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Comic Book / Marvels

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"As I have learned since, I was not the first anomaly to exist... but on that day of my freedom in 1939, this world had its first confrontation with the fantastic. The Golden Age of miracles would begin, and in the years to come, the world would know the presence of the unnatural and extraordinary as part of reality."
The Human Torch, Marvels #0

Marvels is a 4-issue mini-series, running from January to April, 1994. An exploration of the history of the Marvel Universe from the perspective of an Everyman, written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Alex Ross.

Warning: Spoilers follow

It's 1939 and Phil Sheldon is a young freelance photojournalist. He's interested in going over to Europe, where he knows trouble is brewing, and he has a young fiance, Doris. This all changes, however, when he's at the press conference where Phineas Horton announces his newest creation — the android known as the Human Torch. Soon, other "marvels" appear, the Sub-Mariner and Captain America among them, and Phil can only watch on the sidelines, both awed and fearful. He hopes that they will leave, that this will all pass... but he knows better.

Soon, it's the 1960s and Phil Sheldon has two daughters and a thriving career. With the Fantastic Four and the Avengers dominating the headlines, this seems to be an era of prosperity, where superheroes are the new celebrities. But even now, there's a dark side: mutants, homo superior. Even Phil seems afraid of them, but soon comes to realize his own prejudices when he finds his daughters have helped and hidden a little mutant girl from an angry mob. Soon, the public even turns against the other superheroes. Even after the FF save the world from Galactus, the public seems to both love and hate the heroes.

Even after Phil's book Marvels comes out, he can't help seeing the story in the public's reaction. In his efforts to write another book and clear Spider-Man's name of Captain Stacy's murder, he meets and interviews Gwen Stacy. But what happens when superheroes fail? Where do you go when you start being within the story instead of outside?

Marvels was published in 1994. Soon afterwards, several followups with a roughly similar format came out:

  • Tales of the Marvels: Blockbuster (April 1995)
  • Ruins (Aug-Sep 1995), a Crapsack World version by Warren Ellis
  • Tales of the Marvels: The Wonder Years (Aug-Sep 1996)
  • Tales of the Marvels: Inner Demons (1996)
  • Marvels Epilogue (2019), a one-shot taking place during Christmas

Busiek would explore similar themes in Astro City, which started in 1995. The direct sequel to Marvels, Marvels: Eye of the Camera, also written by Busiek, came out as a six issue series from 2008 to 2010. And in 2020, Busiek curated a series of one-shots by different writers and artists called Marvels Snapshots. Also in 2019, Marvel and the podcast company Stitcher adapted Marvels into a podcast, which both adapts the 1960s chapters of the comic (centering the story around the Galactus incident) and continues the story. The podcast also expands the roles of previously minor characters Ben Urich and Marcia Hardesty. promoting them to lead characters alongside Phil Sheldon.

Phil Sheldon himself has made cameo appearances in The Super Hero Squad Show, Marvel's Avengers and Kingdom Come.

Compare with The Marvels Project, a similar miniseries chronicling the Marvel Universe’s beginnings during the start of World War II.

Marvels provides examples of the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The original Sentinels turn on Bolivar Trask basically the second they're activated, telling their creator that they have no intention of following anyone's orders.
  • All of the Other Reindeer:
    • Spider-Man and the X-Men, especially in the second part where Phil speculates that the mutants are here to replace us and kick the dirt over our graves. A key theme of the story is Phil's increasing disgust at how much dirt and ingratitude the heroes constantly have to put up with despite selflessly saving the people, the city and even the entire world over and over again.
    • The Thing deals with this too, despite him being part of the beloved Fantastic Four.
  • Ambiguous Syntax: When Iceman is hit with a thrown brick by an anti-mutant mob, Cyclops tells him not to retaliate because "They aren't worth it." He's obviously referring to how the catharsis of hitting back isn't worth compromising their morals, but wrapped up in the fear mongering towards mutants, Phil interprets it as him saying the regular people are beneath the X-Men.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Phil interviews his old friend J. Jonah Jameson, he brings up both the latter's general slandering of Spider-Man as a threat and his more recent assertions of Spider-Man's "cowardice" due to not intervening during a crime wave. Phil logically asks how it's fair to accuse Spider-Man of being a menace when he does go out and fight crime while calling him a coward when he doesn't.
