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Marvel Chronicle: a book review

I like to prowl through bookstores.  Bookstore employees might even say I haunt them.  When I’m bored, curious, restless, or lacking focus, I visit a bookstore.  During a recent foray through the Graphic Novels aisle on a boring day, I noticed a huge book on the top shelf titled “Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History.”  The book was packaged in a lavishly illustrated shelf case featuring art by John Romita Jr. superimposed on classic images of Marvel heroes.  The book professed to be a complete guide to the history of Marvel Comics.  As a lifelong fan of comics, it definitely sounded like the solution to my problem with boredom. 

Marvel Comics has existed for 70 years under different names such as Timely Publications and Atlas Comics, producing comics in a variety of genres.  Westerns, romance, horror, humor, war and, of course, superhero titles have all been components of the Marvel line.  Sorting out the seminal events in Marvel’s history seems almost an industry in itself, with a wealth of guides and encyclopedias designed to initiate newcomers to Marvel’s multitude of characters and complex storylines.  Marvel Chronicle takes this format one step further:  it offers brief summaries of comic characters and events, but encompasses the information into a larger tapestry that explores the history of the company.  Graced with artwork by the best of Marvel’s creative talents, it is a visually striking book.

Marvel Chronicle fulfilled my wildest expectations.  Starting with the company’s earliest days in 1939, the book takes us on a year by year examination of the high points in the history of the company.  These bite-sized bits of information are categorized by month, providing an even more detailed context for placing superheroes into a cultural milieu and demonstrating how original ideas exploded into new concepts and characters.  Along the right side of the page, real-world events are listed for each year,  linking the Marvel Universe with our own and completing the historical perspective.  It begins with the first appearances of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner in 1939, and follows the heroes and stories into the present day. 

Marvel Chronicle is a visually stunning book!

Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History
Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History
1952: Early years
1952: Early years
1962: The introduction of Thor
1962: The introduction of Thor
1963: Marvel publishes Iron Man
1963: Marvel publishes Iron Man
1982:  Elektra
1982: Elektra

Let's take a brief look through seven decades of Marvel Comics!

Marvel Chronicle offers a complete accounting for the major events in the history of the company, but I have selected a few highlights from each decade in Marvel’s History.  These are a few of the occurances that altered the shape and form of future comics (in my opinion).

1940s: While America was suffering from the Great Depression and Europe was embroiled in World War II, Captain America joined the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner as the first and best of its heroes. In 1941, Marvel’s characters were depicted battling the Nazis, and Hitler had a stable of villains conspiring against the forces of freedom, including the Red Skull. By the end of the decades, the popularity of superheroes diminished in favor of romance, horror, western and “funny animal” stories.  These three heroes became the foundation of the superhero market for Marvel.

1950s: Comics were viewed in a negative light due to charges raised by a psychiatrist named Dr. Fredric Wertham that America’s comic-reading youth were being influenced in dangerous ways. A congressional hearing followed that crippled the industry and led to the birth of the Comics Code Authority, a regulatory body that determined what was and was not appropriate for readers. Meanwhile, Marvel continued to produce a variety of comics, often capitalizing on trends begun by other companies.  This decade was significant because the Comics Code Authority defined standards for the content of all comics, prohibiting excessive gore, violence, and sexual content. 

1960s: This was the decade that shaped comics history. In November 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby produced a comic about four friends who traveled into space and were altered by cosmic rays which gave them amazing powers. It was called the Fantastic Four, and it paved the way for Marvel Comics’ return to the superhero market. Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, the X-Men, Nick Fury, Dr. Strange, the Avengers, the Silver Surfer and too many more to name cast a spotlight on a creative peak that remained the foundation of Marvel Comics from that point on. Marvel’s art staff grew tremendously during this period as well, with the addition of John Buscema, John Romita Sr., Gene Colan, Neal Adams and Jim Steranko.  This was the era that attracted my attention and made me a fan.

