If this were one of those annoying Mac commercials transposed to the comic-book industry, I'd be the cool, good-looking "Marvel" and John Hodgman would be the "DC." I mean, I wouldn't be as smug as Justin Long because I have enjoyed and continue to enjoy a great many DC comic books, but there's no denying where I stand. Though DC has a number of fine writers and artists, as well as some of the greatest characters ever created for comic books, and, by dint of their various imprints, more variety of genre than Marvel, I think Marvel, over all, has the better writers, the better artists, and far superior editorial direction.
Had it not been for Stan Lee with Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the other Marvel Universe creators in the 1960s, I might well have moved on from comics as so many of my peers did. And while there have certainly been periods during my lifetime when I enjoyed more DC than Marvel super-hero comic books, that hasn't been the case of late. The big DC Universe events seem to weigh heavily on even the publisher's best writers while the Marvel Universe events seem to elevate even their lesser lights.
All of which is my amazingly roundabout way of getting to my review of the Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection [$24.99], a 344-page anthology of classic comics stories from 1939 through 2007. Edited by John Rhett Thomas, this volume delivers enormous entertainment and the delicious fascination of second-guessing the selections made by those who worked on the book. As the author of recently-published 1000 Comic Books You Must Read, I know all too well the sting of the second guess. Heck, it's part of the fun of doing books like this.
I'll state from the get-go that I love this book. My quibbles notwithstanding, there are a lot of good stories in here with the editors making a decent case for their inclusion. However, except for three horror/fantasy/sci-fi tales, the book focuses exclusively on super-hero stories. There isn't a single war or western tale to be found here. None of the clever lighthearted comedies starring feisty teens, glamorous models, precocious kids, funny animals, and the like. No romance stories, no crime stories, no modern horror stories, no Howard the Duck, and so on. I'll return to this theme in a bit.
The stories which do appear are good choices, though I think Marvel could have done better with their trio of horror and sci-fi tales. My picks would've been the Stan Lee/Bill Everett "Zombie," Fin Fang Foom, and, to represent the Lee/Steve Ditko shock-ending stories, "The Terror of Tim Boo Ba."
But "The Red Ghost and His Indescribable Super-Apes" is a nice reflection of its Cold War era. Other outstanding choices include "Spider-Man No More," a Roy Thomas/Neal Adams Avengers, a Chris Claremont/John Byrne X-Men, Frank Miller's "Elektra" origin from Daredevil, a nifty Peter David/Todd McFarlane Incredible Hulk, a Kurt Busiek/George Perez Avengers, and a wonderful Ultimate Spider-Man issue by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley.
The stories and the breeze editorial introductions to each of Marvel's decades make the Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection a most worthwhile collection. I give it the full five out of five Tonys. It's a super-hero super-sampler.
THE BEST OF MARVEL?
You know what I'd love to read? A weekly series of 100-page comic books reprinting stories from 1939's Marvel Comics #1 to the present. Each issue would cover a single year, providing today's fans with a representative sampling of the many different kinds of comics the company published.
Yes, this would be an enormous undertaking. Some might even deem it impossible. On the other hand, in the 1960s, when Stan, Jack, Steve, and the gang were reinventing super-hero comics, would any of them have predicted the coming of the Marvel Masterworks or the Marvel Essential volumes?
"Impossible" ain't what it used to be.
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ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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