I don’t know what Marvel Legacy is. I don’t know what Marvel Legacy will be. But I do know what I want it to be. I want it to be my youth. I want it to be the classic comics I remember. I want it to be the best that Marvel has ever had to offer. I know that is a bold statement since Marvel has published some of the greatest comics of all time but in recent years the publisher has been focused more on quantity rather quality, in my opinion. Marvel still produces great books month after month but it has also saturated the market with countless titles, many of which will be forgotten soon after their release. That is not the case with Marvel’s past. Those are eras filled with classic titles and wonderful tales that will live on in comic’s lore for generations.
I don’t remember my first comic. I do know that comics have been a constant in my life since I was a young boy. As the story goes my neighbor gave my mom a pile of her son’s old comics since he didn’t read them anymore. My older brother didn’t want them but I did and the colorful heroes fascinated me even though I couldn’t read the stories. I do have a vague recollection of Marvel Team-Up #22 with the Thing and Thor as being the first comic i read over and over again. I began requesting more comics and thankfully I had a supportive family. It also helped that at the time we lived in a small town in Iowa where my Grandfather owned several properties and businesses and he loved taking me along with him to check everything out. Now as a father of a four year old I also realize he was giving my mother a well-deserved break from a very precocious four-year old. For ‘helping’ my Grandpa our last stop was always the town grocery store where I got to pick comics from the spinner rack. Back in those days (the late ‘70s) this was still the easiest way to get comics, especially in a town of less the 3000. I could pick any books I wanted, and thankfully there were a plethora to choose from, but more times then not I gravitated toward the Marvel books. I loved the look of their heroes and spent hours mesmerized by the beautiful artwork. My collection grew and it grew.
A few years later we had moved to a much larger town, the largest in Iowa to be specific. There my parents were informed that I was behind my peers when it came to reading and that they should encourage me to read anything and everything that caught my eye. What caught my eye? Comics of course. My parents embraced what my teachers had told them and within months I was reading at the same level of my peers and within a few years I was reading past my peers. Of the hundreds of comics I read in this time the majority were Marvel and they have left a lasting impression on me.
But I’m not the only member of the Talking Comics family that Marvel has left an impression on. So with Marvel Legacy looming on the horizon I reached out to find out what Marvel has meant to the Talking Comics family and what some of their favorite Marvel comics have been.
Marvel Early Silver Age- Classic Stan & Jack Era: the Birth of the Universe
Marvel Comics (rebranded from Atlas Comics) began in 1961 with Journey into Mystery #69 and Patsy Walker #95 but the beginnings of what would become known as the Marvel Universe emerged with the release of Fantastic Four #1 in November of 1961. Constrained at first by a distribution deal with DC comics that saw Marvel limited with the number of titles they could print each month so they published what they could and stormed the market place with relevant heroes and stories set in the ‘real world’ and had their heroes placed in a shared universe. It worked and within a few years Marvel titles were flying off the shelves and becoming the cornerstone of the comic world. Titles like the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, the Incredible Hulk, the Mighty Thor, The X-Men, and the return of Captain America to name a few revolutionized what comics were and would go one to define pop culture for generations to come. Fortunately for us our own Bob Reyer was there for the birth of the Marvel Universe and was kind enough to share his thoughts on this time period.
- Bob Reyer: AKA Uncle Bob, Co-Host of the Talking Comics podcast
In a very real way, Marvel Comics and I grew up together! To explain that statement, I vividly recall the day back in 1962 when I first held a Marvel comic in my hand, the issue in question being Fantastic Four #5 which featured the first appearance of Doctor Doom. A week later, I was home sick from school (a very usual occurrence, sadly) my Dad brought home a copy of The Incredible Hulk #1 that our local candy/stationery store still had on the shelf, so as you can see, this company that was just beginning its publishing run as “Marvel” coincided with my own readership!
Through all of the Silver Age, what made Marvel special, even to my young eyes, was the energy and creativity in their books, particularly as compared to DC. While I greatly enjoyed some of their books such as the Justice League of America, there was a bland safeness to everything. In fact, if you covered up the image of a group panel in JLA, the word balloons were of little help in telling you who was speaking, unless there was a “Great Scott!” or “Hera help me!” thrown in!
By comparison, the members of the FF were each distinctive in themselves, with unique personalities; they loved…and due to the brilliance of the concept, there were the bonds between the fiancées, the brother/sister, the big brother/little brother, and the best friends, all these types of love within the same group which formed a special kind of family dynamic.
When that “real world” characterization was laid into the dynamic storytelling of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, it was thrilling to watch the Marvel Universe evolve in front of your eyes, which happened across the entire line, whether in any of the Lee/Kirby books, the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man or Dr. Strange, or the Lee/Larry Lieber/Don Heck Iron Man.
That said, in my mind nothing in the history of the comic medium can match the creativity and scope of the first 60-odd issues of The Fantastic Four. Contained there-in are the seeds for stories that continue today, as Stan & Jack connected their new books to the old Timely stable with the re-introduction of Prince Namor (and there-by Captain America!), and in terms of the “new” Marvel, we’d be introduced to the Skulls, Victor Von Doom, The Watcher, the Inhumans, the Black Panther, the Kree, the Negative Zone, and of course, Galactus and the Silver Surfer.