  • An Ass-Kicking Christmas: The epilogue has Phil and his daughters personally witness the X-Men fighting a bunch of Sentinels and the debut of Nova on Christmas.
  • Badass Crew: The Invaders, and later, The Avengers, the X-Men and the Fantastic Four.
  • Berserk Button: The Human Torch angrily storms out of a diner (melting a hole in a window on his way) after overhearing J. Jonah Jameson ranting about wanting "freaks" like him to be indiscriminately locked up.
  • Beware the Superman: When the Human Torch and Namor first appeared on the scene, this was most people's reaction, even after the Torch began to operate as a hero. It mostly fell by the wayside with the introduction of Captain America, but flares up again during the anti-mutant hysteria in the 60's, which bleeds over onto other heroes as well.
  • Bittersweet Ending:
    • After Gwen Stacy dies, Phil can't believe people would simply forget about her and go on, eventually realizing that he's inside the story now instead of outside and he can't be objective. So he retires with his wife and daughters.
    • The follow-up miniseries Marvels: Eye of the Camera has Phil die of lung cancer before he can finish his new book. On the bright side, he is at peace in his final moments, he got to see Maggie again and be assured that she's alright, and his daughters and Maggie decide to finish his book after he passes away.
    • The epilogue adds an extra sweet layer to it all, as Phil has his faith in the Marvels restored before his death by witnessing the arrival of Nova, while at the same time resisting giving in to his old Married to the Job tendencies.
  • Broken Pedestal: Gwen's death causes Phil to lose faith in not just Spider-Man, but the Marvels in general.
    "He failed her. They all failed her."
  • Censor Steam: Namor's nudity is cleverly disguised by waves and careful placement. note 
  • Cerebus Retcon: In the original Galactus storyline, J. Jonah Jameson's editorial calling Galactus a hoax was pretty much a one-panel gag, with a couple of people joking about the absurdity of the claim. Here it's treated much more seriously, with many people not being so quick to dismiss Jameson's accusations, and it being a part of the larger trend that Phil is observing of an increasing lack of gratitude for the Marvels' world- and life-saving actions.
  • Character Development: Phil starts out completely buying into all the anti-mutant propaganda thrown around at the height of the 60's mutant scare. His experiences with Maggie and the anti-mutant riots helps him see things differently, and he is subsequently shown to be fully accepting of the X-Men as super-heroes.
  • Comic-Book Fantasy Casting: Alex Ross used models for certain characters, such as Freddie Mercury for Namor, Timothy Dalton for Tony Stark, Russel Johnson for Reed Richards, and, most notably, Patrick Stewart for Charles Xavier, years before the actor would be cast for that same character. Don Knotts also appears as Frederick Foswell, a reporter for the Daily Bugle.
  • Comic-Book Time: Mostly averted; Busiek chose to set his story at the times when the characters involved were first published, before this trope was really an issue. Played a bit more straight in the sequel, which covers events of comics published up to the late 80s, when the trope was already becoming evident. (For example, Phil's daughters are only teenagers by the final issue, despite their first appearances as young girls happening concurrently to stories published in the mid-60s.)
  • Constructive Body Disposal: After the disastrous public response to his press conference unveiling the Human Torch, Horton drops the Human Torch, still in his vacuum-sealed glass tube, into the wet concrete at a nearby construction site.
  • Continuity Nod: While musing about the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner, Phil contrasts them with a couple non-superpowered "mystery men" who existed earlier in the timeline: specifically, the Angel,note  the Phantom Eagle,note  and the Rawhide Kid.note 
  • Covers Always Lie: Some editions of the book just show Spider-Man front and center on the cover, even though he has little if anything to do with the story. However, Spidey's role in the events of The Night Gwen Stacy Died play a huge part in Phil's Cynicism Catalyst.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Namor and the Android Torch absolutely steamroll battalions of German and Japanese soldiers when the Axis attempts to invade the US through Alaska.
  • Darker and Edgier: Eye Of The Camera picks up where Marvels left off, and deals with the darker turn of the Bronze Age of Comics. It also happens in-universe, as Phil's publisher wants him to do a sequel book about the darker sides of superhumans and focus on villains and monsters.
