“The Marvels Project” #2 advances a lot of plot threads that will ultimately come together to form the tapestry of the early Marvel universe, but the lack of connection means that each is still very thin. In these early stages, it’s easy to see that the story will read better once the various plots have converged, but, here, it feels like Brubaker is skimming the surface, providing only highlights from each plot rather than delving into any.
This issue opens in 1940 as Dr. Thomas Calloway dons his mask and costume for the first time, patrolling the streets as the Angel. Since he’s the narrator of the comic, his plot receives the most attention even when scenes focus on the Human Torch, Professor Erskine, or Nick Fury since he provides sparse narration for them as well. At this point, Calloway’s narration is the only thing tying these disparate plots together. Thankfully, his narration is thoughtful and written in a style that’s meant to lay the groundwork for the eventual convergence of the stories.
Calloway’s activities as the Angel provide some of the most interesting parts of this issue as we also see some of the other masked vigilantes that appear at the same time, presumably inspired by the Human Torch as Calloway was. Readers will recognize some from their eventual appearances in “The Twelve,” while others are more mysterious for reasons explained here — reasons that provide a great deal of insight into what the early days of costumed crimefighting was like in New York.
The Human Torch also receives a great deal of attention as he struggles with his status as an outcast and his desire to help humanity as he was intended. We aren’t given much insight into what exactly is going on in his head, but his actions provide some pretty strong hints. Since he’s a well-known character, there isn’t a strong need to get into his head to figure out his motivations and sticking with Calloway, a less developed character, is more effective.
As with last issue, Steve Epting’s art is a visual feast, his soft blacks giving the world of 1940 a realistic feel. Epting is at home in the shadows and darkness and Brubaker accommodates him, setting most of the scenes at night or in darkened rooms like the first two scenes of the issue. Epting’s softer lines lend themselves well to the shadows, but he also handles the daylight adventures of Nick Fury and Red Hargrove equally well, showing where Fury began to become the hardened soldier that he is now.
Where Epting excels the most, though, is in his ability to show us exactly what Calloway and the others are thinking just through their faces. Epting’s storytelling abilities when it comes to facial expressions and body language has grown over the years, and working with Brubaker, a longtime collaborator, gives him a certain intuitive insight no doubt.
Still in the early stages, “The Marvels Project” #2 may read too scattershot, but it’s clear that Brubaker is building to something and, with Epting on art, it’s hard not to give him the time he needs.