The events leading up to America’s entry into World War II were significant for the Marvel Universe, as many of the choices made during that time shaped the Marvel U into what it is today. In the current eight issue series, “The Marvels Project,” writer Ed Brubaker and artist Steve Epting are showing readers what exactly happened during that momentous time period and how all these seemingly random events tied together to give birth to the modern day Marvel U. With issue #2 of the series in stores this week, CBR News spoke with Brubaker about the revelations and events of the series’ first issue as well as what readers can expect from upcoming issues.
Brubaker opened the first issue of “The Marvels Project” by reintroducing readers to Matt Hawk, AKA the Two Gun Kid, a masked hero who operated during the Old West period of the Marvel Universe before traveling forward in time with the Avengers. When readers meet Hawk in the issue, it’s 1938 and he’s an elderly man on his deathbed.
“Most of ‘The Marvels Project’ is looking at Marvel continuity as it exists in general and trying to find ways to make connections to things. When the Two-Gun Kid’s adventures were being published in the ’50s and ’60s, they didn’t know that in the ’70s a story would be done where the Avengers went back to the past, met the Two-Gun Kid and brought him forward to the future, but that happened,” Brubaker told CBR News. “So I thought when the Two-Gun Kid is a really old man he should go back to die in his own time at the proper place. That way when he’s buried he can have a proper death date for someone who born in the 1840s.
“So that’s what I was thinking about, and with that opening scene, I thought how cool it would be to have this guy who has been to the future and seen the superheroes talking to this doctor and describing the future to him,” Brubaker continued. “The doctor doesn’t know what to think exactly, and that’s why on that page the superhero costumes are all slightly wrong. The doctor is imagining them from Matt Hawk’s descriptions.”
The Doctor listening to Matt Hawk’s tales of the future turns out to be Doctor Thomas Halloway, a man who will become the Golden Age Marvel hero known as the Angel. He serves as the narrator of the first issue and will narrate subsequent issues as well. “The premise of the story is that you’re reading something written by the Angel at some point in time,” Brubaker explained. “In the first issue he says, ‘Namor wouldn’t talk about this till years later.’ So it’s clear the Angel is giving you his version of the story and it’s being written after the fact.
“Superheroes grew out of the pulp magazines, especially the character of the Angel,” Brubaker said. “One of the reasons the Angel is the narrator of this series is that he and Ka-Zar were the only characters to make the leap from Martin Goodman’s pulp publishing line of the ’30s to Marvel Comics. And the Angel had such a cool origin. I can’t think of a lot of heroes that were raised in a prison by their father, who was the warden, and made to read every book in the prison library.”
In “The Marvels Project” #1 the event that Namor wouldn’t talk about until years later was the discovery that the Nazis were abducting Atlanteans to use as subjects in horrible and inhumane experiments. This event was what made the Prince of Atlantis hate and distrust the surface world.
“With Namor, the coolest thing about his earliest appearances was that he was the first antihero in comics. He shows up and he’s pretty much the bad guy in the story, and we’ll see more of that in upcoming issues, but I wanted to link that story to the fact that the Nazis had the edge on the super soldier project. That’s because Doctor Erskine, the guy who created Captain America, was an escaped German scientist. So I thought, ‘that’s a story right there!'” Brubaker remarked. “Like a light bulb going off it occurred to me to link Erskine’s reasons for escaping Germany to Namor’s hatred of the surface people. According to early Namor comics the surface people from Europe had discovered pockets of Atlanteans here and there, so I thought, what if the Nazis are basically fishing for them and then experimenting on them?
“I thought it would be a really evocative way to introduce Namor and give him a stronger motive for hating surface people,” Brubaker said. “I think it works because it’s not like he’s sitting down there with a map of the surface world going, ‘Okay these people are Germans and those are Americans.’ His knowledge of the surface world is literally that of someone who lived in a bubble [Laughs].”
The experiments the Nazis were conducting sickened Professor Erskine and made him want to defect to America. In “The Marvels Project” #1 readers were introduced to the man who would make that happen, Nick Fury. At this point in time, though, Fury wasn’t a master spy or a hardened combat soldier. “Nick and his best friend Red worked at carnivals doing air stunts, and in their history they went over to England to teach paratroopers,” Brubaker said. “They were from Brooklyn and were tough guys, but this was the early days for them. According to Nick Fury’s history he didn’t join the military till after Pearl Harbor. His friend Red went off and joined earlier.”
Fury’s mission to bring Professor Erskine to America will have the most profound impact on Steve Rogers, who is transformed into Captain America by Erskine’s Super Soldier Serum. Rogers only makes a cameo appearance in issue #1 of “The Marvels Project,” but his role will expand in subsequent issues. “In that scene in issue #1 where the Angel walks into the theater during the newsreel footage, he walks past Steve who’s in the same aisle,” Brubaker explained. “There will be little Easter Eggs like that throughout the whole series.”
