A Love To The History Of The House Of Ideas
Tripwire’s contributing writer Laurence Boyce takes a look at Marvel 1000, out now…
Published by Marvel
On 31st August 1939 the first issue of Marvel Comics hit the American newsstands. The comic, from Timely Publishing, included a number of characters: amongst them Namor the Sub Mariner and the android version of the Human Torch. Timely Publishing would soon be known as Atlas and, a little later, change their name again into Marvel. You may have heard of them.
In 2019 Marvel celebrated its 80th Anniversary, a time of many ups and down. There was the great comic crash of the 90s, a near bankruptcy (which saw Michael Jackson seriously consider buying the company), and much internal strife. There was also the birth of numerous iconic superheroes and the company’s subsequent pop-culture dominance.
In celebrating 80 Years of Marvel, Marvel 1000 (it’s claimed that, if Marvel Comics had continued publishing as an individual comic book throughout the years then 2019 would be the year when issue 1000 would have been published) is mostly entertaining and thoughtful with some smatterings of controversy: very much like Marvel themselves.
Marvel 1000 consists of 80 one page stories, each page corresponding to a year from 1939 onwards. From a myriad of artists and writers, the stories take many forms. There are funny ones, serious one, a few that break the fourth wall (usually with Deadpool, ‘nuff said). But each tries to encapsulate a certain ‘spirit of Marvel’ whilst at the same time celebrating the iconic heroes that have made up the company over its storied history.
Some of the highlights here include ‘We’re Calling Him Ben’, in which writer Brad Meltzer reflects on the heroic impact of Spider-Man via the number of babies ‘named’ after him. Not only is it a lovely little epistle to the character himself – with the bluff and bluster of superhero theatrics filtered through the prism of the everyday – but its representative of many of the stories on offer here, a little vignette that’s both witty yet with an edge of pathos.
Spider-Man is unsurprisingly the focus of many stories here. “How to Save A Set Of Keys” is a clever little text story written by Jason Reynolds which celebrates Miles Morales while “The Route” is a heartfelt paean to the tragic origins of Peter Parker’s incarnation of the Webslinger. But there are also many of the other classic Marvel heroes out in full force: The Hulk is front and centre of “The Last Word” which is as just as much an excuse to showcase Ales Ross’ art than anything else. The origin of Wolverine is given a bit of a meta-exploration in “Enter – Stage Center” which has shades of Neil Gaiman’s classic Batman story “A Black and White World”. Doctor Strange struggles to give his cape a wash in the silly and amusing “Spin Cycle”. Indeed, almost everyone is there though – apart from a few appearances from The Thing – the lack of any meaningful appearance from The Fantastic Four in the collection is something of a surprise. Special mention must also be made of the brilliant ‘Little Blackagar in Slumberland’ in which artist Paul Hornschemeier pays tribute to both The Inhumans and the work of Winsor McCay.
Whilst the litany of Marvel’s classic characters are all represented here, there are also plenty of lesser known heroes who also get a bit of time in the spotlight. This is lampshaded in “The Prince of Power Returns” in which Hercules – who did his own Marvel series in the 80s – fails miserably to announce his return to the big time.
While many of the stories are stand alone, there is a running strand throughout them regarding The Black Rider (one of Timely’s earliest characters, a mixture of the Western and Superhero genres), his possession of the supremely powerful Eternity Mask and those who have been tasked with keeping tags on said artefact. Not only does this storyline give a bit of narrative impetus to some of the characters who are perhaps less well known, but it also celebrates another aspect of Marvel Comics: the complex (and sometimes convoluted) universe(s) that have their own history and mythology.
This edition also collects Marvel 1001 which contains more of the same including appearances by Death’s Head, Squirrel Girl and a fun spoof advert from the 40s imploring people to ‘get rid of their comics for the war effort’.
As mentioned, Marvel 1000 was not without some controversy. Mark Waid untitled Captain America monologue is, as printed, a treatise on wearing a mask and anonymity. The original piece – a criticism on America, highlighting both its imperfections and the reasons it is still worth fighting for, was nixed with the higher ups most likely not appreciating so called ‘anti-American’ content. Whilst it makes no real difference to the collection as a whole, it is perhaps apropos and reminds us that Marvel itself is far from perfect. While it may be the birthplace of many of a cultural icon, its past treatment of its creative staff has been less than superheroic. Indeed, the In Memoriam end page which showcases the names of Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby amongst hundreds of other names – while undoubtedly heartfelt – may be of cold comfort to those who were never adequately compensated for their labours. And, under the grip of Disney, Marvel’s aforementioned cultural dominance is perhaps a little too close to cultural oppression for some.
But there is little to dislike here. With such a wider variety of artists and writers, it’s a fun and breezy collection to dip into with things rarely getting dull. As a paean to the history of Marvel, Marvel 1000 is an enjoyable read made with care and love.
Marvel 1000 is available now published in the UK by Panini, priced £13.99