At the age of 20, Alex Ross began planning the project that would be his biggest splash into the world of comic books. Having completed an independent comic series based on the Terminator franchise, 19-year-old Ross decided to illustrate a detailed pitch for a graphic novel series for Marvel Comics. Ross planned for Marvels to be an anthology-type project showing different aspects of Marvel Comics’ history, starting with the origin of their premiere superhero, the original Human Torch.
Before completing his pitch, Ross was contacted by Marvel Comics to produce a short story for another anthology series, Open Space, which was canceled before his contribution was published. Ross’s main contact on the project was its editor, Kurt Busiek, who guided Ross on a path to other freelance work. Ross eventually returned to Marvel Comics, where he gave the pitch for Marvels.
Once the pitch for Marvels was approved, Ross and Busiek recrafted the story to become a showcase of various points in the history of the Marvel Universe from 1939 to 1973 through the eyes of fictional photographer Phil Sheldon. In Marvels, Sheldon witnesses the birth of the Human Torch in 1939, battles between Captain America and Nazis during World War II, and the creation of superhero teams the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men in the 1960s.