Just as importantly though, none of these large-than-life characters or cosmic concepts truly over-shadowed the small personal stories or details that made the books “sing”, such as the growing relationship between Sue and Reed that would lead to their marriage (and then the first “super-heroic” birth story with Franklin!), or the simple human compassion of the tender touch of Alicia Masters on the craggy skin of Ben Grimm.
What can I say but “Make Mine Marvel!” (Bob Reyer)
I don’t know how much of these early days of Marvel will be present in Marvel Legacy but for any true fan of superheroes and comics these are must read stories. I find it a crime against the medium that there isn’t a Fantastic Four comic today and hopefully, as we get deeper into Legacy that will be rectified. But at the very least what the Marvel Universe is today, from the earth born heroes to the Marvel Cosmic were created in this time period. Marvel Legacy must have a return of the Fantastic Four– there is no Marvel Legacy without the Fantastic Four.
Marvel Late Silver Age- the Roy Thomas Era as Marvel EIC
The later half of the Silver Age was my entrance into the Marvel Universe and still one of my favorite eras of Marvel comics. As the second generation of Marvel creator came aboard the limits of the imagination were questioned with so many fantastic tales. Jim Starlin and the Cosmic Marvel Universe exploded in the pages of Captain Marvel and Warlock. Kun-Fu heroes, such as Iron Fist and Shang Chi: Master of Kung-Fu, survived well past the cultural fad and had fantastic runs and are Marvel staples to this day. Marvel also experimented with horror titles grounded in their universe as books like Tomb of Dracula, Werewolf By Night, and Son of Satan began to appear on the shelves along with more street level heroes like Luke Cage: Hero for Hire and Moon Knight. All in all it was a high point in Marvel publishing and hopefully a heavy influence on Marvel Legacy, but don’t take my word for it….
- Bob Reyer: Co-Host Talking Comics Podcast & possibly the nicest man in the world
My favorite period of Marvel history is certainly that first explosion of creative genius from the original Marvel Bullpen of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Don Heck, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, etc., but running a close second is that Late Silver/Early Bronze Age where Stan had begun to assume the duties of Publisher and had to step away from the day-to-day creative operations. With Roy Thomas taking the reins as Editor-in-Chief, an amazing influx of new talent came on board, and along with Mr. Thomas’ work on The Avengers with John Buscema on things like “The Kree-Skrull War” (and John’s brother Sal was no slouch either!), you had Archie Goodwin who’d co-create Luke Cage and spearhead the Epic line, Gerry Conway (who’d kill Gwen Stacy…and co-create The Punisher) Steve “Howard the Duck” Gerber, Marv Wolfman and his Tomb of Dracula (with veteran Gene Colan!), and many, many more. These “young guns” would build on Stan’s ideas of stories seemingly set in a real world and populated by “characters with flaws, but not flawed characters”, adding a layer of socio-political commentary to the stories, but never failing to tell a great super-hero yarn at the same time!
The writer I thought was the stand-out in that period (and my #3 of ALL TIME!) was Steve Englehart. No matter the series, he always found the core values that made the characters special, and I can count many stories from his pen that I would consider the “definitive arc” for that hero…or villain. Whether his Avengers/Defenders War crossover (the first Marvel Event by my count!), the “Siseneg” arc in Dr. Strange (Stephen meets “God”), or Luke Cage, Hero for Hire #8 and #9 where Luke is hired by Dr. Doom, and he has to fly to Latveria to get paid, because Victor has stiffed him!
Topping all that, for my money Mr. Englehart wrote, and I know I might get some arguments, THE BEST Captain America run ever. Whether it was his “Cap of the Fifties” arc that would shine a spotlight on some of the major problems this country had during those supposedly “Happy Days”, or his masterpiece, the original “Secret Empire” that would end (no huge spoilers!) with Steve becoming disillusioned with the motives of the people leading the government, and step away from his “Captain America” identity and become instead Nomad, The Man Without a Country! These 40-year-old stories still carry a powerful message today, and for that reason, plus their sheer entertainment value, I can’t recommend them highly enough. (Bob Reyer)
Marvel in the ‘80s- the Jim Shooter Era
I’ll be completely honest, if I could only read one era of comics for the remainder of my life it would be Marvel from the ‘80s. Maybe it’s childhood nostalgia or maybe it could quite possibly be the greatest era in comic history. Marvel under the helm the dictator… I mean Editor in Chief Jim Shooter was a perfect storm of talent and experimentation. Marvel’s Flagship title, the Fantastic Four, was in the perfect creative hands of John Byrne whose appreciation of Lee & Kirby was apparent but the tales were all his own making and the Fantastic Four was at the top of my read pile every month.
The ‘80s was also home to one of Marvel’s longest runs in comics as Mark Gruenwald took over Captain America for a historic run and Gruenwald solidified himself as a classic creator who we unfortunately lost to early. As Talking Comics contributor Jason Kahler puts it-
You cannot discuss Marvel in the 80s without including Mark Gruenwald. This list of books he was involved with is amazing: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, What If?.