  • Dawn of an Era: The beginning of The Golden Age of Comic Books (symbolized by the birth of the first Human Torch), followed later by the beginning of The Silver Age of Comic Books (symbolized by the creation of the Fantastic Four).
  • Decon-Recon Switch: It's a deconstruction in showing how scary it would really be if a bunch of masked men with godlike powers started showing up, but then reconstructs it to show how awesome and heroic it would be too, especially when they save the day. And then it falls back into deconstruction at the end when it explores what happens when these "Marvels" end up failing to save the day. Then it finishes by swinging back into reconstruction with Eye Of The Camera and the epilogue, as events cause Phil to regain his faith in the Marvels in the twilight of his life.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • Phil briefly encounters Peter Parker, whom he hates because of the way he profits off of giving Spider-Man pictures to the Daily Bugle, which are then used to slander himself. Taken even further in the sequel miniseries, where Phil, already in a bad mood, angrily brushes Peter off while storming out of a Bugle party. Out on the New York streets at night, he gets accosted by muggers, but before they can hurt him, Spider-Man saves him.
    • Phil at the end says he's through with superheroes and never wants to be around one. He tells his assistant to take a picture of him with a nice normal kid, a newspaper delivery boy by the name of Danny Ketch.
    • To contrast how differently mutants and non-mutants are treated, Reed and Sue's wedding happens mere hours before the Sentinels are announced to the world.
    • At Alicia Master's art show, two old women discuss the Thing, noting that "at least he's not one of those horrible muties", just as Professor Xavier, Scott Summers, and Jean Grey happened to be passing by.
    • The panels where Phil is told the mutants knocked a man off a construction scaffold and tried to kill him actually show the man fell because a rope snapped and the X-Men's various 'attacks' were them trying to save him (Cyclops vaporizing something he was going to smash into, Angel trying to catch him, Iceman creating a ramp to arrest his fall).
    • In the issue where Phil and his family meet and befriend Maggie, she flees their home on a night where the mutant hysteria is at an all time high and the Sentinels have been unleashed to hunt mutants down. Phil soberly notes that they will likely never know what happened to her. Luckily for the readers, the issue's cover is of Angel rescuing Maggie from an angry mob.
  • Easily Forgiven:
    • None of the bystanders outside the story were very happy with the Human Torch making peace with Namor at the conclusion of their first fight and allowing him to leave without making reparations for the damage he caused, seeing it as this.
    • Lampshaded when the Torch and Namor team up to fight the Axis powers, and are almost immediately adored as heroes on par with Captain America.
      Phil's narration: And if it struck me as odd, at the time, to applaud two men who'd caused so much destruction so recently...I was too busy cheering to notice.
  • The End Is Nigh: Phil and his family encounter a street preacher loudly announcing the end of the world when they visit a zoo, and claims that superbeings are heralds of the Apocalypse. Phil tells him off for scaring his daughters. Ironically, he's not entirely wrong, as not long after, Galactus arrives on Earth.
  • Estrogen Brigade: In-universe, Captain America has an absolutely massive fan following of older women.
  • The Everyman: Phil Sheldon is an ordinary person in a world of marvels, making him a viewpoint character for the reader.
  • Evil is Petty: Doctor Octopus takes clear pleasure in confirming to Phil, without technically admitting to anything, that he (intentionally or not) framed Spider-Man for George Stacy's death.
  • Evolutionary Levels: Being a homage to the original Marvel series, Marvels presents the X-Men like they were originally introduced. In other words, through a complete misunderstanding how evolution works. Not only does it get evolution wrong, it gets radiation wrong, since the original X-Men were in part the result of atomic pollution. As any modern day reader with basic education knows, not only does radiation not work like that, neither does evolution. Mutants are not the "next stage in evolution" any more than having red hair or a sixth finger is.
  • Eye Scream: Phil is smacked in the head by flying rubble during a battle and loses an eye. He learns that superheros can withstand damage he can't, because he's only a normal man.
  • Failed a Spot Check: In Eye of the Camera, Phil is extremely frustrated that no one in the press seems to notice that the new "X-Terminators" mutant team is obviously made up of the original X-Men.
  • Famed In-Story: Phil becomes known as the photographer of superheroes (which says something in the same universe as Peter Parker), and is the first person the publisher of the Daily Globe thinks of to commission for many important events like the Fantastic Four wedding.
  • Fantastic Racism: As is common with works relating to the X-Men. Complete with ridiculous claims of mutants enslaving humanity, paranoid riots, and more. Phil himself actually buys into the anti-mutant prejudice until he encounters Maggie and his stance softens a bit.
  • Fantastic Slur: Following with the Fantastic Racism against Mutants, "mutie" gets used by their attackers.
  • The First Superheroes: We get to see the Marvel Universe through the eyes of the ordinary person. The first issue is set in Golden Age, and we get to see the emergency of superhumans in a world that has never seen their like before. A sequel called Marvels: Eye of the Camera, does it again, this time detailing the beginning of Silver Age.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Even if you know a bit of the Marvel Universe history, you know the Fantastic Four defeat Galactus and that Gwen Stacy dies. But even knowing that, it's still interesting to see it all from a new perspective.
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Young Fury's left eye is always shown in shadow, to reference how he'll soon lose it in the war, and a lot of the dialogue during his appearance foreshadows the rise of the Howling Commandos.
    • When Phil first sees the Human Torch, the reflection off his glasses covers the eye he'll eventually lose.
  • Full-Frontal Assault: Namor, for some reason, is entirely naked here-even though he first appeared in 1939 wearing his trademark green speedo. Apparently, this was done by Alex Ross as a joke.
  • Good Parents:
    • A big part of Phil's initial feelings regarding mutants was fear for the safety and future of his two young daughters. When he first sees Maggie in their basement, his first thought - which he would later be deeply ashamed of - was terror that the girls might have touched her and been "infected."
    • And then, after Phil and Doris have come to care for Maggie, she runs away to protect them from danger by association with her, all alone on a night when merciless mutant-hunting robots are on the loose.
  • Gossipy Hens: Two older women attending the Masters exhibit are seen whispering with each other about Reed Richards and Sue Storm, as well as not-so-subtly commenting on Ben Grimm.
    First woman: ...heard that on the side, she and the Sub-Mariner...
    Second woman: ...well, I never...!
  • Grumpy Old Man: As he grows more and more frustrated over the public's treatment of superheroes, Phil unhappily ruminates that he's turning into this, and he doesn't know how to stop it.
  • Hates My Secret Identity: Phil respects Spider-Man as a hero and hates how J. Jonah Jameson slanders the man in the Bugle. At the same time, he can't stand Peter Parker, seeing him as an opportunistic weasel who feeds into Jameson's anti-Spidey nonsense with his pictures for a quick buck.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity:
    • Even as the Human Torch saves more lives and begins to work with the NYPD, as well as battling Namor, many still think he's a threat simply because he's an android. However, once both of them unite and help Cap fight the Axis, the public immediately adores them.
    • The X-Men and Spider-Man are both feared and hated by the general public. While Phil has his reservations with the X-Men and mutants in general, he truly believes in Spider-Man and is disgusted by how Jameson devotes himself to defaming Spidey.
  • Hope Spot:
    • Phil hopes to write a book exonerating Spider-Man of George Stacey's death and hopes to use writings that Gwen can provide, but then he sees the Green Goblin emerge from her window, with an unconscious Gwen over his shoulder. Happens again soon afterwards, as he observes Spider-Man arriving at the bridge and is so certain he can save Gwen.
    • In Eye of the Camera, Phil finally reaches some clarity about the darkness he's been observing in the Marvels of late, and subsequently figures out the angle for his new book, becoming happier and more motivated than he'd been in a long time as he gets to work on it with his daughters' help, and even throws away his cigarettes (where before he'd been fatalistically keeping up his habit)...and then we cut to his doctor looking over his test results, and revealing that the cancer treatment has failed, and Phil has very little time left.
  • Hypocrite:
    • The anti-mutant crowd harasses the X-Men around the corner from a store selling clothing inspired by the Wasp, someone with powers but not born with them.
    • Phil himself is initially caught up in the anti-mutant fervor when it first begins, despite spending his whole life condemning that sort of bigotry (and having seen its results firsthand in WWII). He is deeply ashamed when he realizes this.
