Pitchmas 2020, Part 5: Marvels

Because I’m a big fan of biting off more than I can chew, this would expand upon the concept of the Marvels story from Busiek and Ross. It would parallel the rise of Marvel Comics, but be set in the MCU, showing the reactions of regular human beings to the emergence of superhumans. It would also follow, as our POV characters, famous contributors to Marvel Comics, here recast as reporters and photographers; it’s also a great back-door way for Marvel to provide them and their heirs with a big dumptruck of money for their life/likeness rights. It would use processing similar to Loving Vincent, so the entire series would look and feel like a living painting. It’s spread across 10 episodes, each covering a significant, impactful moment from a decade of the MCU.

1. We open on Carl Burgos, a 23-year-old reporter for the newly formed Timely News. “That’s a good name for a paper,” is the response he’s used to getting (I think that may be a running gag throughout the series, not just to Carl, but for all of our cast). He’s sitting in a crowd, mostly other newspapermen, who are heckling Phineas Horton, as he tries to describe his marvelous mechanical man, and the strange side effect it has, of catching fire when exposed to the air. Horton tells people not to be alarmed as he opens the valve into the vacuum-sealed chamber, and the android catches fire. Burgos captures pictures of it, and hands them in to Mr. Goodman, the publisher, who demands the editor, one John Jonah Jameson, Sr.,  get them and Carl’s story onto the front page. We see a young Stanley Leiber selling that edition on the street later that day. Burgos narrates, “It was an age of monsters, of mutants, of madmen. It was an age of Marvels.” We cut to black, then fade in a processed to look like it’s been painted version of the Marvel Studios logo with the music fading in as well.

Burgos and Bill Everett, a reporter one year his junior, discuss Horton. His miraculous invention was to be buried, because it reminded people how small, how fragile- how human– they were. Being newspapermen, they run towards a commotion, to find the Human Torch escaping, leaping over their heads as people around them panic.

We follow Bill and his current sweetheart (he’ll meet his wife in the Army, so she won’t be recurring) walking along the waterfront. To the chagrin of his sweetie, he follows the sounds of shouting to find Namor, the Sub-Mariner, standing on the dock over a woman. The police seem to think he kidnapped her, but to Bill that doesn’t add up- why would a fish man kidnap a woman onto land? The cops shoot at him, but the bullets ricochet off; Bill sketches the man’s feats of strength as he throws their car, then leaps back into the water.

Bill wants to write the story as he saw it, with a critical eye for detail. Jameson demands a menace angle- he argues they don’t know enough about Namor to know whether or not he’s safe, and there’s no percentage in giving him the benefit of the doubt. But a warning- that will sell papers. So they write the story fabulizing Namor’s travails. It isn’t long before the cops are treating him as the menace the papers declare him to be, and the chief of police desperately pleads with the Human Torch to help them bring Namor to heel. 

They have a clash over the skies. We see it mostly through Stanley’s eyes, as he watches from Timely’s offices. Everyone else is huddled around a radio, because something else is happening, something that is going to change the face of the world forever: the United States has been attacked, and is entering the second world war.

2. The second episode would follow our main cast into the Army, as they were all drafted. Jack and Joe train alongside Captain America, and the war department lets them provide coverage of the new hero as part of a morale boost to the troops. Soon, Captain America, Bucky, Namor and the Human Torch have formed the Invaders, and help turn the tide for the Allies, fighting alongside our leads. Captain America, and the fact that the Invaders are with the Allies, means an end to the antagonism and antipathy they showed previously to these emerging Marvels. The episode ends on a down note, as the sacrifice of Captain America, after the loss of Bucky, leads to an abrupt end for the age of heroes. After the war, Namor retreats into the ocean, and the Torch and the rest of the heroes fade away; losing Cap felt like an end to the Marvels.  

3. The third episode is a strange beast, indeed. In the MCU timeline, nothing really happens here, except maybe some of the Peggy Carter stuff- and while I loved the show, it’s not the big, bombastic heroism this show’s designed for. Thankfully, one of our heroes has a time travel rock for a spell, so he’ll end up in this time period. He’s discovered by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. They want to do an expose, about him, about the future he hails from. He implores them not to print anything, because his knowledge of the future could destroy their entire reality. What’s worse, when he landed there, he accidentally disrupted Senator McCarthy, whose Code Authority regulations, while heinous, need to pass, or the shock to the timeline could also destroy reality. He’s also accidentally called Shuma-Gorath’s attention to the planet by bringing a largely unprotected Infinity Stone to that time period (he is, sadly, no Ancient One at this point, having only just gotten the stone). Also throwing a spanner in the works is one of the earlier Black Widows- not Natasha- but one of her forebears. In the end, Ditko and Lee promise not to cover him until his proper introduction, but demand an exclusive when that day comes.

