Marvel Comics’ Greatest Moments

marvel 75 logo

Marvel Comics turned 75 this year. As we celebrate Marvel’s 75th anniversary, it’s hard to imagine how long the comic book company has been around. Even though Marvel Comics first debuted in 1939 with Marvel Comics #1 (featuring decidedly different superheroes like the Human Torch, Ka-Zar and Namor), the company truly came to its own in the 1960s when writer Stan Lee and artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko introduced the world to new and dynamic superheroes.

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These masked marvels like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men quickly captured readers’ imaginations. Without exaggeration, Marvel Comics changed the comic book world and left a permanent mark in popular culture and its characters are still vibrant today. Incredibly enough, it can be said that they’re more popular today than when they were first introduced in the 1960s .

While Marvel superheroes have successfully transitioned into other media like films, toys, games and such, let’s not forget that the core of their appeal are with the comic books. Whether they’re just single stories in individual issues or epic mini-series and story arcs, the following are, based on my opinion, the best stories from Marvel’s 75-year history.

age of apAge Of Apocalypse: Spanning several different X-Men titles over several months, this massive storyline was about an altered reality where Professor X’s assassination in the past led to Apocalypse conquering North America, and Magneto leading the X-Men in a desperate attempt to stop him and correct history. Just seeing the alternate takes of our favorite mutants was a joy to read.

Avengers Disassembled: Boasting top avengers disassembledwriters and artists like Brian Michael Bendis, Paul Jenkins, Robert Kirkman, Steve Epting, Dave Finch and George Perez, this comic book crossover spawned from The Avengers #500-503 into other superhero titles and upended most of the Marvel Universe. The team is literally ripped apart from within by an insane Scarlet Witch. Many heroes are killed and the Avengers were catapulted into new popularity with this controversial story arc.

Born Again: Daredevil has never been lower or a more captivating read than in this classic story arc spanning Daredevil #227-231. That is due to the genius writing of Frank Miller and the art of Dave Mazzucchelli. Daredevil’s worst enemy discovers his secret identity and systematically destroys the blind superhero’s personal world plunging Daredevil into his own worst hell.

The Captain: This underrated Captain America tale by Mark Gruenwald, Tom Morgan and Kieron Dwyer spans Captain America #332-350 and has Steve Rogers abandoning his role as the iconic hero and going underground. Meanwhile, a super patriotic, though unstable, replacement is picked by the U.S. government to take over, but as we see, it’s not easy living up to a legend.

Civil War: Probably the last great mini-series produced by Marvel pits its most iconic heroes against each other. As Iron Man and Captain America took opposite sides against the U.S. government’s superhuman registration act, Marvel Comics was changed forever and the mini-series’ impact is still with us today.

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Deliverance: The famous “Demon in a Bottle” story arc from Iron Man #120-128 bravely introduced the notion of a superhero being truly human and becoming an alcoholic. Tony Stark’s (Iron Man) alcoholism would resurface to even greater effect several issues later after his nemesis Obadiah Stane orchestrates a series of attacks. Stark soon became unable to continue being Iron Man and hit rock bottom culminating in Iron Man #182 when a now-homeless Stark battles not only the cold elements, but his own inner demons.

wolverine kittyDays of Future Past: The greatest X-Men story ever made reflected the height of the historic collaboration of Chris Claremont and John Byrne. In this exciting two-part tale from The Uncanny X-Men #141-142, robotic Sentinels have hunted mutants nearly to extinction in the near future, so one mutant is sent back in time to alter history.

The Death of Captain America: One immediate aftermath of the Civil War mini-series was Ed Brubaker’s gut-wrenching examination of the death of an American legend. Coldly assassinated before standing trial, Captain America’s death led to another hero taking up his mantle and a serpentine plot by Cap’s greatest enemies.

The Death of Gwen Stacy: The two-part gwen stacy deathstory from The Amazing Spider-Man #121 & 122 is considered by some as the end of the Silver Age of Comics. This emotional tale about Spider-Man’s nemesis, the Green Goblin, killing his girlfriend  was a gut punch not only for Spider-Man but his many followers who were stunned by the tragedy.

The Doctor Is In: John Byrne wrote and drew some outstanding comic books during his Marvel tenure. Before Deadpool came along, Byrne’s rendition of She-Hulk had her hysterically breaking the fourth wall. In The Sensational She-Hulk #5 story titled “The Doctor Is In” she had to not only contend with Doctor Bong, but with literally walking across comic book pages (ads included). Marvel Comics was rarely funnier than with this particular issue.