  • I'm Standing Right Here: A young Phil and J. Jonah Jameson have a discussion about Jim Hammond/the Human Torch in a diner, with Jonah rattling off a laundry list of criticisms and insults aimed at Hammond… at which point an enraged Hammond — who had been sitting, disguised, right next to them — stands up and snarls at Jonah to shut up before flaming on and flying out of the diner in a huff.
  • Improperly Placed Firearms: In the newsreel and the ending WW2 scene, the Japanese and German soldiers are somehow almost all equipped with classic gangster Tommy Guns instead of the MP-40 or Arisaka rifle. Justified, though, as the Golden Age comics often depicted Mooks using the Thompson M1921/M1928, due to it being the typical "bad guy gun" at the time.
  • Innocent Bystander Series: The entire point of the series, showcasing just how it would feel to suddenly be surrounded by metahumans.
  • Ironic Echo:
    • When Phil first encounters the X-Men, he dismisses eyewitness accounts that they had saved a man from a fall rather than tried to kill him, on account of, "They wanted us all dead. Everybody knew that." Later, upon discovering Maggie and having all his preconceptions of mutants suddenly torn to shreds, he desperately thinks, with clearly failing conviction, "They were evil! The mutants - they wanted to kill us all! Everybody knew that!"
    • In Eye of the Camera, when Maggie is telling Phil about where she went after leaving their house, she downplays the help she gave to the people of the New Guinea village who took her in, saying "Anyone could've done it." Phil's not having it and responds, "But you're the one who did." A bit later, when his protegee Marcia comes on the news, Phil tells Maggie about how she got her start working for him, but insists she would have gotten it anyway due to her talent, to which Maggie responds, "But you're the one who did, right?" (Also, though not explicitly pointed out on-page, it's implied that Phil also hears this as a response to an earlier moment where, in a bout of despondency, he angrily dismissed his entire life's work, saying that someone else would have taken all the photos if he hadn't.)
  • Irony:
    • Phil has nothing but disdain for Peter Parker, viewing him as a snot-nosed creep profiting from J. Jonah Jameson's obsessive vendetta against Spider-Man... whom Phil admires.
    • At the FF wedding, Phil muses that with so many superheroes present in one place, it would be a good opportunity for all their enemies to strike and take them all out at once. This is, in fact, exactly what happened in Fantastic Four Annual #3, where everyone's memories of the battle were erased with the Watcher's Time Displacer.
    • In Eye of the Camera, Phil does a TV interview where he talks about the recent conspiracy against Captain America that had led him to quit super-heroing... then tries to build on his point by bringing up other heroes who had been unjustly prosecuted, like, say, "this new fellow Nomad."
    • In the same interview, Phil is utterly dismissive of the notion that Canada of all nations would be fielding a vicious covert-ops super-agent.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: When Phil first sees Maggie in his basement, his internal narration uses "it" when referring to her, but he very quickly starts to slip up and use "her" as it becomes blindingly clear to him that, far from an evil human-killing monster, she is just a traumatized little girl.
  • It's Personal: Subverted after Phil loses an eye. He jokes about vowing revenge and becoming a villain to strike back, but he says he has more important things to concern himself with (his career and upcoming wedding).
  • Kent Brockman News: Deconstructed, as Phil's retirement is prompted by him realizing that his own journalism is becoming this because he's gotten too personally involved in the story.
  • Lampshade Hanging: When Galactus "visits" a second time, Phil's apathy (he's just sitting there fishing) may reflect just how insignificant and little-known the story was in Real Life.
  • Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: You can see Clark Kent, Jimmy Olsen, and Lois Lane in the background in one panel. (Phil returns the favor, making a cameo at the end of Kingdom Come.)
  • Little "No": Phil whispers "no" after witnessing Gwen's neck being snapped.
  • Loved by All: Everyone loves Captain America, to the point that he never gets slandered the way other heroes do. It's later subverted in Eye of the Camera.
  • Lower-Deck Episode: The entire perspective comes from a photographer who only has tangential connection to superheroes.
  • Married to the Job: Phil struggles with this as his career progresses, becoming immersed in his journalism at the expense of his family life.
  • Metafictional Title: Near the end, Phil publishes his book, Marvels, that the graphic novel is named for.
