Oxford book store before it closed had this puppy in it's book section. Well thanks to Amazon, it is apart of my collection once again.
"Marvel Universe" is the companion volume to "Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics," but I did not read that volume so I am looking at the volume introducing the superheroes and supervillains of Marvel Comics. Unlike the other volume, which looked at the history of Marvel Comics decade by decade, author Peter Sanderson takes a more thematic approach, although there is a semblance of chronology involved in the order, beginning with the Fantastic Four, the comic book that effectively created Marvel Comics, and ending with the X-Men, the most popular series of today (comics like "Conan the Barbarian" therefore fall outside the scope of the "Mravel Universe"). Specifically the eight chapters divide the Marvel Universe as follows:
1. The Fantastic Four: Marvel's First Family, begins with the working relationship of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, relates the origin of the FF, focuses on the compelling character drama of the Thing, and the group's main villain Dr. Doom. After covering some of the FF's epic adventures, including the first confrontation with Galactus and the Silver Surfer, the chapter looks at some of the heroes that were created in the comic such as the Black Panther and the Inhumans.
2. The Antiheroes: Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and Hulk looks at how two Silver Age heroes were updated for the modern era but focuses primarily on old Greenskin, including the pivotal issue #140 written by Harlan Ellison.
3. Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man looks at Marvel's most popular superhero, drawn originally by Steve Ditko. This chapter covers the problems of a teenage superhero, his remorse over Uncle Ben's death, and the supporting cast, as well as the darker vision of Spider-Man brought to the comic by Todd McFarlane. Special consideration is given to the "Kraven's Last Hunt" storyline and "The Death of Aunt May" issue.
4. Avengers Assemble! covers not only Marvel's answer to the Justice League of America as a group, but the individual comic books of Captain America, Henry Pym and the Wasp, Iron Man, Hawkeye and the Black Widow, the Mighty Thor, the Vision, Wonder Man, and even the Black Knight (so you know they have covered pretty much everybody).
5. Strange Tales: Heroes of the Supernatural covers a lot of ground as well with Doctor Strange, Dracula, The Man-Thing, Howard the Duck, Ghost Rider, and other Marvel monsters.
6. Protectors of the Universe is mostly about aliens such as Captain Mar-vel, the Silver Surfer, Adam Warlock, and Nova. Also covered are such diverse comics as "Power Pack," Don McGregor and P. Craig Russell's "Killraven," and Jack Kirby's last comic creations.
7. Vigilantes and Lawmen starts with Daredevil and the Electra Saga, continues with Nick Fury (both with his Holwing Commandos and as an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.), and ends with the Punisher.
8. Mutantis Mutandis: The X-Men begins with the original X-Men and Magneto, through the Second Genesis and the Dark Phoenix saga, the ascendancy of Wolverine, to the proliferation of mutants in Alpha Flight, Excalibur, X-Force, and Generation X. Artists Neal Adams, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Rob Liefeld are featured in this section.
My test case for evaluating this volume was the section of Tomb of Dracula (146-48) a minor cult hit all things considered but one of the best comic books I have ever read. Sanderson agrees with the verdict, praising writer Marv Wolfman, penciller Gene Colan, and inker Tom Palmer for their skilled delineation of character. After a concise description of the cast of characters and their complex relationships, there is a description of the choice story line where a character (purporting to be) Dracula, removed his vampire powers. I would have liked to have seen a reference of Dr. Sun, and the comics wonderful sense of pacing, but this was a decent synopsis.
The key thing to remember her is that Sanderson is juggling a lot of balls. He needs to not only describe the history of each comic book along with the key characters and villains, but also try to work in an appreciation of great artists from Jack Kirby and Jim Steranko to John Byrne and Todd McFarlane, along with some of the key issues and storylines. So I was quite impressed when Sanderson worked in Days of Future Past from X-Men #141 and the Silver Dagger story line in Doctor Strange.
For that matter, I was also impressed that Sanderson worked in some of the most memorable PANELS from these comics: Jack Kirby showing Doctor Doom stripping the Silver Surfer's powers from FF#57, Steve Ditko's Spider-Man struggling free in ASM#33, and John Byrne's shot of Mangeto from X-Men #111. Yes, you can quibble over the details in terms of what was included and omitted, and certainly there is a better way to reproduce comic art than photocopying it or whatever, but Sanderson gets credit for covering a lot of ground and for showing a clear sense of appreciation and affection for these comic books. That is what tips the scales for me in the end.
The bottom line would be that Marvel Universe constitutes a nice walk down memory lane for those who remember buying 10 cent copies of these comic books when they were called Marvel Pop Art as well as a nice history lesson for those who have come to the game when Marvel launched Volume 2 for all of its major titles.