MARVEL MUSEUM - THE STORY OF THE COMICS / AUTHOR: NED HARTLEY / PUBLISHER: STUDIO PRESS / RELEASE DATE: 17TH OCTOBER
Another week, another big, unwieldy coffee table book (although this one is bigger than most coffee tables) offering up some thin gruel hoping to capitalise on the ongoing modern day cultural phenomenon of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. And this is thin stuff, indeed – there’s not a lot here even the most casually-interested Marvel comics fan won’t know – and yet it’s a nicely-presented, well-illustrated volume even if it is, in the final analysis, utterly inessential and probably thoroughly unnecessary.
In reality, this is very much a primer for the relatively-uninitiated on the history of Marvel Comics (the films barely get a mention), from its early days as Timely and Atlas, 1940s incarnations of Captain America and the Sub-Mariner alongside the ‘original’ Human Torch, covering the arrival of the legendary Stan Lee, celebrating the work of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and chronicling the origins and broad history of Marvel’s main movers and shakers – alongside some second-string beasts such as Ghost Rider, The Punisher and Blade and the earliest incarnations of the Guardians of the Galaxy. The anonymous text is perfunctory but fairly informative in an unfussy and uncluttered manner. Marvel’s dramatis personae – Lee and co. and the characters themselves - are sketched in broad strokes (no-one gets more than a page or two of large text) and, pleasantly, writer/editor Roy Thomas, Stan Lee’s influential PA / secretary Flo Steinberg and even Marvel’s legion of fans (the Merry Marvel Marching Society, no less) get a look in with a few pages each.
Marvel Museum, for all its moderate virtues, would be utterly throwaway stuff if not for its beautiful illustrations. Classic comic covers, pages and panels are nicely reproduced and annotated, allowing the reader to follow the changing faces and costumes of so many characters who have become, amazingly, household names right across the world. Captain Marvel’s various incarnations are illustrated, we see the development of the X-Men, witness their slump in the 1970s and their rebirth into The Uncanny X-Men and the arrival of the iconic Wolverine. Plenty, too, for fans of the big-hitters – Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Hulk, Iron Man and Captain America are all well served and demonstrate the book’s greatest virtue which is in exploring the rich, diverse and imaginative Universe Stan Lee created back in the 1960s and how its heritage will most likely outlive us all.
Marvel Museum is really more of a souvenir stall than a museum. It’s a book you’ll pick up to gaze at the illustrations rather than to read the bland text, and you’d be right to blanche at the £25 RRP. In the end, this is only for completists and curious newbies who want to know a bit more about the Universe they’ve enjoyed at the cinema but maybe only toyed with in comic form.