When the original MARVELS series released in 1994, revisiting some of the most famous moments in comic book history from the perspective of the everyday person, it changed the game. Now twenty-five years later, writer Kurt Busiek and artist Alex Ross are reuniting to tell one last chapter of their story with MARVELS: EPILOGUE.
The standalone chapter arrives on July 24th, returning to the 1970s of Marvel's Universe to follow now-retired news photographer Phil Sheldon and his daughters, as they make a holiday trip to Rockefeller Center... and wind up witnesses to the beginning of one of the most iconic storylines of the "all-new, all-different”" X-Men: the transformation of Jean Grey in the Dark Phoenix Saga. The 16-page story will be penned by Busiek and fully painted by Ross, and Screen Rant had the chance to ask the duo about returning to a series that changed their careers, and what makes the 25th anniversary of MARVELS the perfect time to deliver one final EPILOGUE.
The original MARVELS series, in both the story and the new lens it provided, has likely stuck with most super hero fans who read it then, or since. How has it stuck with you both? Twenty-five years offers a lot of perspective, and time to appreciate the book's success.
KB: With a lot of books I’ve done, I look back at them and see things I’d like to change — dialogue I’d like to edit, word balloons I’d like to move, that sort of thing. I want to fuss with them and fix them, to fit how I might do them now. I don’t get that reaction with MARVELS — I’m very happy with how it came out, and whatever we were doing, we got it “right” enough that I don’t want to meddle with it.
The artwork’s gorgeous, the storytelling’s strong, the script does its job without being overdone, the lettering is sharp and well-designed…it’s a good book.
It also opened big doors for both of us. For me, it wasn’t the first project I did that had a normal person’s point of view on super heroes, but it was the first time I did it big, and that it worked so well. And that’s been a big part of much of what I’ve done since, from ASTRO CITY to CONAN and beyond. Who’s telling the story, how are they reacting to what’s going on, how does that shape and frame the story? For Alex, of course, all that’s come since speaks for itself.
I learned a lot from doing MARVELS, and I’ve been able to build on it ever since.
AR: I would say that I mostly focus on whether I feel good about the quality of the artwork when I look back at it, given that it was one of my first jobs in comics, and it’s largely how people got to know of me. Sometimes I’m happy with what it looks like to me now, sometimes I’m not so happy. Largely, I feel plenty good about the story and how it reads still. I feel like it is a perspective worthy of its telling and that it fits in very well with the other notable “graphic novels” of comics history.
How did the idea for the new MARVELS: EPILOGUE come along? Was it a story or pitch that had been brewing for some time, or was the possibility of a return to Phil Sheldon's life (before his death) something you needed to be sold on?
AR: I’m certain that there was talk going back to the twentieth anniversary of adding a new story for another collection of the series, but this time it came to life mainly at the request of Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski. It was something that deserved being revisited, but I wasn’t certain how worthwhile that would prove to be until I was finally working on the actual art.
KB: Yeah, it was an idea that was presented to us as something to do for the 25th Anniversary celebration, and I think both of us thought that sure, there was a way to do something there, that it wouldn’t be something empty. So it wasn’t hard to sell us on it — the time seemed to be right for it.
The cover for MARVELS: EPILOGUE puts the X-Men front and center, after not quite making it into the original MARVELS. There are too many iconic Mutant moments to pick from, so how did you even begin to choose which to include? And is it a thrill to 'finally' bring them to life in a new way (both in writing and artwork), or is the pressure even higher this time around?
AR: The key requirement of picking a moment in X-Men history to link to was that it had to be something regular people could have witnessed. You might know how much stuff that blocks out from being covered. I was thinking of their “X-Mas” moment from ‘76 where we actually saw Logan’s unmasked face and hair for the first time. It turned out that was the perfect spot, even though you wouldn’t see most of the group in costume. It was tremendous fun to represent these characters as their civilian selves out in public, which it didn’t seem like they did a lot of. Finding somebody in that opening splash page of X-Men #98 to suggest was Phil Sheldon clinched it. The pressure to do a good job with the art was mainly to be found in the extensive detail one can see in the setting of Rockefeller Plaza with lots of people all around.
KB: The X-Men were important to the main MARVELS story, but it was an earlier generation of X- Men — the original crew. So it was a change to play with the new guys. And we were able to use it as a symbolic turning point. Where the MARVELS story ended kind of with a look at the end of the Silver Age of comics, the new X-Men work as a symbol of the next thing, the rise of the Bronze Age. So the sense of things ending at the end of MARVELS is now added to with a sense of things beginning.
As Alex notes, he came up with the moment, much as the original MARVELS started out being built around the characters he most wanted to paint. I didn’t have any problem with it whatsoever — it’s a strong, striking moment, and there’s a lot to play with there in terms of a normal person’s perception.
And I wouldn’t say I felt a lot of pressure in writing the X-Men, per se — after all, we're using Chris Claremont and Dave Cockrum’s story and dialogue — but the pressure to be adding 16 pages to MARVELS and not wanting to mess it up was something I definitely felt. I wanted to get Phil and his daughters right, for their reactions to mean something, both for this one story and as an epilogue to the whole thing.
