Greetings from the Odinson,
The Epochs of Marvel: Part 1 of 3
The History of the DC Universe can be catalogued into very distinct and different eras. There is the Pre-Crisis era which covers everything from the birth of Superman in 1938 in the pages of Action Comics #1 and encapsulates the entirety of the Golden Age and Silver Age all the way up to Crisis on Infinite Earths in 1985, which completely changed the landscape of the multiverse.
This was followed by the Post-Crisis era which once again starts with Superman and his 1986 reimagined origins in the pages of Man of Steel. Arguably the most influential era in Comics History, this 25-year run included, but was not limited to, such benchmarks as The Death of Superman, Knightfall, Emerald Twilight/Dawn, