The month, Marvel released Marvel Firsts, The 1960s, a thick, colorful collection of first issues and first appearances written and drawn by soon-to-be legends Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and many others. By coincidence, I received a review copy of another recent Marvel trade paperback, The Marvels Project, by Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting.
They make great, almost seamless reading together.
For example, the first appearance of Matt Hawk aka the Two Gun Kid, is included in the 1960s collection and an elderly Matt Hawk begins the narrative in The Marvels Project.
The 1960s collection not only includes the first appearances not only of the Two Gun Kid, who I remember fondly from reprints available on spinner racks in my childhood, but also the first appearances of Spider-Man, The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Hank Pym (a founding Avenger), Thor, Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandoes (see the Captain America movie), Dr. Strange, the Avengers as a team, the original X-Men, the first issue of Captain America’s modern series, Captain Marvel, the Silver Surfer, the Rawhide Kid and a few others that are somewhat lesser known or lost to time.
In other words, the beginning of Marvel as we know it today.
It’s easy when reading this collection that the recent success of Marvel’s movie franchise is built on the characters first appearing in the 1960s. Spider-Man’s famous lesson of “with great power comes great responsibility” is contained here, as is the transformation of four friends into the Fantastic Four. But it also contains some surprises, as the issues are included in full, which means the FF story also included the lesser-known prelude of Mr. Fantastic summoning the other three members of the team for help. The portion in which they hijack a spaceship, are exposed to cosmic rays and transform is well-known. In fact, I think it was a book and record I owned as a child. But I’d never read the prelude before. The collection also contains many covers, providing a great glimpse into what newstands and spinner racks looked like when they were originally published. This means the inclusion of romance, science fiction and western stories. I really miss the Western stories, especially Two-Gun and Rawhide.
When I finished that trip down memory lane, I dived into The Marvels Project, which goes much further back, to the beginnings of Marvel as a company. There are many heroes here who are lost to time, including The Angel, who narrates much of this story. The lesser-known heroes intersect the lives of the heroes who survived the Golden Age to become famous even today: the original Human Torch and Toro, Captain America and Bucky, and Namor the Sub-Mariner.
The story is an indirect sequel to the acclaimed series Marvels, written by Kurt Busiek and with painted artwork by Alex Ross. I liked Marvels, a story of how the age of superheroes affected the regular people of the Marvel Universe, but I felt more emotionally invested in The Marvels Project, most likely because the Project was a much more intimate story of one man witnessing the birth of something grand and trying to do his part, whereas Marvels is so much about showcasing (rightly) Alex Ross’ amazing artwork.
Marvels is an overview of the Marvel universe through the years and up to the present, more of a beautiful history at times than a story.
The Project is more a story of the individuals who witnessed or were somewhat involved in creating that age, including an unexpectedly poignant story of the man who assassinated Captain America’s creator.
I’d recommend all three books for any readers but especially for kids who keep asking questions like “did it happen this way in the comics, Mom?” like mine do when I take them to the Marvel movies. Those original stories still hold up and Brubaker and Epting do the early creations proud in their story.