The problem with “Marvels Project” isn’t in its execution, its in its timing. This Ed Brubaker retelling of the Golden Age of Marvel superheroes isn’t bad — it’s quite readable, in fact — but it’s a stepson of the Busiek/Ross “Marvels,” a brother of the still-sadly-unfinished “The Twelve” by Straczyinski and Weston, and a half-cousin twice-removed of the Van Lente/Calero “X-Men: Noir.” It’s another version of the, “hey, look at these old-timey heroes through a different lens” kind of story.
I suppose it’s better to see these retellings done with professionalism than to get something like “Marvel Saga,” which was the 1980s version of nostaligiacore, and was nothing more than Kirby and Ditko panels cut up and interspersed with text exposition. But while “Marvels Project” takes its characters very seriously and plays the All-Winners for all they’re worth, issue #3 features such a safe, straightforward, decompressed story that it doesn’t seem like a comic that demands to be read.
Mainstream superhero comics have a history of safe, straightforward stories, but often the momentum of consistency keeps readers attached to the series. In other words, many readers wait through the lean times hoping for moments of greatness, while others keep reading because of cumulative effect of following a character. They want to see what happens next, even if what happens next isn’t presented in a particularly inventive way.
But with “Marvels Project,” Ed Brubaker dusts off some characters very few readers are likely to care about (the Golden Age Human Torch, the Golden Age Angel, the Golden Age…Ferret?) and then slowly unfolds a story as if these characters have some kind of inherent value. That kind of technique might work with a Captain America or a Batman, where their very presence in a story generates narrative power, or potential energy, and things can unfold slowly around them because the anticipation is enough to keep things tense.
But when the Golden Age Angel is running around punching people and looking for information, and the Golden Age Human Torch is fighting Namor over Coney Island? It’s just a series of events. Brubaker doesn’t add enough value to these events, doesn’t do enough to sell why these characters should matter, and that makes “Marvels Project” #3 just a decent version of 2009 nostalgiacore, possibly worth a read, but nothing that demands your attention.