The real-world parallels to MARVELS' superhuman paranoia, xenophobia, and public unrest have been discussed ever since it was released. A lot has changed since then, but the X-Men of the 1970s are probably the purest 'Us vs. Them' analogue in comics, and those parallels to our own world haven't gotten any harder to draw. As a result, did you approach EPILOGUE differently than the original series? Or even differently than you would have if it had come along earlier?
KB: Phil and his family have already had a turning point moment with mutants, so we didn’t feel we had to dig into that aspect all that much. I added a line or two acknowledging it, but Phil’s daughters, who are going to be the adults in the world that’s coming, don’t have the same fears and worries their parents did, so it felt like a refreshing change for them to embrace the new. Where other people in the world may be scared of the X-Men, they don’t need to be.
They get to see the future and feel like they belong to it.
AR: Mainly I think we didn’t have to be that heavy with this short story, as MARVELS originally ended on a bit of a downer. Showing Phil with his daughters, who barely appeared in issue #4, was a treat, and being with them too seemed like a great way to say goodbye to his overall storyline.
The original MARVELS idea was carried forward in a few different ways since the first series, but the title MARVELS: EPILOGUE makes it clear that this is something unique, and more than a 'sequel' or a revisit. How does that title encapsulate the spirit of what this story brings?
KB: I think “Epilogue” feels right for the story, because we wanted to do something that felt like part of the original, like a continuation rather than an unrelated piece, but at the same time the original has a pretty strong close. So with Epilogue, we’re letting the perspective change, letting a transition happen — a generational transition for comics, with the new X-Men along with something of a generational shift for Phil and his kids.
So it feels like an extension and commemoration, but it also feels like an acknowledgement of new things, of changes. And in that capacity, it’s not a new ending for the series, it’s an after-the-ending, an epilogue.
We started out calling it that as a working title, and at one point — I think when they were going to do the solicitation of it, so we’d be stuck with it — Tom Brevoort asked if we wanted to change it, but neither of us wanted to. It just felt like a good title.
AR: Calling it “Epilogue” clearly connects it directly to our original work, and you might not overstate that if it wasn’t the original two series creators working together. What’s interesting in following up only a short time after MARVELS ended is that you get this comics revolution that started with the arrival of the new X-Men, and that same group is still considered the hottest, most related-to team of characters around today. It’s cool to overlap with their initial design by Dave Cockrum and showcase that style for people. The storyline we tie to is also the beginning of Jean Grey’s journey to Phoenix, so it is on the precipice of major Marvel history.
For you Alex, a project like the original MARVELS can often be a once in a lifetime thing. I imagine MARVELS: EPILOGUE is a special book for you from first page to last, but were there any wishlist moments from Marvel's history that you finally got the chance to tackle?
AR: I did pick this setting of X-Men #98, but it was nothing I was ever enamored of to paint, since it seemed so grounded with them not being in costume largely. Kurt cooked up some suggested moments for Phil to reflect upon, and with those I also added others that I always wished to paint, particularly from Jack Kirby’s art featured in the Fantastic Four and the Avengers.
For you Kurt, When discussing MARVELS: EPILOGUE you've mentioned how Alex Ross has become an even better artist since the original series. If his art stunned readers twenty-five years ago, what should fans prepare themselves for this time around?
KB It’s very much in the same tradition as the main book — we didn’t try to change the approach to storytelling or anything — but Alex is simply a better painter now than he was then. His work blew everyone away back then, but he was 24, and was still figuring out how to do a lot of the stuff he was doing. He had the talent and the craft, but 25 years on, he’s had a whole lot more practice, too, a whole lot more time figuring out how to do it even better.
This is something I saw over the years, since Alex has been a key guy in the ASTRO CITY creative team, and we’ve done stuff like KIRBY: GENESIS, but with Alex returning to MARVELS and to Phil Sheldon, it really stood out. From the very first panel of the story, the art is richer, more realistic, more engaging than it was back in the day — and that’s even considering how much it captivated people back then.
On top of that, with better scanning and reproduction, I think the Epilogue art is going to stand out from the rest of MARVELS, not because it’s a different approach, but simply because Alex is a better craftsman. Twenty-five years better.
Along with this new and final story, MARVELS: EPILOGUE includes a behind the scenes look at this story, and special features aimed squarely at those fans who know the original MARVELS from front cover to back. MARVELS:EPILOGUE will be available at your local comic book shop on July 24th, or direct from Marvel Comics.
An all-new standalone epilogue to the classic MARVELS graphic novel written by Kurt Busiek and fully-painted by Alex Ross! A “Marvels” look at the “all-new, all-different” X-Men of the 1970s. In this 16-page story, Alex and Kurt bring Marvel’s world to brilliant, realistic life one last time, as the now-retired Phil Sheldon and his daughters, in Manhattan to see the Christmas lights, find themselves in the middle of a clash between the outsider heroes and the deadly Sentinels, giving them a close-up perspective on the mutant experience. Also featuring a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this special story, and other bonus features.