This article originally appeared in SyFy Wire on January 22, 2019.
Famed comics artist and illustrator Alex Ross turns 49 today, January 22. This year marks an important milestone in his life: the 25th anniversary of Ross and Kurt Busiek's brilliant ode to the miracle of superheroes, Marvels.
Following his 1990 indie miniseries for NOW Comics, Terminator: The Burning Earth, Ross, a mere 20 years old, opted to begin illustrating a detailed pitch for a bold new graphic novel for Marvel Comics. Marvels was originally conceived as a nostalgic anthology-type series depicting various slices of Marvel history, opening with the origin of their iconic flaming superhero, the first Human Torch.
Ross aligned himself with editor (and future Astro City collaborator) Busiek, who not only acted as a mentor to young Ross but also helped recraft and polish the story, which was delivered to Marvel and eventually given the green light.
This revelatory work would quickly go on to light the crackling fuse of Ross' meteoric comic book career.
Marvels #1 was released in January 1994, evolving into a striking four-issue showcase of vital moments in the Marvel Universe ranging from 1939 to 1973, all told through the eyes of fictional photographer Phil Sheldon.
In Marvels, Sheldon witnesses the Human Torch's painful birth, the raging conflicts between Captain America and Nazis during World War II, and the storied formation of classic superhero teams the Avengers, Fantastic Four, and the X-Men in the Swingin' Sixties.
With its Norman Rockwell-esque painterly style and dynamic sense of realism, Marvels marked a seismic shift in the way superheroes were portrayed. Mainly conjured up as a reaction to the exaggerated, muscle-bound mutants populating most comics in the early '90s, Ross focused on fresh interpretations of caped crusaders that reflected what they might truly look like in real life.
More than just an illustrated voyage into the Marvel vaults, the revolutionary four-part book captured a sense of awe and wonder, depicting what it would be like to live in a realm of charismatic superbeings and their fearsome foes.
A quarter-century later, Marvels remains a game-changing achievement, with Ross and Busiek setting the bar for visionary creators and aspiring comic book aficionados.
Starting in February, Ross and Marvel are teaming up for a whole year's worth of Marvels exclusives, including all-new releases of Marvels Annotated Covers.
Marvels Annotated #1 hits shelves on February 13.