The Hulk Vs. The Thing: Marvel is known for how often its superheroes fight each other. This early story from Fantastic Four #25 & #26 is one of the best since its primarily a battle royale between two of Marvel’s strongest titans. The Stan Lee-Jack Kirby classic is at the same time a story about determination and fighting against the odds, in particular with the Thing.

spidey trapped

If This Be My Destiny…!: The story arc from The Amazing Spider-Man #31-33 had Spider-Man run through exhausting trials to gather serum for his dying aunt. His quest culminated in issue #33 with a story titled “The Final Chapter!”.  In the issue, our hero is trapped under tons of steel and rubble and in danger of drowning with the serum just out of reach. Spider-Man has to find the fortitude to free himself and his effort was memorably inspiring.

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Golden Age Comic Book Exhibit

SAMSUNGNew to the Young At Art Museum is an exhibit devoted to Golden Age comic books. Called Zap! Pow! Bam! The Superhero: The Golden Age of Comic Books, 1938-1950, this is a traveling exhibit from the William Bremen Museum in Atlanta. It’s located in The Knight Gallery and greeting visitors at the exhibit’s entrance is an arresting statue of Superman bursting through a wall.

As its title suggests, the exhibit features many super rare comic books from the late ’30s through the early ’50s. Several of the titles star early DC and Timely (the company that eventually became Marvel) stalwarts like Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Captain America and Sub-Mariner. What was surprising about the comic books in the glass displays was how well preserved they were. One can only imagine their value based on their near mint condition. Any self-respecting comic book fan will enjoy examining them at his or her leisure.

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Accompanying the comic books are large black and white blowups of pages showcasing the artists’ expertise, as well as information about pop-culture in that era and creators like Jack Kirby. There are also opened trade paperbacks mounted on podiums that allow fans to read the stories in them.

SAMSUNGBut this isn’t just a dry exhibit with old comic books in display cases. The exhibit also has memorabilia and superhero-related displays including a hunk of kryptonite encased in a glass case, and an old-style phone booth that must’ve been a convenient place for superheroes to change out of their civies. There is also a mini-theater that plays old Superman and Captain America serials and a drawing studio for tomorrow’s comic book artists.

Another interesting feature about the exhibit is the mockup of a newstand that has–what else?–actual comic books. SAMSUNGThese are the modern-day ones given away during Free Comic Book Day. But a nice touch were the mockup newspapers with blaring headlines about superheroes and their feats that added a sense of realism and transported visitors back to that time period. It’s not a large exhibition, but serious fans should enjoy it and can spend up to an hour there just examining the displays and comic books.

The exhibit is running at the Young At Art Museum (a children’s art museum) in Davie, Florida until January 5. There isn’t any word if an exhibit about Silver Age comic books is being planned. Maybe it’s something to be considered by curators.

*Please check out our Facebook page for more photos of this exhibit.

Article and Photos by Waldermann Rivera

The Dark Side Of Spider-Man

Art by John Romita, Jr.

One of the biggest gripes from detractors of the film The Amazing Spider-Man is that it has a dark tone. They blame it on the film studio, which wanted to emulate the mood of the recent, blockbuster Batman films. These critics complain that the character isn’t dark and this new interpretation of Spider-Man doesn’t work for that reason.

However, if anyone looks at the entirety of Spider-Man’s comic books, it can be seen that the character has had dark moments. He isn’t always this light-hearted, happy-go-lucky wise guy that breezes through life. A closer look will show that often his world is bittersweet. Just as often as he loses while he wins. Spider-Man may win a climactic battle against the Green Goblin, but his alter ego Peter Parker faces eviction because he doesn’t have the money to pay rent.

Or the web swinger faces public hostility and derision from the police who consider him an outlaw. Usually, stories in the comic books portrayed him as being persecuted by trigger-happy policemen.

Then there are the tragic periods in Parker’s life.

Dark Origin & History

To start, in his debut story (Amazing Fantasy#15), his uncle is killed by a burglar and Parker learns at the end of the tale that he is responsible for his uncle’s death because earlier in the story, he

Art by Ross Andru

selfishly refused to stop the burglar during an unrelated robbery. It may not compare with the agony of the Punisher’s family being gunned down by mobsters but it’s not anything lightweight. Actually most superheroes have some kind of tragic catalyst that turned them heroic.