  • Mood Whiplash: Issue 2 has a consistent feel for this. Phil gets slingshotted between the lead-up to Reed and Sue's wedding, a high mark in the Marvels' history that all of the city is happy to celebrate, and the rising anti-mutant hysteria. When the hysteria finally boils over into full-blown riots, Phil struggles to believe the wedding had taken place mere hours ago and has a hard time writing a fluff piece about it when his mind is occupied with far more grim thoughts.
  • My Greatest Failure:
    • In Phil's head (since there was realistically little he could have done), failing to keep Maggie safe.
    • Gwen Stacy's death ends up causing Phil to realize he's become too close to the story to be objective about it.
  • Mythology Gag: Lots, particularly single panels or pages referencing old Marvel comics/issues/fights. There's a page in the back of the paperback dedicated to listing all of them. And the artwork is very similar.
    • One of the people Phil interviews is a teenage Nick Fury.
    • When he was a cub reporter in World War II and before that, Phil worked alongside a buzz-cut, cigarette-chomping, superhero-hating cynic named J. Jonah Jameson, determined to run the Bugle one day.
    • At the end, Phil states he'll have nothing to do with superheroes ever again, and has his picture taken when a young paperboy — named Danny Ketch.
    • Doris (Phil's future wife) briefly dated Willie Lumpkin.
  • "Nighthawks" Shot: At one point, Jonah and Phil are eating in a diner along with the patrons from the actual painting... And one of them is the Human Torch.
  • Offscreen Moment of Awesome: Used both in- and out-of-universe with the initial Namor/Torch fight. Phil says that it must've been a sight to behold, but all Phil and his colleagues (as well as the reader) ever get to see of it is brief glimpses or from at a distance and the only time they actually manage to get a good view of the combatants is after the fighting is over and the heroes had been convinced to make peace, much to the disappointment of most of the reporters.
  • Passing the Torch: At the end of the series, Phil realizes he's gotten too much perspective on the Marvels he'd been dedicating his life documenting, so he trusts his assistant, Marcia Hardesty, to continue covering the Marvels as a witness.
  • Police Are Useless: Subverted. Phil can't believe the police would hold Spider-Man to blame for George Stacey's death, but he's surprised when the officers he talks to say they don't. They just want Spider-Man to come in for questioning since he was there; they're also certain that Doctor Octopus was responsible, based on the forensic evidence. In fact, they even blame Jonah for hyping it up as something more than this.
  • Rage Breaking Point: The anti-mutant riots in the 60's are kicked off by the original Sentinels going rogue during the television debate between Xavier and Bolivar Trask, and Phil reflects that they weren't really about this specific incident, but rather it was the straw that broke the camel's back and let loose all the fear and paranoia that had been building up in the population since the reveal of mutants.
    • Phil reaches his own on two different occasions: the first is when he hears people on the street dismissing the Galactus invasion as a hoax (perpetrated by the heroes who risked their own lives to save them), and the second is towards the end of the series, when Phil realizes that the murder of Gwen Stacy barely counts as a footnote in the newspapers as far as general society is concerned.
  • Red Shirt: Invoked and deconstructed. Phil takes Gwen's death very hard because he knew her, but she was just a name to most of the rest of the world. Phil can't believe that her death didn't seem to mean anything to anyone else or even warrant a front page article. His disgust with this is one of the things that makes him realize he's become part of the story and can no longer cover it.
  • Seen It All: Phil was there when Dr. Horton first unveiled the Human Torch, and though initially traumatized, by the fourth issue he's seen Strolling Through the Chaos during one of Namor's attacks.
  • Self-Serving Memory: Phil fears that this will happen in the aftermath of the anti-mutant riots - that the people mindlessly lashing out in their fear and anger will wake up the next morning and "it would just be a dream. Something that happened to someone else." He sets about taking photos of the violence in an attempt to subvert this.
    I had to get a record - had to show them - show us all - what we did in our nightmare.
  • Shaming the Mob: Downplayed. Phil was part of a mob that harassed the X-Men. After he throws a brick at Iceman's head, Cyclops keeps Iceman from retaliating by telling him that his attackers "aren't worth it," which shakes Phil up.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Maggie, the skull-faced mutant girl, is based on an identical character from an issue of EC Comics' Weird Science.
    • The Silk Spectre and Nite Owl from Watchmen appear in a machine similar to Archie.
    • The Beatles appear at Reed and Sue's wedding.
