This sequel to Marvels begins, in chapter 1, with the creation of the Fantastic Four and their first battle with the Moleman. It's not giving anything away to say that by the conclusion of that chapter Phil Sheldon, the everyone photographer through whose eyes we see the events of the Marvel Universe play out, contracts cancer just as the Marvel U becomes a darker morally ambiguous world, revering it's anti heroes, even as it vilifies its more traditional icons.
The events covered here range from about the early to mid 70's to the mid to late 80's (for those of you who are continuity buffs), when the story lines started to reflect the disillusionment felt through Watergate, and the rising popularity of heroes like Dirty Harry and Rambo in film, which reflected a distrust of institutions and an increasing feeling that if justice be served, it's best done by individuals willing to fight corruption in the system as well as in the streets (the Marvel equivalent of such heroes being Wolverine, The Punisher, Ghost Rider, etc).
As the story plays out, and the narrative tone changes, reflecting denial, acceptance, anger (if you have an even marginal awareness of Kubler-Ross, you get the picture) Phil Starts to doubt not only the world around him, but his own contribution to it. Not exactly survivors guilt, but more like, the guilt of the spectator. It's that guilt I felt, living in Miami, when the towers fell, wishing I were there, wishing I were doing something that made a difference. Here it could be called "photographer's guilt"; always taking pictures, never taking an active roll in events as they happen.
It's a difficult story to tell, and I have the same problem here that I did in the original Marvels graphic novel. Which is how do you tell the story of the guy (not the fireman rushing inside the building, not the people stuck inside) who witnessed the buildings fall from a few blocks away? Where was he headed? How did his path change and did that change affect him, for better or worse, permanently?
And let's face it: that's what the Marvel Universe is. It's a place where 9-11 happens every week. The Hulk comes rampaging through town one week and you've barely cleared the rubble, when Ultron and the Avengers mix it up in Manhattan, never mind Galactus blowing in to town!
As I say, it's a difficult story to tell, and I give Kurt Busiek credit for the fact that no one else is telling it. Kurt Busiek is one of those writers I always look out for. I'm a big fan of his Asro City series Life in the Big City (Astro City, Vol. 1), and I loved his take on the Superman mythology in Superman: Secret Identity. There is a sincerity in the narrative here that most of the time makes you very sympathetic to the plight of Phil Sheldon as he struggles to make sense of his own life and the world around him.
But every now and then, I'm taken out of the story. Something about the logic of this place (the Marvel U) runs afoul when the view is from the ground up.
I suspect it may have something to do with the art. The art, by Jay Anacleto, both beautiful and detailed, will make you want to pick up a copy of this book' and more, add his name to the list of artists to watch out for.
But he's no Alex Ross. And that's his only problem. With Alex Ross, those logic holes I talked about were easily covered up because the view from the ground was SO real, SO lifelike, that you felt you could reach across the page and feel the chain metal tunic of Captain America.
I'm torn between giving this 3 or 4 stars. I'd feel much better if I could give it 3 1/2. Much of the writing is good here. Rarely does it feel stilted (but it happens). Judged on its own terms, it may make for a better trade than hard cover, but is otherwise a pretty good story.
However, I would advise flipping through the pages and maybe reading the first two chapters at your local bookstore or library, before deciding whether or not to spend your hard earned cash, in view of all the other titles you may have on your list.