Can Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels Revitalize the MCU?

Summary

  • Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels hasn’t been adapted, but it’s perfect for the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
  • Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels can be used to solidify and contextualize the MCU’s history.
  • Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross’ Marvels can also be told across several episodes as a Disney+ miniseries.


The Marvel Cinematic Universe has adapted several iconic storylines and characters from all across Marvel Comics’ publication history. This includes arcs such as Civil War and Infinity Gauntlet, with these stories inspiring some of the biggest and best MCU crossovers. There are still several comic book storylines to mine, however, including one that somewhat shares a name with a recent Marvel Studios movie that didn’t succeed at the box office: The Marvels.

The similarly named Marvels was a landmark and beloved series from the 1990s, and it took readers across the history of Marvel’s greatest heroes. Featuring the iconic art of Alex Ross, it showcased the more down-to-Earth and human elements amid the fantastical. A similar concept can easily be applied in the MCU, showcasing the unseen aspects of the shared universe while ushering in its next chapter.


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Comic Title

Writer

Artist

Editor

Release Date

Issues

Marvels

Kurt Busiek

Alex Ross

Marcus McLaurin

Jan. – April 1994

4 (+ #0)

Showcasing the everyday life of citizens in the Marvel Universe, Marvels was a very different kind of superhero comic. Beginning in the Golden Age of Comics, it follows a young photographer named Phil Sheldon (who was created for the series) as he lives in a world of Marvels. Initially, these superbeings are comprised merely of the likes of Captain America, Namor the Submariner and the original Human Torch. As things enter the “Silver Age,” however, they’re joined by the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and many more. As Marvel’s proverbial First Family and Earth’s Mightiest Heroes are treated like celebrities, the presence of mutants such as the X-Men act as a dark mirror of this hero worship.

Marvels brilliantly showcased how the average citizen of New York in the Marvel Universe might react to the heroes and villains around them. Every day was full of triumph, tragedy, danger and grandeur, with gods and monsters battling as normal people were casually caught in the crossfire. This peeled back the layers of spectacle, showing just how easily people could get caught up in the glamour without realizing the humanity behind the heroes. Likewise, each hero was seen differently, with the X-Men, Spider-Man and the Hulk (ironically, Marvel’s most popular heroes) treated as veritable demons next to the angelic Avengers. Harsh truths and bitter realities lived jutxaposed alongside an epic sense of whimsy, making every second of life in Marvels an orchestra of life, death and the greatest show on Earth.

The MCU Needs a Primer for Its Long History

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The long, sprawling history of the Marvel Universe in the comics is known for being somewhat obtrusive for newcomers to get into. Despite not being nearly as long, that’s now becoming the case for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, as well. Those who didn’t start with the shared universe by watching the original 2008 Iron Man might be lost, while those who jumped off after the events of Avengers: Endgame will also note how muddled things have become since that movie released. This means that they’ll also need to be brought up to speed, requiring a project that works as a jumping on point for everyone.

This is especially the case given the nature of the current Multiverse Saga. Even fans have commented on the veracity at which new projects are being released, and it’s simply too much to keep up with. Nevermind the fact that the Multiverse Saga is introducing so many divergent storylines without properly developing or giving a clue as to what direction things as a whole might be going in. This has only gotten worse given that overarching foe Kang the Conqueror may very well be dropped and replaced with someone else. Needless to say, there’s a lot to juggle, and that’s without mentioning the potential appeal of showcasing the human response to all of these changing circumstances. The result is that a primer is needed now more than ever to help right the MCU’s ship, and adapting Marvels is the best way to handle that.

Marvels Is Perfect for an MCU Disney+ Miniseries

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Disney+ has become the streaming home of several Marvel Cinematic Universe TV shows and special presentations. For better or worse, these projects have been integral to the further development of the MCU. Now, they’re starting to bifurcate with the introduction of the Marvel Spotlight Banner, which will highlight darker, more mature and adult-oriented content. It’s an interesting option in terms of catering the MCU’s older fans, but adapting Marvels into a Disney+ miniseries might be the best way to bridge the gap between all of Marvel Studios’ major properties.

Perhaps consisting of 12 episodes, the tentative Marvels adaptation can have two episodes set in each of the MCU’s phases. This means that it can start out in the proverbial Golden Age, with a young Phil Sheldon reacting to the legend of Captain America as he valiantly fought in World War II. From there, other heroes and events can be introduced, with the results of their battles being focused on more than the heroes themselves.

Likewise, the final episodes of this series could be set in the upcoming Phase 6 of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking place in a world nearing the events of Avengers: Secret Wars. Given that this planned movie may very well reboot the shared universe, showing things from a more ground level perspective might offer a great sendoff to the house that Iron Man built. Of course, there might need to be a few notable changes from the source material.

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Various Marvel heroes drawn by Alex Ross.

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One element that Marvels avoided was that of Marvel Comics’ “sliding timescale.” This is used to explain why characters don’t “age” in the mainstream comics, with Peter Parker’s youth being treated as taking place in the 2000s instead of the 1960s, for instance. Thus, Phil Sheldon was alive during World War II, and he’s an old man by the conclusion of the story (which takes place around the 1970s). Unfortunately, the MCU doesn’t follow the same continuity, with the Avengers and other heroes not arising until after 2008. This will require a major time jump, but the best solution is simply to have a Phil Sheldon, Jr or even a Phil Sheldon III who acts as the audience insert in the modern-day stories. There’s still the issue of the name, however.

While the two stories have nothing in common, naming this tentative miniseries Marvels might be too close to the recent MCU movie The Marvels. That would be confusing enough on its own, but given The Marvels’ box office failure and its being relatively ignored by fans at large, naming a seemingly important miniseries anything close to it might be a particularly bad idea. At most, it should perhaps be titled something along the lines of A Marvelous History or something similar, with promotion for the project ensuing to focus on characters unrelated to Carol Danvers or Kamala Khan, so as to refrain from making an unnecessary connection.

Likewise, this Disney+ special should be seen as potentially the penultimate entry in the shared universe, with the streaming service touting it as a “must-see” celebratory event before Avengers: Secret Wars is released. More than ever, a Marvel Studios project on the service would be seen as paramount programming. This might even rub off and make lapsed viewers go back and watch everything else they’ve missed, especially if this adaptation of Marvels is top-quality. By making sense of every element of the MCU’s history, this special series can prove that “it’s all connected” while potentially acting as the ultimate goodbye.

Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and the rest of the Avengers gathered on the Avengers; Endgame poster

Marvel Cinematic Universe

Created by Marvel Studios, the Marvel Cinematic Universe follows heroes across the galaxy and across realities as they defend the universe from evil.

Character(s)
Iron Man , Captain America , The Hulk , Ms. Marvel , Hawkeye , Black Widow , Thor , Loki , Captain Marvel , Falcon , Black Panther , Monica Rambeau , Scarlet Witch

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