Throughout his history, Parker has endured many hardships since he’s become Spider-Man. Probably the worst, after his uncle’s death, is the killing of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy at the hands of the Green Goblin in The Amazing Spider-Man #121. This affected him deeply for several years and is a monumental event in comics because it was one of the first times that a main character’s loved one was killed and marked the end of the silver age of comics.

Going Too Far To The Dark Side

Spider-Man has gone through several grim, brooding periods. Some were rather forced and done to sell issues. This happened in the early ’90s after his supposedly deceased parents showed up alive and well from issues #366-389 in the first volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. At the end of that storyline, they were revealed to be robotic doubles sent by his deceased friend Harry Osborn (a.k.a. the second Green Goblin) to basically screw with Parker’s head. For several issues afterward, the web swinger lost it, he gave up on his Parker identity and ran around town emulating a dark hero like Batman. These issues were poorly written because they went overboard with his psychotic reaction. Unfortunately, this events led to the infamous Clone Saga.

There was also the infamous undoing of his marriage that was done using  a convoluted meeting with the demonic entity Mephisto in the storyline “One More Day”. Going completely against character, the creators had Parker make a deal with the devil to save his aunt with his marriage to Mary Jane being wiped from history as a price. This incident probably damaged Parker more than any other because it showed that by agreeing to deal with the devil he lost part of his soul. He seemed much less heroic. It didn’t have to be that way, the editorial board could have just had him get divorced and move on with his life, but they tampered too much with Parker’s integrity.

Memorably Bleak Moments

Art by Mike Zeck

But the character has faced dark events that were successfully told. Take the classic storyline “Kraven’s Last Hunt”,  written by J. M. DeMatteis, where his foe Kraven the Hunter defeats him, puts him in a death-like state and even buries him alive. Later Kraven assumes Spider-Man’s identity and becomes a twisted, violent version of the hero. Parker has to literally claw his way out of the grave and face his inner demons afterwards.

Then there was issue #36 of the second volume of The Amazing Spider-Man. Known as the  “Black Issue” it’s the one where Spider-Man dealt with the 9/11tragedy. There wasn’t anything cheery or fluffy about this story or the character. In fact, it showed how helpless and angry the superhero felt and it worked because since Spider-Man is more of an everyman character, it was easy to identify with him. We all felt like he did during that terrible day.

The web slinger’s bleakest moment was obviously when he died in Ultimate Spider-Man # 160. In the “Death Of Spider-Man” story arc, the Ultimate Universe version of Spider-Man fought desperately against his greatest foes and met his end after defeating the Green Goblin. It was one of the character’s most unforgettable stories. Thankfully, readers still have Peter Parker to root for in the regular continuity.

Art by Mark Bagley

Of course, not every storyline is bleak and dreary. The comic books balance the mood all the time with gritty stories like “Kraven’s Last Hunt” to more fun-filled yarns like “Spider Island” and even heartwarming ones like “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” (The Amazing Spider-Man #248). Actually DeMatteis’ Spider-Man tales often took on a philosophical and poignant bent with memorable stories like The Amazing Spider-Man: Soul Of The Hunter a sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” and “A Death In the Family” (The Amazing Spider-Man #400). The bottom line is that throughout many tales, he faced many moral dilemmas and almost always rises to the occasion.

A Light Misconception

The general public has this misconception that Spider-Man is some kind of goody two shoes and that is largely due to how he is portrayed outside of comics. It probably all started during his first cartoon series in the ’60s and when he appeared in silly live-action segments of the kids’ program The Electric Company. Then whenever he appeared in other animated shows, the more grimmer stories couldn’t be used. This however led to lightweight shows like Spider-Man And His Amazing Friends.

Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man films also contributed to this lightweight perception. In the first two films, the character swings around New York yelling out “Wahoo!” with swooning fans cheering at him (a rare occurrence in comic books) and leaves behind perfectly typewritten notes saying “Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man”. The movies were enjoyable but felt cheesy at times. Things took a turn for the worst with Spider-Man 3 where the attempts to have the character go dark were as laughable as anything seen in the Joel Schumacher Batman films. This isn’t a slight against Raimi, his first two Spider-Man films are fun to watch. If anyone is to blame for this perception it could be the marketing people who want to make sure the character is kid friendly in order to sell more merchandise.

Regardless of marketing efforts, it was refreshing to see the character in a more realistic light during the recent movie which balances thing out. After all, like it or not, sometimes life is dark, even for Spider-Man.

Lewis T. Grove

From Flashpoint To A New Universe

All I read about DC Comics, these days, is what the New DC is…

DC’s Flashpoint the newest “event” series, is meant to last only six months. It will end at the end of August. This takes place in the screwed-up evil DC heroes universe, where Barry Allen, aka The Flash, is the only one who remembers the good ol’ wholesome DC universe.

