Editor’s Note: Marvels Project #2 arrives in stores September 10.
1940 New York: Things were changing and evolving, and not necessarily for the best. The flaming man had appeared the year previous, terrifying all of humanity before seeming to disappear.
But the Torch’s appearance, combined with the impending drumbeats of war, produced a change in the collective atmosphere of New York in that year. The bright summer of 1939 had ticked over to a dark and foreboding 1940. War was in the air, and men felt compelled to put on flashy costumes and battle evil as a way to help prevent the war from being worse than it would be.
Heroes whose names are almost completely forgotten in 2009 jumped into battle that year, men with monikers like the Angel, the Flaming Mask and the Phantom Bullet. But the real heroism in those days was shown by Nick Fury and Red Hargrove, two young yahoos who free a certain Professor Erskine from the hands of the Nazis…
There’s a scene on the very first page of this comic that made me stop and gasp. See, there’s a costumed hero in the shadows, long red cape flapping in the wind like a flag, looking for all the world like a certain super-hero from Marvel’s Distinguished Competition. Of course, Brubaker wasn’t showing Superman but rather the Golden Age Angel, but the effect was striking and rather appropriate for the story. The image implied a sort of joining together to battle the evils of the world, a sort of unification of men desperate to do whatever they can to battle back the horrific forces that would transform their world in just a few months.
That’s also appropriate, because The Marvels Project #2 is all about things starting to come together. Costumed heroes are beginning to appear in this very young Marvel Universe – or is it a Timely Universe? There’s a feeling of the war bringing in a new spirit, in which new ideas are tried on for their efficacy, in which men are laying the groundwork for efforts yet to come.
So we meet the first wave of super-heroes, men long-forgotten by all but the most devoted fans of ’40s Marvel. Men like the Phantom Bullet and Mister E will help the world forget the flaming rampage of the Human Torch, and open the door for great heroes like Captain America. These men do their best to find their ways in this scary world. Some are majestic, like the Angel; others, like the Phantom Bullet, will find that this hero business can be very hard indeed.
Even the human heroes, the men of war, are learning their way. Nick Fury is in action, but next to him isn’t his longtime friend Dum Dum Dugan, but another old friend, Red Hargrove. In a beautiful nod to classic Silver Age Marvel continuity, Hargrove appeared in several issues of Sgt. Fury in the early ’60s as Nick’s childhood friend from Hell’s Kitchen. These two friends are on an early secret mission that will help lead the way for the emergence of Captain America, so their adventure is a prelude to future actions in more than one way.
We also see the Human Torch himself in transition. The Torch has obviously learned how to control his powers, but at the same time he still seems quite fearsome. There’s a confrontation with a gangster in this issue that is as eerie as any horror comic of the era. But by the end of the issue, the Torch seems to be beginning to find his place with humanity, and embrace the “human” half of his name.
The Marvels Project #2 is a terrifically interesting and entertaining comic. Ed Brubaker does a wonderful job of expanding the themes he introduced in the first issue of this comic, adding depth, dimension and a touch of realism to the more abstract ideas that he introduced in the first issue. It’s the mark of Brubaker’s excellence as a writer that all of this universe building feels comfortable and interesting.
Anyone familiar with Steve Epting’s art on Captain America knows what to expect from the art here: a wonderful sort of comic book realism. His characters look like real people without engaging in appearing stiff, while his exaggerated action scenes also feel real and comfortable.
Marvels Project is a really fun series so far, as the always excellent Ed Brubaker delivers a typically solid story.