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By Jim Beard
On January 2, writer Kurt Busiek and artist Jay Anacleto take their everyman hero, photographer Phil Sheldon—star of Busiek's award-winning 1994 limited series MARVELS—out of the 60's and into the 1970's with MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #2.
"Phil Sheldon has to deal with the shock of being diagnosed with lung cancer [as well as] the Marvel Universe of the 1970's era, covering everything from Captain America on the lam from a murder charge and the Fantastic Four divorce to It the Living Colossus and Peter Parker winning 'Photographer of the Year,'" relates Busiek of the next chapter in this hotly-anticipated sequel. "Plus, Phil begins work on a new book."
MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA details pivotal moments in Marvel history through the eyes of Sheldon, who cut his photographic eyeteeth at the beginning of the "Age of Marvels" in the 1940's. The new series utilizes the same fascination with costumed crusaders as MARVELS, but offers a hint at the much larger—and darker—world of the 70's.
"Our focus is still on the super heroes, largely, because we see things through Phil Sheldon's viewpoint and through his experiences, and the monsters largely stuck to the shadows, while the heroes did big splashy things," notes Busiek. "But they're there, around the edges, and they do come up.
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"And of course some of them had super heroic sides, like the Ghost Rider, and others did big splashy things, like It the Living Colossus and the Son of Satan. So they're a part of the mix, coloring the world and Phil's perceptions of it and reactions to it."
Marvel Comics circa the 1970's set down on the printed page a fictional playground that often reflected the changing times of the real world. Stories revolved around movements such as Women's Lib and fads like martial arts. MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #2 delves somewhat into this arena with Busiek looking to capture that era's essence, rather than a literal setting.
"The women's rights movement, like Vietnam or Watergate, isn't something we'd specifically point to—we're more interested in reflecting what was going on in the comics and how it feels to be there than to comment specifically on the era of the 1970's," he explains. "So Captain America's Secret Empire story comes up, but we don't link it to Watergate, and Iron Fist's around, but we don't link it to the boom in chopsocky kung fu movies of the era. And we do use some of the stories that came out of things like writers reflecting women's lib in the comics—Sue Richards almost divorcing Reed, characters like Tracy Burke, who had been one of the editors at 'Woman' magazine in the MS. MARVEL series, things like that.
"But it's Marvel history, more than real-world history, that we want to evoke and explore."
Busiek looks at 1970's Marvel as a distinct time in the company's publishing history
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and fertile ground for story ideas and concepts—the perfect place to continue Phil Sheldon's journey.
"This is the era when Steve Englehart's cosmic trippy epics happened, Steve Gerber's weirdly satiric writing, and Chris Claremont's transformation of the mutant corner of the Marvel Universe as well," he states. "And of course, the Comics Code changed, which led to vampires and werewolves in the Marvel Universe, and paved the way for characters like the Punisher and Wolverine."
MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #1 ended on a sad note, unveiling a personal crisis for Phil that may affect his entire outlook on life.
"Phil was an adult during World War II—a young man, but still an adult," Busiek notes. "That means he's getting older by the time of this series, whether you consider Marvel-time or not. The idea that he'd get lung cancer wasn't something we thought of because of the 1970's, but because he'd smoked all his life and it was logical to have it affect him somehow.
"Plus, the whole series revolves around Phil dealing with his cancer while looking at the ways the Marvel Universe was darkening and changing, and there's a lot to work with there, in terms of metaphor and theme and all that good stuff."
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And of course, at its core, MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA views super heroes with a scrutiny uniquely its own, as unique as its aging hero. And what changes might he see as the 1970's transpire?
"[Phil] sees [the heroes] from the outside," says Busiek. "So to his eye, it's less about individual heroes changing than it is about a change in the nature of heroes. The FF and the Avengers are still around, of course, but there's this new team of X-Men and they're different and stranger and scary, with Wolverine in the group. There's Ghost Rider, there's the Punisher, there's the freakin' Son of Satan. So it's partly things like the FF and Avengers dealing with adventures that are more born of the era, but a lot of it is that when you think of the Marvel heroes, the cast of characters has a different look.
"When the Man-Thing's part of the crowd, things have changed..."
MARVELS: EYE OF THE CAMERA #2, out January 2—you'll be feelin' groovy, baby! And to get a look at the original MARVELS, hit up Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited!
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