A few years ago, I was digging in some of my old boxes of abandoned junk and came across my miniscule comic collection. It consisted of two or three X-Men comics, one The Thing, and one Fantastic Four. While I remember originally reading the X-men issues, I think I just browsed the other two for cool pictures.
Just after the Marvel Cinematic Universe was taking hold, shortly before the first Iron Man film, I pulled one of my old X-Men comics and read it. And it was an asterisk (*) that got me.
*Seen in Uncanny X-Men #129
Well great, so what happened in X-Men #129? Eventually i found the answer on a Marvel wiki site, but what it started is a strong desire experience the entire Marvel continuity from its beginnings. This is extremely difficult to do. Marvel goes back well before the epic continuity that started with Fantastic Four #1 way back in 1961. Even if you start there, you’d have to read something like 20,000+ issues to get the whole Marvel picture.
Regardless of the size of the task, I decided to make an effort.
Firstly, I purchased a few Marvel Masterworks books, starting with the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and X-Men. Masterworks will give you a good idea of how the Earth-616 continuity got its start and introduces you to the most popular titles of the Silver Age. Honestly, I think this was a good place to start. Stan Lee is super-cheesy and some of the early villains are ridiculous, but reading the comics like this, I still ran into things like “*If you were paying attention in Strange Tales #112, you’d know this – Stan”
Strange Tales? I’d never heard of it. My only exposure to Marvel was the few comics I owned, the cartoons in the 80s, and a terrible cinematic rendition of Howard the Duck.
So, I switched directions. I scoured the internet for a complete list of every single comic Marvel published and I found it, mostly complete, going all the way back to Marvel Comics #1, circa 1939 and ending in 2000. I won’t tell you where I found it, you can find it easily enough if you know how to look for things on the internet.
After reformatting the list, which was thankfully in excel, I finally got my list, starting with Fantastic Four #1 and proceeding forward after that. Actual timeline be damned, I decided to read the comics in the order they were published.
Next problem: How in the hell was I going to read these ancient, priceless comics that sometimes go for thousands of dollars?
Solution: Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited
Oh yes, my friends. Sure enough, there they all were. For a tiny $9.99 a month, I had access to as much of the Marvel continuity as I could handle. And handle it I did.
In case you didn’t know, Marvel published thousands of issues before they even got to the Fantastic Four. Thor, Dr. Strange, Ant-Man, and others got their starts in some of the anthology-type sci-fi/mystery mags Marvel published: Tales To Astonish, Tales of Suspense, Journey into Mystery, Strange Tales. Luckily, the MDCU has a good number of these available to read.
I am about 556 issues into the original Earth-616 Continuity and I’ve only been unable to read a scant few issues. Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos has only around 20 or so available to read. So that’s the largest gap I’ve found so far. However, the Marvel wiki has given me a chance to fill those gaps with synopses on the issues I’m missing. Pretty lucky so far, eh?
Unfortunately, my luck is about to run out. While MDCU is huge and covers plenty of the Marvel universe, I’m about to start running into larger and larger gaps. That sucks. I realize I’m probably not going to get through the entire list at all, but to at least feel that I could would be satisfaction enough.
So much for pathos.
Which leads me to the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
The Avengers was a fantastic movie. I don’t think anyone could have done a better job at uniting the Marvel stand-alones in such a way. It was epic … but not as epic as the Marvel Universe really is.
You can’t expect to make a movie of 60’s superheroes fighting behind the Bamboo Curtain and expect today’s kids to enjoy it. You make sacrifices to reach the greatest audience. These storylines have been rewritten so much that its hard to remember exactly how Ant-Man came to be, or who the original Human Torch was – and that’s fine. The Marvel Multiverse exists and evolves – it has to. No one wants to see Paste-Pot Pete or The Owl or Mr. Hyde or the Cobra.
What if …
What if there was a Marvel Universe Live-Action TV-series based on an revised Earth-616 continuity that started things at FF #1 and followed the original chain of events, altering the storylines only to adjust for technological obsolescence, weaving the whole story in such a way that in each episode you might see the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, X-Men, Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, Dr. Strange in the proper alignment of their original storylines.
Now THAT would be epic, and you could only do it on TV.
We want “epic” squeezed into 2 hours. We want “saga” in one episode. There are great television series that make an attempt at “epic” but with the exception of a show like Doctor Who, nothing can last that long without an “epic” following and “epic” vision by its creators. Profit shapes our entertainment and art is lost among the refuse once again.
The Marvel Cinematic Universe will grow, but compared to the real story, its a microsode viewed on a 2-inch screen with shitty earbuds on a DART train to Westmoreland.
Oh well, in the meantime, I have 20,000 issues to go just to breach the 21st century. And its worth every asterisk.