This September, all of DC’s comics will relauch as #1, and this will be the new permanent DC. The comic book company says it’s not an “event,” not a prequel, a sequel or an alternate universe. For the current and next generation of DC readers, the DC universe starts here, in September.

Justice League #1 Cover by Jim Lee and Scott Williams

By the way, pick up the new DC’s Justice League, on sale Wednesday, August 31, by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee, who are the chief creative officers for DC Entertainment. The new DC will center around the first issue of Justice League#1 so this will start it all.

I could be wrong, but my guess is that in August, the Flash from Flashpoint, in his efforts to right what was wrong and go back to the old DC universe, never truly succeeds. Kinda like Old Spock from the 2009 Star Trek film. or maybe the readers get to see Flash make it back home, but that old DC universe is closed for readers. No more old universe. The end of Flashpoint I imagine will be the destruction of the Flashpoint Universe (which was truly dark, evil and edgy- darker than Marvel) and from September on, a new DC Universe will appear, and although it’s not as dark as Flashpoint, it seems to be way cooler than the old DC. I know DC wants to match the coolness of Marvel. DC will never portray the original DC Universe as the main universe again. It’s timeline and continuity, they believe, served its 70-year purpose.

And that’s the objective- by every one of these books relauching at #1, DC has the means to start fresh with modern sensibilities.

DC’s Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1986 did much of that, but back then, only Superman and Wonder Woman had a few of their books that relaunched at #1. And what they did then was consolidated dozens of Earths into just one. The 2011 DC Universe, is designed for readers who know nothing about DC, and is also designed for familiar readers. The reaction I sense from old fans is somewhat positive, maybe 70/30 split. But the majority of the old school readers who actively buy comics are approaching or are middle age. the new DC needs to maintain popularity with a fan base for young readers. With TV, movies, web, Youtube, videogames, and other adventure-based presentaions, comics have an uphill battle. And when guys discover girls, comics sustain a bigger loss LOL! In WWII, a single issue of Superman sold five million copies a month! A single monthly issue. These days Superman may sell only 30,000 copies, on a lucky month. And the majority of the readers today are aging fanboys.

BTW, all 52 new DC monthly titles will be available as a download or you can go to the stores and buy the paper comic. Digital download comics are undoubtedly the wave of the future. Every Wednesday, the latest DC comic will be available online and at the local comic shops. That’s a big step. According to DC editor Paul Levitz, digital download comics sell five times more than paper comics- that’s one reason why I believe this could work.

This new DC will work only if it attracts new readers, elementary school, middle and high school kids, who can click their iPhones to download the latest issue of Superman.  And these up and comers will need to want comics more than kids have in the last 30 years who had a ho-hum reaction to comic books up to now. This current generation (sometimes called millenials or Generation 9/11) has been raised on videogames, DVDs, the web, pop music and other entertainement that compete for the user’s attention against comics.
The majority of faithful comic book readers, historically fell into three groups–WWII-era young adults (young GIs stationed in Europe and the Pacific collected comics), baby boomers (who picked up their hobby from their parents) and those from Generation X. Any generation after that were less inclined to buy or collect comics. DC seems to be putting all their cards on the table for one huge gamble. If this doesn’t take off then this “relaunch” will be just another “event.”

Although it’s an uphill battle- these are the positives: it’s designed to be a new universe for new readers to jump in igital download for iPad, iPhone and Droid phones. There’s no need to walk into a store to get new DC comics every Wednesday. Of course this spells trouble for bricks and mortars businesses who will have to be innovative to survive.

My guess is that it will be more successfull than the overall 2010 sales for DC comics, at least, because 1) in 2010 only a select few DC comics were digital downloads and what DC saw is that digital downlad comics made five time more money than paper comics, and 2) from now on, all monthly DC comics are high resolution digital downloads (for the same price as paper comics).

So at the very least, the key to DC’s (and the comic industry overall)  survival is digital download sales, and the high likeleyhood that DC will make more profit than than in any given year in the last 20 or so years.

Geo

Is The Bubble Bursting On Superhero Films?

It seemed not too long ago that any kind of film dealing with superheroes made oodles of money and if the profits weren’t as astronomic as say The Dark Knight or Spider-Man then they were at least respectable.