    • Phil has a cameo in Kingdom Come during the press conference scene and in the last panel.
    • A sailor heavily modelled on Popeye also appears in a brief cameo for a panel, praising Captain America.
    • At a press conference, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen can be seen chatting. Clark and Lois also appear in the audience when the Torch is unveiled.
    • Phil noting that Judgment Day has arrived when the Silver Surfer, a Chrome Champion, makes his appearance, is a blatant reference to Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
    • Captain Marvel, presumably in his Billy Batson appearance from Kingdom Come, can be seen in the theater audience that's applauding the newsreel footage of Namor and Torch battling the Axis. If you look even closer, you can spot Lamont Cranston and Doc Savage in the audience as well. Billy Batson also appears as a paperboy selling at a street corner.
  • Superman Stays Out of Gotham: Deconstructed. Spider-Man fails to save Gwen in a city where numerous other super-powered beings live. Phil even makes a point of thinking to himself, "They hadn't saved her."
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome:
    • The epic duel between Jim Hammond/the Android Torch and Namor is beautiful to look at, but it also causes insane amounts of property damage and injures thousands of people, as well as scaring the public, and Phil as well, who fears that his kids could be in danger if Namor goes on another rampage.
    • Phil's reaction to losing an eye in the above counts as well. When his friends and loved ones come to visit him, he cracks a joke about planning to enact vengeance on all superheroes for his loss, before laughing it off and proposing to his girlfriend instead. Because outside of comic books, people tend not to react to personal injuries and setbacks by swearing creative revenge on people who were tangentially involved at best and becoming supervillains.
    • Throughout Marvels, Phil is shown to be a casual smoker, nothing uncommon for his time. The end of the first chapter of Eye of the Camera reveals that he has been diagnosed with lung cancer.
    • Lampshaded when Phil, undergoing chemotherapy, muses that the process seems like the kind of thing that would give someone superpowers, but really just leaves him feeling exhausted and bored.
  • Suspiciously Specific Denial: When Phil interviews Doctor Octopus in prison, Octavius flatly denies that Spider-Man was able to make him lose control of his mechanical arms, despite Phil not having brought up Spider-Man in his questioning at all - which Phil easily picks up on.
  • Tall Poppy Syndrome: J. Jonah Jameson heavily implies that this is ultimately why he and other regular people always turn against the superheroes: the idea that people gifted with extraordinary powers would use them for selfless, heroic actions makes them all feel inferior, and so they try to tear the heroes down.
  • There Was a Door: In a fit of rage after overhearing J. Jonah Jameson insulting him, the Human Torch flames on and exits a diner by spitefully blasting open a window with a fireball and flying out.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: How Phil sees the people after the Fantastic Four stop Galactus. When the situation was in progress, many were panicking and pleading for salvation. After the FF save the day, Phil notices how quickly many of those same people were either criticizing how the FF handled the situation or flat-out calling the whole thing a hoax. Phil highlights other examples of similar ingratitude that follow this event.
  • Ungrateful Townsfolk: Deconstructed and criticized viciously. Phil comes to despise people that act like this as much as any reader would, and a very tragic reasoning for it is suggested.
  • What Does She See in Him?: As he gets to know Gwen Stacy, Phil just can't fathom why she's dating that weasel Parker.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Zigzagged. In Marvels, when the mutant girl Maggie disappears, neither Phil nor the readers knows what happens to her. The issue's cover shows Angel flying her to safety, but since a cover rarely shows what happens after the story, we're left to wonder if it was true or merely symbolic. It's not until the sequel, Eye of the Camera, that Phil learns Maggie's fate: She's alive and well as an adult.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Even though the events covered in the book are from well before the Trope Namer's time. The original trade paperback cover, used in the page image, is a photo of Giant-Man that made Phil's career. Later covers have put Spider-Man on the cover to emphasize a more marketable character.
  • X-Ray Vision: In Eye Of The Camera, we find out this is Maggie's actual power (her alien appearance being an unfortunate side effect), and it's implied that she has other vision-based powers as well.
  • You Are What You Hate: When Phil learns about his daughters harboring a mutant girl, he looks in her eyes and compares it to the concentration camp survivors he met during the war. He realizes the anti-mutant bigotry he participated in is no different than the Nazis.