As the primary writer of Cap for ten straight years, Gruenwald’s stories still influence the books and movies today.
He wrote The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, which was wikipedia before there was an internet. I had my local comics store get me all the back issues and I paid for them a little at a time. Bringing one home once a month was a highlight of my childhood.
And D.P. 7 was a series well before its time.
Gruenwald’s untimely death coincides with a shift in approach that gave way to what people think of when they remember 90s EXTREME COMICS. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. – (Jason Kahler)
Also in the ‘80s Chris Claremont’s the Uncanny X-Men was everything I wanted from a comic and my favorite tale from this era of the X-Men was when Claremont was joined all to briefly by Paul Smith. With tales set in outer space, the dank back alleys of Tokyo (with one of the greatest Wolverine fights ever), and the unexpected return of the Dark Phoenix their run was an incredible experience and after reading it again recently it makes my heart break for what the X-Men comics have become.
I wasn’t the only one feeling this way, as Jason Kahler puts it- “At the same time, you’ve got Claremont turning the mutant books into a superhero soap opera in all the good ways: long arcs, complex characters, mature ideas.”
The ‘80s is jam packed full of stories that Marvel Legacy will no doubt want to mine for their brilliance and entertainment. From Frank Miller’s Daredevil to the David Michelinine/Bob Layton Iron Man run, and Roger Stern’s under rated and underappreciated run on Spider-Man (Both in Spectatcular Spider-Man and the Amazing Spider-Man) as well as his fantastic take on the Avengers with the glorious return of John Buscema and Tom Palmer on the artwork. I’d be remiss to not point out Steve Engelhart’s long run on the West Coast Avengers, Walter Simonson’s Thor or Louise Simonson’s excellent Power Pack or one of my all time favorite comics, John Byrne’s Alpha Flight.
It’s too easy to declare the’80s as Marvel at it’s best as I could write titles and creators all afternoon. It’s my first thought when I think of Marvel History, but don’t take my word for it-
It’s easy to look back on the 80s with rose-colored glasses, but in truth, much of what happens in comics today (thematically and storytelling-wise) happened first during the 80s.
We tend to always prefer the eras of our childhoods, and that might be my case here, I’m willing to say. I’m not knocking current day books, but the 80s through the early 90s told good stories, had great art, and didn’t seem so pandering toward the big dollar. They changed the industry by becoming more mature, but not losing their fun. -(Jason Kahler)
Marvel in the ’00s- AKA the Joe Q era to today
I’m sure Marvel Legacy will encompass their recent past, probably more so then the previous eras that I want but that’s not to say that this era is less then stellar. I felt detached from Marvel for much of the ’90s other then the X-Men corner of the Universe. Sure there were spurts of glory, such as Mark Waid’s Captain America and the Busiek Avengers era but when Joe Quesada was give the keys to the castle, first with Marvel Knights and then the whole universe there was a noticeable change. Whether it was Grant Morrison’s epic New X-Men or hiring Brian Michael Bendis for everything Marvel felt different in the ’00s and has continued to put out some wonderful titles that the Marvel Legacy creators should remember as we reach the ‘relaunch’. From the Ultimates by Millar and Hitch to the Bendis run on Avengers, which was truly epic and an absolute treat to read (and listen to as you should check out the newest Talking Comics podcast, Bendis Assembled)
Talking Comics contributor Kristopher Harris encompasses some of the best of this era-
For the Marvel in the 2000s, I think Brubaker’s Captain America is sensational, but I love Hurowitz’s Vengeance of the Moon Knight. Brubaker introduced Winter Soldier and set the tone for a modern perfect Captain America. I don’t think you could have the last two Captain America movies if it wasn’t for him. He modernized Cap’s ideals so that he was both old fashion and progressive in a post 9/11 world. Moon Knight was just my first comic and I still love it’s voice. I think it’s best series for Moon Knight. It felt like it was building the character to something greater and it’s a shame Bendis didn’t do better. Also either the creation of the Thunderbolts is an important piece of Marvel History. That series has been able to survive in some iteration for 20 years. Marvel gave a lot more thought to villains, and it led to great directions like Dark Avengers. I think Ms. Marvel represents what Marvel has been about the last few years. She is , on the outside, a bold hero for a community that has been invisible to comics for too long. On the inside, though, she has the innocent idealism that we can all relate to, reminding us what it was like to be a teenager and the morals we have lost with age. She is a modern Spiderman and her own person at the same time. If we were all like her, the world would be at peace.-Kristopher Harris
At the end of the day I’m sure I will enjoy Marvel Legacy, even if it does not recapture my youth. I know that’s a tall order and an even taller order when you look at the entirety of the Marvel universe and to think that it can all be simplified into one publishing initiative. Maybe its best if continue to enjoy the past eras of Marvel and look forward to new tales that will spawn a legion of fans that are as passionate about this era as Bob, Jason, Kristopher, and I are about our favorite eras.