But lately this hasn’t been the case which has been seen so far with this summer’s slate of box office superheroic offerings.  Three comic book-based films have been released Thor, X-Men: First Class (XFC) and Green Lantern. Their box office take has been interpreted by industry experts and insiders from either being merely respectable to disappointing.

Thor’s opening weekend take was $65 million and to date its total domestic earnings are just under $180 million and considering that the film has dropped out of the top ten and the upcoming slew of films one has to wonder if it will reach over $200 million. While certainly nothing to sneeze at (especially if its foreign earnings are accounted, bringing its totals to over $400 million to date) Thor has earned less than the original Iron Man.

As for XFC, the feeling is that while its highly regarded with great reviews, its domestic box office earnings after nearly a month in release is only in the $120 million dollar range. It opened on June 3 with $55 million which was the weakest among the X-Men films including X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

But perhaps the biggest and most surprising disappointing earner has to be Green Lantern.  With a budget in the $150-$200 million range and a dearth of publicity and the anticipation that it would be one of Warner Bros.’ tent pole films this summer, the film earned $53 million in its opening weekend.  Add to that its overseas take has been notably underwhelming (earning in its first week less than $20 million). With upcoming potential box office champs like Cars 2, the third Transformers  flick and the final Harry Potter it’s hard to see how it can remain competitive.

The same concern about the upcoming competition must be applied to the final summer superhero film to come Captain America: The First Avenger. By releasing it on July 22, Paramount, its studio, probably hopes to avoid the competition. But given that by late July the box office starts to simmer down and that it misses an obvious patriotic July 4 weekend release it does suggest a certain lack of confidence in its money-making potential and its ability to compete with the heavyweights. Maybe if Bin Laden had been killed around now that might helped build up enthusiasm among movie goers to Captain America.

Now there are plenty of explanations to go around for the underwhelming numbers. The most obvious one is that there are too many similar films competing at the same time which goes to the old supply and demand rule. That is something that studios have to seriously consider when planning release dates. Maybe if this summer’s films had been spaced further apart the results would’ve been different. This is something that must be frustrating for Marvel Studios since its Thor had to directly compete with XFC, which was released by Fox meaning that the Marvel’s characters had to face off against each other in theaters.

Another is that these films are based on second-tier comic book characters. However, the fact that although they’re  based on relatively unknown characters (outside of the comic book fan world)  and still made that much money is nothing to sneeze at. Just look at the fact that films released last year based on obscure characters (Kick-Ass, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and Jonah Hex) either underperformed or were box office disasters and that was despite the fever pitch Internet chatter that the first two film properties generated.

In the past decade not every film based on a comic book hero has been a Dark Knight-type box office champion. The Punisher films are considered to be disappointments. Ghost Rider didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Both Hulk films merely did OK and he is a more recognizable character than say Green Lantern. Daredevil’s box office earnings barely made over $100 million. And Superman Returns, despite a massive marketing push by Warner Bros., just cracked the $200 million mark. But it’s usually a safe bet that a film based on a popular hero is a healthy return for the investment. Examples of that are the recent Batman films, and the Spider-Man and X-Men trilogies.

The other explanation for the so so box office is of course the quality of the films. Many of the above mentioned films weren’t well regarded by fans and critics alike. In the case of Kick Ass, despite favorable reviews, almost no one has heard of the character so it was difficult to generate the buzz that someone more well known would guarantee. With XFC, its earnings may unfortunately be due to ill timing and franchise burnout. The previous mutant offerings (X-Men: The Last Stand and the Wolverine film) have been derided by fans and critics and soured many to the X-Men franchise. While XFC is a step to rectify past blunders it may be too early to have an X-Men film out. Perhaps Fox should’ve let the franchise rest a while to build up demand (one problem with letting franchises based on Marvel Comic characters rest is that Disney now owns the comic book company and many studios that have certain Marvel properties must make films or else lose the rights to Disney. They will only let them go if they no longer deem them profitable) . Maybe the film lacked, aside from Magneto and Professor X, recognizable and popular characters like Wolverine and Storm.  Still what this summer’s superhero flicks have earned despite their handicaps is impressive in some ways and can’t be considered outright flops. So it really just serves as a caution for studios and a reminder that there are only so many comic book fans that can support a market for superhero films.

But next year will be the critical test to see if the bubble has burst. Why? Because the heavyweights are coming back. A new Batman film, reboots for Spider-Man and Superman and perhaps the biggest test, The  Avengers film featuring Iron Man, Hulk, Thor and Captain America. If these films have disappointing sales then it can truly said that the bubble has burst.

J.L. Soto