PrintE-mail Written by Martin Unsworth

Another month, another massive hardback encyclopaedia of comic book information. Superheroes are big news now, of course, so it’s to be expected, but do we need yet another enormous dust gatherer? The answer is, rather unsurprisingly, yes!

Already updated several times since it was first published almost ten years ago, this chronological history of arguably the greatest comics company ever (this writer has always preferred Marvel to DC, and isn’t afraid to admit it) is packed with glorious information and lusciously illustrated.

From the very first issue of Marvel Comics in 1939 (by Timely Publications, inspired to go into superhero comic strips by the success of Detective Comics’ launch of Action Comics and the new creation Superman. Although primitive-looking now, it introduced us to two characters that are still around today - Namor, the Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch, albeit in a different incarnation than the familiar member of the Fantastic Four. The following year, a young errand boy was hired, one Stanley Martin Leiber. We don’t need to tell you that the boy would soon become The Man.

It wasn’t all superheroes in those formative years, though. It’s fascinating to read about the all but forgotten teen humour titles and publications such as Millie the Model and Nelly the Nurse as well as the company’s dalliance with romance comics and western adventures, with the two genres even being mixed together at one point! So you see, it wasn’t all spandex and supervillains! In fact, as we find out, there was a period when Marvel’s output didn’t include any superheroes, as they’d become so unfashionable. They had moved, instead to war and horror comics.

That changes when we get to the sixties, of course, and the introduction of many of the characters we know and love today. As such, we move from two pages per year to substantially more. Key storylines and first appearances of heroes/villains/notable characters are all referenced, and while there’s nowhere near enough space to be fully comprehensive, it’s a good starting point for newcomers to the comic book world. For True Believers and long-time fans, it’s a great refresher or just something to pick up when you want to have that warm fuzzy feeling that Golden Age comics bring.

All the key points for each year are listed and there is even a list of events that happening ‘in real life’ to contemporise the growth of the Marvel group. For instance, the first issue of Marvel Comics hit newsstands the same year as the start of World War II and within only two years, Captain America was born.

On the downside, some of the double-spread reproductions lack the definition and crispness of the smaller images, with colours bleeding and edges blurring and there are some releases that are conspicuous by their absence (the infamous appearance of KISS in Marvel Super Special #1, for example; a big deal at the time) but these are minor niggles in an otherwise superb read. Considering this new updated editions comes in at just over four hundred knee-aching pages, it’s certainly something you’ll be proud to have on your shelf. It goes right up to October 2016 with Civil War II so it’s probably not going to get another update for a few years. And if all that doesn’t sway you, there are two exclusive art prints by Dan Panosian (The Uncanny X-Men) of the work used for the heavyweight slipcover.


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