This past week Marvel released a 75th Anniversary Celebration book to commemorate the company’s legacy. While Fantastic Four #1 marked the birth of the Marvel Universe, in November, 1961, the company began in 1939 as Timely Comics. To celebrate Marvel rounded up some of its greatest talents from over the years to put together tales to reflect Marvel’s legacy.
The result is somewhat of a mixed bag, as most of these compilation issues are. What is unique about the issue is its variety of offerings, from a Captain America text feature turned comic to an update on Bendis’ Alias story. Almost every story features a callback to Marvel’s earliest days but the book still feels a bit like a random grab bag of stories with no real unifying factor.
One of the biggest highlight of this issue is the textual history of Marvel and their creations that sheds light on some of the lesser known moments in the history of the company. The writings focus on forgotten heroes from the Marvel universe, Marvel’s use of its real-world settings, and even a reprint of Stan Lee’s first writing for Marvel, a text adventure featuring Captain America. Holding these all together are some funny variant covers dreamed up by Brian Michael Bendis and Marvel’s newest hotshot artists that poke fun of the Marvel Universe.
The opening story “Anniversary” by James Robinson and Chris Samnee is a wonderful look back at the birth of the Marvel Universe at the exact moment when the Fantastic Four returned from outer space with their new powers. It does a wonderful job of demonstrating the history and breadth of the Marvel universe with just a few words and images. More than any other story in the collection, this piece oozes the wonder and charm that has made Marvel so successful and the fun of its characters.
Next up is a really interesting comic that features the script from Stan Lee’s first ever writing for Marvel, then Timely Comics. This story was a two-page text feature that ran in Captain America #3, in 1941, which is also reprinted here. Bruce Timm, of “Batman: The Animated Series” fame, is brought on to illustrate the timeless story “Captain America Foils the Traitor’s Revenge.” The story isn’t anything groundbreaking but as Stan Lee’s first story it exhibits the charm that made him so successful and enjoyable to read.
The final really standout story comes from Bendis as he revisits his Alias series and even teases its return. Here Jessica Cage, formerly Jones, returns to being a private investigator and takes on the case of a woman who had a run in with one of Marvel’s earliest creations, the original Human Torch. The piece is touching and full of wonderful character moments, a statement which is true for almost every Bendis created property. The connection to Marvel’s anniversary seems more tangential but a good story is a good story and one can hardly complain.
The Spider-Man story by the “legendary” Tom DeFalco and Stan Goldberg (the colorist on Amazing Fantasy #15) is not as memorable as the others in the collection. The story is a pretty generic tale that features Peter fighting criminals as Spider-Man while missing out on his social life at the Coffee Bean. The art is cartoony and inconsistent and the story, while a complete tale, is hugely forgettable. Even more difficult is to figure out where in continuity the tale lies. It seems Peter hasn’t made friends with all of the ESU crew but Mary Jane seems to be close friends with Gwen, an occurrence that wouldn’t occur until after Peter cleared the air with Harry and Gwen.
The final tale is a flashback story about the currently deceased Wolverine, written by his creator Len Wein. The story has Wolverine involved in a walkabout and has him hallucinating about his past and giant lizards before revealing that he’s been stalked by one of his most formidable enemies. The story has some nice moments but feels as if the editor of this book fished it out of an unused stories drawer and tossed it into this collection to pad out the book’s volume.