The other major character of “The Marvels Project” is the android Human Torch created by professor Phineas Horton. In the first issue of the series, readers saw the Torch’s very early days, which included his encasement in cement after he accidentally horrified the populace of New York City and his escape from that concrete tomb. “I thought it was really cool that while the Torch was imprisoned in cement he had these headphones on and was listening to Professor Horton explaining and teaching him things about the world,” Brubaker said. “The whole time he was locked away, he was learning things about the world. So when he escapes, he’s somebody with the body and intellect of an adult but it’s almost a Frankenstein-like moment because he’s discovering the world but doesn’t have the forethought to realize how messed up things are going to be.
“Since the Torch is one of the main characters in this story, I talked to Alex Ross and Mike Carey about their plans for the character in their ‘The Torch’ mini-series,” Brubaker continued. “I wanted to make sure the things they’re revealing about the Torch are things I don’t spoil, and also things that fit into my story, because this is the in-continuity version of everything.”
In the first issue of “The Marvels Project,” Brubaker didn’t just play with Marvel history. He also weaved in real world historical elements like Vincent Astor and his secret intelligence group, The Room, which assisted Franklin Delano Roosevelt. It’s something he’ll continue to do with future issues as well.
“In the modern Marvel Comics, and the issues published back during the day, the heroes were a big part of the war effort during World War II. They were war heroes. So when you’re given this opportunity to use the modern language of comics to tell the definitive history of the Marvel Universe, one of the first things you do is look at the actual history of the world,” Brubaker remarked. “The Marvel world is a little different because there are superheroes, but that difference is part of what ‘The Marvels Project’ is about. In our world, scientists were racing to create the atomic bomb, and in the Marvel world they were trying to create atomic people; super soldiers.
“They want to get that edge, because that’s what different in their world, but you try to use as much of the real world as you can in telling this story, and that’s part of the fun,” Brubaker continued. “Whoever is president in the real world is president in the Marvel Universe. The way Stan Lee set up Marvel Comics is that it’s our world but different, and you’ve got to take advantage of that. So this assignment gave me the chance to do some research on the actual history of the time period and to find connections to everything. So putting FDR and his actual spy group in there made sense, since FDR has always been connected to Captain America’s origin.”
With “The Marvels Project,” Brubaker isn’t just weaving connections between history and Golden Age Marvel Comics. He’s also sewing some modern day retcons into the larger tapestry of Marvel history. “One of the main characters we meet in issue #2 is a guy we’ve only ever seen in a few modern Marvel Comics, but he’s linked back to early days of the Super Soldier Serum and he’s the reason the ’50s Captain America was able to find the formula for the Super Soldier Serum,” Brubaker explained. “We’re taking the modern retcons that make sense and fitting them in with the origin of Marvel Comics to tell one large story.”
“The Marvels Project” is also a spy story. “In issue #2, the espionage elements kick into high gear and somebody dies, which adds a bit of mystery to the series as well,” the writer revealed. “Also, in upcoming issues we’ll meet another prominent character, someone I’m hoping to bring into the modern Marvel U. I like the character a lot, and they only appeared once or twice back in the day. So we’ll see this new/old character in issue #2. There’s a lot more action in that issue, and it has one of my favorite Human Torch sequences that I’ve ever seen drawn.”
Brubaker is very happy with all the work Steve Epting has done for “The Marvels Project.” “I think this is just what Steve needed after working with him for four years on ‘Captain America.’ He gets to go off and do this project where he gets to show his versions of all these great characters. He’s so faithful to them, but manages to make them look realistic even when they have the goofiest of costumes on,” the writer said. “Steve is also trying to do some different things with his art on the book. It’s incredibly hyper researched. All the period detail is extremely accurate.”
Complimenting Epting’s art is the work of colorist Dave Stewart. “Dave is such a pro,” Brubaker said. “I was really happy we got him. He really makes the Human Torch look great, especially when he’s flying around. Dave and Steve are really meshing well together. Their stuff in issue #2 is even better than their work on issue #1.”
In “The Marvels Project,” the U.S. is on the brink of entering World War II, so the events of future issues and the entire series will be extremely emotional and illuminating for all the characters involved. “This is a time of great world change. Everybody is waiting to see if America will get involved in the war. There were Nazi spies over here trying to influence things, and we had just come off the early part of the 20th century where we were involved in this yellow peril fear of Japan and China. We were also dealing with the tail end of the Great Depression. So it’s an interesting time in American history. It’s a big, emotional time for everybody involved. These are the formative years of the Marvel Universe.”