4. By this point Lee and Kirby have pretty much solidified as our leads, Lee now working as Editor in Chief, and Kirby as the paper’s premiere photojournalist (always a little hacked off at the way Lee changes his headlines, bylines and well, everything), with Lee continuing to write, as well. The Fantastic Four parallel the rise of JFK’s Camelot; the families are even friendly with one another, and Reed’s insights are the only reason Kennedy is confident the Americans can win the space race. The Four are also a new breed of Marvels, these ones everymen, a girl next door, her dorky, obnoxious brother, a cranky uncle; even Reed is a hometown boy done good, especially in New York. They’re as American as apple pie, and equally beloved. Their existence brings a new kind of prestige, and even glamour, to heroism, and as part of that the pair are profiling them, to bring the public even deeper into their world, because Reed knows it’s the tip of the iceberg, more miracles and marvels are coming in their wake. The story, however, ends in the tragedy of their ‘sacrifice’ in saving the world, shocking everyone. It’s a somber note everything ends on, as the Four disappear (this follows the continuity of my pitch from last year, where the FF get shot into the future during the 60s).

5. We pick up with civil unrest. The fall of Camelot, the assassination of JFK, the disappearance of the Fantastic Four, the rise of Cold War paranoia and the likelihood of nuclear annihilation make civil rights conflicts burn with even greater intensity. And while there really was no good reason to fight Martin Luther King, mutants are inherently dangerous- at least, so the story goes. The loss of both MLK and Malcom X has made the two newest civil rights leaders, Magneto and Professor Xavier, both more guarded and at the same time more endangered. Magneto’s speech is met with violence; his followers respond in kind, threatening to overwhelm the human authorities gathered, until the arrival of Xavier and his X-Men. They stand between those who hate and fear them and the mutants who might give them cause to. I imagine both Lee and Kirby make at least references to how analogous the plight of their people has recently been to these X-Men, who didn’t choose the circumstances of their birth, but are trying to make their world safer.

6. We scoot forward further in time, this time into the 80s; a fueding Stan and Jack are both working parallel stories, the “good” scientists, the ones playing ball with the authorities and working with SHIELD- Janet & Hank Pym- vs. the rogue scientist, Bruce Banner pursuing gamma research without sanction. What they and the audience soon discover is Hank & Janet’s final mission is interrelated after all- Banner tells them as part of his research he’s been monitoring gamma releases the world over, and slips that intel to SHIELD, who send their best operatives to stop the missiles the gamma warheads have been loaded onto. At the same time, the Hydra science division screws with Banner’s test, and he’s forced to endanger himself to try and put things right- accidentally unleashing the Hulk- a WMD he aims at the Hydra gamma science division, destroying it so utterly they are never able to attempt another gamma weapon. But as one last screw you, Hydra release security footage of the Hulk rampaging through their base to the public (via Lee and Kirby’s reporting)- ensuring he is hated and feared for years to come.

7. This story runs parallel to the first Captain Marvel movie. We see it through the eyes of Stan Lee, now the editor, as well as two of his newer reporters, Gene Colan and Roy Thomas, as they work to uncover the truth of the strange woman who fell from the stars, and whether or not she’s working with the shapeshifting green men or if she’s going to save humanity from them- only to be shocked to discover they’re sympathetic and they’re going to ban together and protected humanity from the Kree.

8. This one’s pretty easy, just giving us a man on the street reaction to the introduction of Tony Stark, Hawkeye, Black Widow and Thor. It’s really a rebirth of the marvels to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Don Heck is the photojournalist they send out to get most of the scoop, while the two old pros/part-time nemeses go head to head about what it all means. I’d also subtly add in Kevin Feige as a security guard working at Timely, who Lee sometimes bounces ideas off of.

9. Finally, we get to the Avengers, and how nuts the invasion in that first movie is to reporters based in New York. I might, to both give Jack Kirby his due but also not pretend like he lived twenty years longer than we did, reveal in this episode that Jack’s been dead a while, by having Kevin interrupt Stan and Jack talking about the end of the world, and the end of their storied and sometimes rocky partnership. “Talking to Jack again?” Kevin asks, as Jack gives a wistful smile, before fading away.

“I always did my best work with Jack,” Stan says, as Kevin closes his office door. “Still do,” he says sadly, looking out the window at his wounded, smoking city.

10. Ten is as much an epilogue as another episode. After the Battle of New York, the Age of Marvels is no longer a contested idea. Stan publishes a memoir, fittingly titled Marvels, largely covering the series we’ve just seen, with accompanying paintings by Alex Ross, with scripting assistance from Kurt Busiek. The end of the book is Stan and Steve Ditko covering Spider-Man. He represents the new generation coming up after him, with new ideas, new styles- a whole new world, one just as marvelous as they’ve been lucky enough to live through.

At the end of the episode, on his death bed, an ill Stan speaks to Kevin, watching the MCU out of his window. “I used to think that they were the Marvels- the men in tights, the women in armor.” He turns, to pictures on his nightstand, of all of the reporters, photographers and others who he worked with at the paper, the characters we’ve followed over the course of this series. “But after decades spent with the extraordinary men and women covering them, telling their stories- we were Marvels, too; I was privileged to know them, elevated by collaborating with them, honored to have walked among them.”

He asks Kevin for a moment, to say goodbye to his family. Kevin, now in a suit and tie, nods, and closes the door behind himself. And that’s the end.

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