1970s: Jack Kirby left Marvel for DC for five years, but Marvel added Jim Starlin, Barry Smith, Frank Brunner and other new talent. During this time, the company launched a line of black and white magazines that emphasized the horror genre to complement the color comics. The innovative spark of the 60s did not diminish, as Marvel gave us offbeat heroes such as the New X-Men, the Defenders, Adam Warlock and Thanos, the Man-Thing, the Son of Satan, Ghost Rider and Howard the Duck.  These bizarre additions to the Marvel Universe were among my personal favorites and kept me interested as I became an adult.

1980s: The ‘80s were less about expansion and growth and more about developing the characters and storylines already in place. Spider-Man married Mary Jane, a division of Avengers moved to the West Coast, Iron Man was given a new suit of armor, and the main pantheon of heroes were involved in a twelve-issue series called Secret Wars. New characters included Beta Ray Bill and Elektra, and Marvel attempted unsuccessfully to create a new universe of heroes unrelated to their current characters, unimaginatively titled the “New Universe.”  This was not my favorite era, but it was solid storytelling and competent art. 

1990s: Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee and Barry Windsor-Smith breathed new life into Spider-Man, the X-Men and Wolverine, respectively. Meanwhile, Alex Ross and Kurt Busiek offered a brilliantly scripted comic called Marvels. This recounting of the early age of Marvel depicted its heroes in a realistically-painted style that floored readers with its beautiful combination of power and elegance. Sweeping story arcs otherwise dominated with a cloned Spider-Man, the Age of Apocalypse, the Onslaught Epic and Heroes Reborn.  This decade was significant because the artwork became more important than the storytelling, and gimmicks to lure collectors took hold. 

2000s: Marvel revamped its universe to both simplify it and make it relevant to a new age of reader, and their line of “Ultimate” comics was introduced. In the meantime, its mainstream comics returned to their roots and abandoned marketing gimmicks in favor of a return to strong storytelling. The major epic was still in its arsenal, however, with stories such as the House of M, the new Secret Wars and, finally, Civil War and Secret Invasion.  Story and art once again supported each other, and gimmicks were abandoned.  A fine decade for comics.

Marvel Takes Hollywood by Storm!

 

To read more about Marvel Comics characters in the movies, please see: Marvel Universe - Preview & Buy Movies from Marvel Comics

 

Order Marvel Chronicle from Amazon.com

Any fan of superhero comics will enjoy Marvel Chronicle

Why did I enjoy this book so much? Not only was the chronology of both Marvel Comics and the wonderful universe they created succinctly outlined, but it was visually beautiful, as well. When one holds a single comic in his/her hands, it is easy to overlook the skills of its artistic creators. When faced with a montage of images featuring the best of Jack Kirby, Neal Adams, Frank Miller, John Romita Jr., George Perez, Carlos Pacheco and a host of others, the tremendous talent of these fine illustrators becomes clear. Hundreds of illustrations from Marvel’s best artists clearly demonstrated the skill they brought to their craft, and this book serves as a fitting tribute to their abilities. Fittingly, it also demonstrates the degree in which comic art evolved over the decades. Each era was beautiful in its own right, and to compile the best of comics art into a single volume is a true feast for the eyes.

To arrange the creative efforts of Marvel’s writers and artists into a linear, chronological format highlighted the ongoing genius of the “bullpen.” (It was also fascinating to observe creative peaks, when a cluster of stories would be told in rapid succession that fostered significant change.)  From the introduction of the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner in 1939 to the infiltration of Earth by the alien Skrulls in 2008, Marvel never ceased to lead the field with inspired characters and imaginative plots. They gave us heroes with distinct and often flawed personalities and placed them in a world of endless wonder. They gave us fantasy and escape, but mixed it with realism and pathos. Their heroes were real, with problems and insecurities we could always relate to. They created not just heroes, but people. Marvel Chronicle is a testament to seventy years of creative brilliance.

If I’m really lucky, maybe I can stick around for the next seventy years, as well.

Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History is published by DK Publishing © 2008. ISBN: 978-0-7566-4123-8. The opinions expressed in this review are those of the writer alone, and are not intended to represent the views of Marvel Comics or DK Publishing.

