The Genesis Of The House Of Ideas
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its ninety-second choice, History Of The Marvel Universe by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez and reviewed by Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce…
History Of The Marvel Universe
Writer: Mark Waid
Pencils / Colours: Javier Rodríguez
Inks: Álvaro López
Letters: Fabio Ciacci
There are many difficult things in the world. Higher-dimensional algebra. Quantum Physics. Rocket Science. Let’s add ‘Comic Book Continuity’ to that little list. You may scoff, but have you ever tried to keep track of the various comings and goings of a comic book universe, the never ending multitude of characters all within a timeline which – at best – doesn’t conform to any type of usual linearity? “Yeah. But it’s all fictional,” you may cry. That’s exactly the problem. People keep having the gall to make things up, adding new characters and spectacular ideas – often with a scant regard for such trifling things such as ‘making sense’ . Adding in numerous universes and countless reboots, and it’s a wonder that anything in a comic book has any coherence at all (not that coherence has ever troubled large swathes of the comic book world)
Given that it celebrated its 80th anniversary last year, Marvel Comics continuity feels like the proverbial riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Luckily there’s Mark Waid’s History of the Marvel Universe in order to help us poor unfortunate souls who really need to know where ‘Tuk The Caveboy’ stands in the grand scheme of things or what really happened to Howard The Duck.
The universe is about to end. Another is about to begin. At the bridge of these two cataclysms are the two last sentient beings in existence: Galactus and Franklin ‘Son of Reed’ Richards. As the time of ending and beginning draws near, Franklin becomes scared that he’ll forget everything. So he begs Galactus to tell him a story. A story of all that ever was in a universe of Marvels. From the beginning time, with the Phoenix Force and the Celestials to the birth of everyone from The Fantastic Four to The Silver Surfer, to the rewriting of history by The Red Skull’s misuse of the cosmic cube, Galactus recounts everything that has made up the Marvel Universe. All the while the end of the universe as we know it edges ever closer…
The central conceit of History of the Marvel Universe is a cute one, making the recounting of Marvel history – somewhat appropriately – come across as something of a fairy tale. The scant narrative there is – namely the relationship between Galactus and Richards – is actually rather affecting and provides a little bit of emotion to what is, essentially, a reference book.
Trying to work the history of the Marvel Universe into some sort of coherent story takes the form of large swathes of dialogue – of which Galactus probably intones in a grave manner – which recount the most significant moments of Marvel history. Given that much of this is reams and reams of exposition much of the artwork by Rodríguez does the heavy lifting. In lieu of trying to convey a coherent narrative, much of the book revels in a series of one page tableaux showcasing a myriad of characters and events. Battles, explosions, characters all posing in their superhero splendour – they all become snapshots of all those who have touched the Marvel Universe at one time or another. They’re often wonderful spreads, though everything avoids aping styles of the great artists of the past and concentrates on bold and brassy interpretations of characters we are all familiar with.
Of course, Galactus’ entire story does get quite tortuous – but there is kudos for trying to make all the loose ends that have been created by writers over the years cohere into something that makes some sort of sense. Even if it does get ridiculous at times (and the increase of tortuous continuity in the final chapters tells you as much as the real world of comic books and Marvel as it does about the fictional Marvel Universe) there’s a certain amount of breathless energy in the sheet intensity of the constant exposition that keeps everything rolling along.
Unsurprisingly a large part of this collection is comprised of fulsome annotations. Aside from giving us more background about the actual comic book issues many pivotal moments occurred in, there are lots of original panels of artwork from the greats of Marvel history.
This is a unique stab at a reference work, both comic and encyclopaedia. While it’s a bit too dense to truly enjoy as a comic narrative, Marvel fans will find this somewhat invaluable. Well, at least until some else comes along and has the temerity to make up something new…
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far