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.
“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.
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.
“Oh, well. Maybe someday.”
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.
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.”
“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.”
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