Curated, edited, and sometimes co-written by comics legend Kurt Busiek, Marvels Snapshots is an engaging set of flashbacks that fill in some gaps in the greater story of the Marvel Universe. Featuring a series of covers by Busiek’s frequent collaborator Alex Ross, these stories feel like a step back into the duo’s early work in Marvels. By taking much the same ground-level view on Marvel continuity but expanding the idea so that new writers and artists can be involved, this is, at its best, an updated look at Marvel’s canon.
Issues: SUB-MARINER: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, FANTASTIC FOUR: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, X-MEN: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, AVENGERS: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, SPIDER-MAN: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS, CIVIL WAR: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS and CAPTAIN MARVEL: MARVELS SNAPSHOTS
It’s no exaggeration to say that this anthology features some of comics’ greatest talents, and each of the eight issues offers a little extra something for longtime readers who have found themselves wondering what it’s like to be a sanitation worker, firefighter, grocery store clerk, or regular old pedestrian in the Marvel Universe’s version of New York. Your mileage will vary on whether or not the individual stories work for you, but there are a lot of very strong highlights along the way.
One of these highlights is Snapshots: Sub-Mariner, which focuses on Namor’s original beau, the dynamic Betty Dean. After the end of World War II, she attempts to navigate her relationships with various people who are traumatized and changed after returning from battle overseas. This story is an incredibly meaningful look at the long-term effects of PTSD disguised as a simple superhero fight, and it tells us just as much about Namor as it does about Betty. When he sees a run-of-the-mill villain named the Shark sporting a swastika on his armor, Namor completely loses it and very nearly kills him in front of a crowd at Coney Island. The other heroes arrive to pull him back just in time, but we learn that he was on the ground in Bitburg and actually witnessed mass graves. While Namor and Betty’s relationship never really recovers, this story shows how she applies the relative failure of that romance and learns from it. Betty extends more sympathy and kindness as she acknowledges that some scars don’t show, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
Meanwhile, Snapshots: X-Men was written by Jay Edidin, with art by Tom Reilly and Chris O’Halloran and letters by longtime X-Men letterer Tom Orzachowski. This erstwhile crew turned out one of the best Cyclops-focused stories in recent memory by taking us back to his early days at the orphanage. The story delves into his complicated backstory and helps place him in the context of the larger Marvel Universe. Cyclops is one of the X-Men’s more misunderstood mutants, and it’s easy to view him as being dour and humorless, even as he was isolated and gaslit by Mister Sinister. Here, we are allowed to see Scott’s inner world and experience his loneliness alongside him. His moments of excitement at discovering the Fantastic Four by seeing them on the news one night will ring true for anyone who has ever been an adolescent and felt saved by an interest that would open up a greater world for them—be it fandom, intellectual pursuits, sports, or anything else.
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Snapshots: FF is scripted by Evan Dorkin and Sarah Dyer, with art by Benjamin Dewey and Jordie Bellaire and lettering by Joe Caramanga. This one is for all the Dorrie Evans fans out there. In the early days of the Fantastic Four, Johnny Storm dated his high school sweetheart Dorrie before her growing weariness with his life as a superhero caused her to pull back from the relationship. They fell out of touch and Johnny began pursuing Crystal of the Inhumans, though he did try at various times to rekindle their romance. Dorrie’s story was never particularly resolved, but she does continue to make guest appearances. Here, we see her as a well-adjusted woman who takes the dismissive things people say about her as a result of her relationship with the Human Torch very much in stride. Their love and friendship for one another, though somewhat complex, is still genuine, and it’s a lovely thing to watch play out over the years. Johnny is generally considered to be one of Marvel’s more shallow superheroes, so watching his complicated maturity play out in his relationship with Glenville and its people adds a lot to his story.
Snapshots: Civil War considers the local effect of Civil War by drawing parallels between it and various modern-day civil rights violations perpetrated by government agencies around the world. In this story, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent named Clyde is made to act essentially as a prison guard for the everyday low-level “vigilantes” that are being brought in and held indefinitely under Tony Stark’s Registration Act. While superheroes are frequently criticized as vigilantes, here we see low-powered, low-profile heroes who act more as grassroots community organizers and do enormous amounts of good in their neighborhoods. Clyde faces a moral quandary as he questions why he even joined S.H.I.E.L.D. to begin with. This story adds some very important nuance to these major crossovers that so often go unexamined, and as such it adds quite a bit to the collection overall.
Other stories in this collection include Barbara Kesel and Staz Johnson’s Snapshots: Avengers, which introduces us to a woman between jobs and apartments. As she attempts to navigate the many pressures of her day-to-day life, she gets derailed when a superhero fight causes wreckage on the streets. Howard Chaykin’s Spider-Man story follows a traditional two-bit crook as he attempts to earn “an illegal living.” Mark Waid and Claire Roe’s Captain Marvel chapter focuses on the way superheroes can inspire people towards a greater shared future as “ordinary teen” Jenni’s idealism is encouraged and reflected by her hero, Carol Danvers. The Captain America story, told by Mark Russell and Ramon Perez, follows a conflicted young man named Felix Waterhouse who is recruited by A.I.M. after experiencing tragedy as a result of Madbomb destroying his neighborhood. He finds himself at a loss for how to navigate his job prospects in the complicated field of supervillainy. All of these stories focus on people whose lives are in some way derailed by superhero antics. The last exchange between Felix and an understanding but flawed Captain America is one of the most heartwarming in the trade.
It might go without saying that this is not an essential read; it’s more for readers that have some familiarity with Marvel’s history than a new audience trying to break in. That said, the Easter eggs make for a lot of fun, and the series could have been much longer without feeling stale. The highlights are strong enough to cover for its weaker moments, and it’s clear that all of the creators brought along a genuine love for the source material. Though the series runs the danger of reading as a bit sentimental overall, it’s good about reigning it in and thus ends up surprisingly mature, at times even somewhat at odds with the teary-eyed nostalgia one might expect. For readers that crave the quiet, between-battle moments we see so little of in mainstream comics, Marvels Snapshots will hit all the right spots.
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