The events in this issue take place in conjunction with those in Marvels #2 and Marvels #3. If you do not have a copy of the original series, I highly recommend that you acquire one. It is not necessary to appreciate this issue, but you'll be missing out on a great read.
Photographer Phil Sheldon has built a reputation second-to-none taking photos of Captain America and the Invaders during World War II . However it's been years since they were newsworthy. After taking pictures of these "Marvels" what could possibly compare to that?
Phil Sheldon sits down at the breakfast table with his wife Doris and two daughters. He lights a cigarette and reads his copy of The Daily Bugle. His youngest daughter Beth begins teasing her older sister Jenny about her reading problems. Phil tells her to stop, but he seems very distant. Doris compliments Phil when she sees his picture of the president on the front page. Phil shrugs it off, stating that it wasn't much of an accomplishment. After reading an article about Dr. Reed Richards' unscheduled rocket launch two days earlier, Phil leaves the table and stares out the window.
After Doris sends the kids off to school, she can tell something is wrong with Phil. While he won't admit it directly, he has grown bored with the state of the world. Nothing is new or exciting to him any more. He explains to his wife that he should pursue another line of work. Freelance photography is no job for a man with a family to support. Doris reminds him that he's always enjoyed photography. He tells her that he has an interview on Thursday with the New York Bulletin for a staff position; he hasn't decided if he wants to go yet.
Thursday rolls around and Phil meets Harry Jager at the Bulletin. Jager wants to hire Phil as their new Photo Editor. The Bulletin is a tabloid magazine that specializes in "speculative journalism" according to Jager. He wants to use Phil's skills to improve the quality of their fake photos to increase circulation. Since he has a great reputation, more people will believe these stories are true. Phil nods his head through the interview, thinking that this is a new low. Given the steady salary and benefits, he can't say "no" outright.
Later that day, he receives a phone call from J. Jonah Jameson. He tells Phil that tickets waiting for him and Ben Urich at Laguardia airport. They're to attend a press conference in Washington DC. They arrive and are take to the White House with no explanation. Soon after they – along with the other members of the press – arrive, the guests of honor are brought in by helicopter. All in attendance are at a loss for words when four individuals step out of the helicopter. They will soon be known the world over as the Fantastic Four.
In the coming days, similar individuals make their debuts: Hulk, Thor, Spider-Man, Ant-Man. The Sub-Mariner returns. The word "mutant" receives a derogatory connotation despite the overwhelming similarities to other, more accepted, individuals. The resurgence of these heroes provides Phil with the excitement he was craving and well as opportunities to sell photos to every paper in the New York area. He does note a few differences between the new crop and the heroes that emerged during the war.
While developing pictures of Thor's confrontation with his step-brother Loki, Phil makes two discoveries. The first involves Fantastic Four, Inc (the organization that funds the FF). According to the news, it is nearly bankrupt. Phil's comments indicate that he disapproves of the heroes receiving any type of funding. The other is that his "assistant" Jenny is in need of glasses when she misreads the label on one of the bottles.
On Phil's next trip to the Bugle, Ben Urich shows him some photos of mutants. They are the soon-to-be X-Men Cyclops and Iceman. Ben explains that the current theory behind mutants is that they are the next step in evolution, just as humans were the next step after Neanderthals. Later that night Phil realizes that the new wave of heroes and mutants might be a warning that the time of humans was coming to an end.
A few years pass with a few more notable events. The formation of the Avengers. The first appearance of the X-Men. The return of Captain America. The wedding of Reed Richards and Susan Storm. The arrival of Galactus. Phil goes on a special trip to Stockton, California, the site of the rocket launch that created the Fantastic Four. The city government wants to declare this a historical landmark and clean it up for tourists. Phil personally pays for a trip to California to observe the facility. He wants pictures of "the place the world changed" it in it's current, natural state.
When he returns to New York, he goes to Mercy General Hospital for a scheduled appointment. The doctor points to a small spot on his x-ray and sadly informs him that he has lung cancer.
This sounds very cynical, but the cancer revelation doesn't surprise me. They show Phil frequently smoking in the issue and it doesn't really have the shock ending that they intended. It's still tragic, of course. I would be devastated to have a doctor tell me that I had cancer. I think that if some other substance had caused it, I would have had a different reaction.
In any event, the overall theme here is "one little thing". One phone call introduced Phil to the Fantastic Four and subsequently rekindled Phil's interest in photography. It gave him a purpose, which he was lacking at the beginning of the story. It saved him from potentially destroying his reputation by working for a newspaper with no journalistic integrity. One little thing allowed Phil to realize his daughter was doing poorly in school because her vision.
In general "one little thing" is usually all it takes to bring everything into focus. With the diagnosis of lung cancer, Phil now has one thing that will shape the remainder of his life, however long that may be.
4 webs. It's a very simple formula: Kurt Busiek + Marvel history + talented artist = great book. While it would have been great to have Alex Ross work on this, I can't complain about Anacleto. His art is perfect for this story . They guy knows how to compose a panel. Most of the background elements receive as much detail as the foreground, creating a very realistic image.
There is a lot of nostalgia in this issue. For long-time readers, the fun is citing which issues are referenced. For casual readers, it provides a great overview of the Marvel universe and provides good motivation to read the respective series.
This issue relies heavily on established Marvel continuity and is chock-full of references to many specific issues.