion of the story. It's a very traditional scene, brought brilliantly and vividly to a new level through the intelligent work of this creative team.

I love the passion and energy of this scene, and those are attributes that apply to this whole comic. When we meet the Ferret at the beginning of the issue, we sense a sort of mysterious '40s weirdness, the kind of Depression-era weirdness that would be nearly unimaginable today. Back in those days, ordinary people could have real secrets, and oddness, real oddness, was tolerated in ways that are unimaginable today.

And when we see Nick Fury again in the wonderful double-page spread that spans pages 6 and 7, we see a sort of natural fighter and intensely male persona that is rare to see these days. Even better, Brubaker and Epting manage to create this characterization with a minimum of words. In the hands of masterful storytellers, that's all that's necessary to create interesting and vivid characters.

The real beauty of this series, though, isn't in its ability to evoke the pre-war 1940s, or its ability to make readers interested in characters like Nick Fury, the Ferret, or the Angel, an action hero reminiscent of Frank Miller (and Brubaker's) Daredevil. No, the real beauty is the wonderfully vivid storytelling. All three issues of this series have grabbed me and not let go, with their wonderful art and intense writing.

And the awesome super-hero battle doesn't hurt, either.




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