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Comments 16 comments

Ghost Whisper 77 profile image

Ghost Whisper 77 6 years ago from The U.S. Government protects Nazi War Criminals

My sons would love this Hub! This is where it all started for them! We used to have so many of these things in the house! Nice going down memory lane. Thanks Mike!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thank you so much, Ghost Whisper. I loved comics ever since I was a child, and this was a indeed a great book for sparking memories of Spider-Man, Dr. Strange, and all those folks.

Thank you for your comment.


sabrebIade profile image

sabrebIade 6 years ago from Pennsylvania

I still have to say that the 60s and 70s were my favorites.

Corny as some of the stories were, they had an innocence about them that we are far from today.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

That era was my favorite, also. There was more of a balance in the stories to the extent that the safety of the world wasn't on the line with every story. The light-hearted nature of some the stories were refreshing.

Thanks for commenting, Sabreblade. Haven't heard from ya in awhile. Nice to connect again.


Red_Dragon profile image

Red_Dragon 6 years ago

that is awesome! I grew up with Marvel in the 90's but this looks like something that would intrigue me. I think its great to see that all of these Characters that we grew up with is going to the big screen. I cant wait till an avengers/Captain America Movie comes out! That will be very exciting.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Red_Dragon, thanks for the kind words. I think you would like the book if you were a comics reader in the 90's. I am also looking forward to the Avengers, Iron Man II, and the rest. It will be interesting to see what impact Disney's purchase of Marvel will have on the movies. Hopefully they will continue the success Marvel has already enjoyed.

Thanks again.


bill yon profile image

bill yon 6 years ago from sourcewall

It's funny when everyone mentions the greats of marvel they always forget about steve ditko.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Yes, Steve Ditko. The amazing artist who gave us Spider-Man and Dr. Strange at Marvel, and tremendous characters like the Creeper and the Hawk and Dove (a personal favorite, at least for the issues Ditko drew). Because he stuck with his assignments and didn't contribute to most of Marvel's stable of heroes (as Kirby did), he does get overlooked. You are correct, I failed to mention him, also.

Let me correct that here by mentioning that Ditko was a true visionary. While the number of heroes he helped create are not many, he gave Spider-Man most of his rogue's gallery of villains. He gave us a whole new way of viewing the Universe with his version of Dr. Strange. He also offered a very solid run on the Hulk. He essentially joined Lee and Kirby to lay the foundation for what Marvel became, and should not be forgotten.

Bill, thanks for your comment. I may very well go back and at least insert his name with Buscema, Romita and the others. I appreciate your reading.


JannyC profile image

JannyC 6 years ago

Awesome review! I had older brother who got me hooked on comics. Yup that's how a barbie doll loving girl became hardcore comic book collector. My collection is gone though so sad. It was so funny going into comic book shops cause I did not look the comic book loving sterotype it really made me mad that they thought I didn't know what i was talking about and I did. Great hub thanks for the memories.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Janny, thanks for reading. My older brother hooked me on comics too, by the way. I think it's great that a Barbie doll loving girl can also appreciate the Avengers. It's a shame your collection is gone. My Mother (now 81 years old) believes she had a first issue of Batman as a child that was thrown out with other comics by her own mother when they moved. That one comic, of course, recently sold for over a million dollars.

Well, your collection might be gone, but a true fan will always appreciate comics.

Thanks again for your comments.

Mike


John B Badd profile image

John B Badd 6 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Cool hub Mike. I added a link here from my Marvel Universe Movie hub ;)


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thanks, John! I appreciate the link. I have reciprocated, so hopefully we can share a few readers. Take care.

Mike


wt1s3rv3r profile image

wt1s3rv3r 5 years ago

that is awesome! I grew up with Marvel in the 90's


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

wt1s3rv3r, thanks for stopping by. Marvel Comics have always been special, demonstrated by the popularity of the movies. I've loved them ever since my childhood.

Thanks again.

Mike


sabrebIade profile image

sabrebIade 5 years ago from Pennsylvania

Wow...is this my day for awesome comic Hubs? First I read Anders Fischer's one about the Cold War era, and now this one. Amazing!


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Thanks for the kind words, Sabreblade. It is always a pleasure to find your comments on my pages. Take care.

Mike

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