FORMAT: HARDBACK | PUBLISHER: ABRAMS | AUTHOR: ELENI ROUSSOS | RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Avengers: Endgame, the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s latest super-powered superhero sensation, has been a well-deserved Box Office blockbuster and grizzled (sometimes grizzling) fans continue to debate its finer plot-points and discuss the film’s repercussions for the future of the world’s biggest feature film franchise. But amongst all the oohing and ahhing it’s easy to forget that these characters were created for and, by and large, aimed at children, albeit with Marvel giving their characters more depth and personality than the four-colour square-jawed stereotypes of their rivals. But these were still stories targeted at kids, and as the MCU becomes bigger and bolder, it sometimes seems that not-insignificant younger, wider-eyed audience is forgotten or, at best, brushed aside and swept up with the crowd. This big, chunky coffee-table book from Abrams’ ‘Books for Young Readers’ imprint serves to at least partially redress the balance by telling the story of the MCU and its dramatic personae in more a simplistic – but not patronisingly dumbed-down – style.
This isn’t, however, a book that won’t find favour with more mature readers. The text is lean, informative and uncluttered for its intended audience, stripping away the verbiage which often makes ‘grown-up’ behind-the-scenes books a bit of a slog and it blows away the cobwebs around a film series whose continuity can be a bit formidable even for viewers who have been paying close attention. Heroes and Villains takes its readers right back to the beginning – well, 2008’s Iron Man – and devotes a few pages to the creation and evolution of the costumes and ‘look’ not only of all the titular heroes but also the most significant supporting characters and key action sequences. As such it’s a useful reminder for those of us who might have forgotten about the likes of The Other, Algrim, and Kaecilius because our attentions are usually more focussed on the bigger hitters. But Roussos explains – with generous quotes from the MCU’s movers and shakers - how all the characters we know and love (and those who had slipped our minds) were re-imagined for the screen and improved and developed and fine-tuned as the series has progressed. This is all done with the aid of some fabulous illustrations, page after page of stunning concept and production illustrations, concept art and, of course, vivid portrait shots and action scenes from every film right up to (but sadly not including – beyond a brief one-page splash photo) Captain Marvel. Many of the images are presented in a ‘fold out’ style which allows readers to see the developments of character costumes across a number of pictures; for example, Ryan Meinerding’s concept art for Captain America is breath-taking, each pull-out picture depicting Steve Rogers in a different, stunningly-detailed photo-realistic outfit.
Long-time fans of the MCU probably won’t find a lot of new stuff in the text although it’s always nice to get ‘horse’s mouth’ input from the creatives behind this extraordinary film series. The book’s real attraction will undoubtedly be its clean, easily-navigable layout and its wealth of fantastic illustrations from all corners of the MCU. These bring to life this rousing roster of characters in a way which will absorb children captivated by these imaginative worlds and stories, and fascinate adults intrigued by the sheer amount of creativity which goes into bringing them to the screen.