Marvel 75th Anniversary

Taking a Look Back at the History of Marvel Pt. 2

Roger Stern and Ed Brubaker discuss creating Marvel Universe and The Marvels Project, plus The Twelve and more!

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Read part one of this two-part feature!

Though famous for facing front and moving forward, Marvel Comics has also been known to take a look back at its rich history from time to time. Several of its series through the years stand as reflections upon the characters and stories that made Marvel great, as well as creative vehicles to tell new tales.

After leading the way in looking back, Roy Thomas’ 1970’s INVADERS series set the bar high for such retroactive series to continue in the same vein, such as MARVELS in 1994. Four years after that, a new title kicked off a fresh look into Marvel’s history.

Marvel Universe #1 cover by Carlos Pacheco

MARVEL UNIVERSE

“It must have been sometime in mid-1997 that editor Tom Brevoort contacted me about an idea he wanted me to pursue,” writer Roger Sterns remembers of 1998’s MARVEL UNIVERSE. “It would be an open-ended anthology series exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Marvel Universe, throughout time and space. As luck would have it, my schedule was starting to open up, and I just found the concept incredibly appealing. I would get to work with all sorts of different characters, and with lots of different artists, telling new stories about the most interesting established universe in comics. 

“I mean, really, how could I turn that down? As I recall, Tom suggested that we launch the series with an Invaders arc. I immediately started working up the series proposal, outlining seven initial story arcs. And yes, it would all begin with that Invaders story that Tom requested. Once the outline was approved, I suggested Steve Epting and Al Williamson as our first art team, and we were off to the races.”

Like Thomas before him, Stern wove an Invaders tale set during the team’s original World War II operations and brought in not only the heroes, but also such classic Marvel villains as the Red Skull and Baron Strucker.

Marvel Universe #2 cover

“The Big Three—Captain America, the Sub-Mariner, and the original Human Torch—made up the foundation of Marvel's—nee Timely's—Golden Age,” says Stern. “I always thought that they were some of the most interesting characters in comics. Captain America was easy to like; he was the champion of the people, representing the best of what we could be. Namor was comics' first great anti-hero; in a way, he was Wolverine before there was a Wolverine. And the Torch, well, he was a product of science; but even though he was an artificial being, he proved to be as human as anybody. Plus, like the fire he controlled, the Torch was a little dangerous, and absolutely fascinating. Is it any wonder that they were the ones who had enjoyed a brief revival in the mid-1950’s, before Stan Lee and Jack Kirby revived them in the 60’s?”

Stern followed up his Invaders arc with a story involving a band of monster-hunters and their clash with some of Marvel’s greatest monsters of the 1950’s, with names like Gigantus, Gorgilla, and Grottu. Unfortunately, the book met an untimely end, and several of the writer’s story ideas went unused.

Marvel Universe #4 cover

“There were so many more story arcs that never got to see the light of day,” he notes. “Like the Two-Gun Kid fighting the Sons of Satannish in the Old West; or Tuk the Caveboy's quest to find the fabled City of Attilan; or Nick Fury and a pre-Fantastic Four Reed Richards searching for downed fighter pilot Ben Grimm behind enemy lines in Sin-Cong; or the fall of Atlantis. 

“Oh, well. Maybe someday.”

THE TWELVE

Fans of Marvel’s rich early history got a treat in 2008 when another title would come along to deliver the characters and situations they craved. Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Chris Weston teamed on that project, a limited series called THE TWELVE.

THE TWELVE delved into not the major stars of the Golden Age, but a dozen of Marvel/Timely’s lesser-known heroes, some of them with only a few published adventures to their name. Characters like the Phantom Reporter, Rockman, the Blue Blade, and Captain Wonder found themselves awakened in modern times after being gassed by Nazis during World War II. The story followed their different paths in acclimating to the 21st century and the pitfalls involved in such a journey.

Weston revamped several of the original Golden Age costumes of the Twelve, and Straczynski pinpointed many of the problems inherent in 1940’s personalities clashing with present-day sensibilities. In all it made for exciting reading and the Twelve—or most of them—still exist in active duty in the Marvel Universe of today, albeit quietly.

THE MARVELS PROJECT

Not long after the debut of THE TWELVE, another limited series would again pull back the cover of Marvel’s history and take a good look at what made the World War II era so memorable and important. From 2009 to 2010, the eight-issue THE MARVELS PROJECT brought the major Marvel 1940’s heroes together with another batch of lesser-known personalities, like the original Angel.

“I believe Tom Brevoort asked if I'd be interested in doing it, as a sort of in-continuity version of the origin of the Marvel heroes, back in the 40’s,” explains writer Ed Brubaker. “He thought me and [artist] Steve Epting would be perfect for it, because of how we'd been approaching Captain America and the way we dealt with the World War II-era flashbacks. I loved the idea of getting to do a new version of those early days, when all the heroes were still new.”

The Marvels Project (2009) #1

THE MARVELS PROJECT #1 McNiven Variant
Brubaker looked at the project with an eye towards more realism than that of actual Golden Age stories, and asking deeper questions about how a world war shapes destinies.

“They were not all heroes immediately, is what appealed to me,” he says. “Namor was basically a terrorist from under the sea, Human Torch was a robot-monster who wanted to be human, and they were all framed by the era, around the war. The way I approached it was more like an epic war novel, with the heroes as our way into it. I used as much real history as I could get into it, too.

“I would love for [the series] to find a wider acceptance. I think at the time, it was overlooked a bit, but my hope is that like a lot of other projects I've done, it grows over the years, as people discover it. It's one of the things I did at Marvel that I'm most proud of.”

Continue to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Marvel all year-long on marvel.com/75 and share your thoughts with us on Twitter using the hash tag #Marvel75

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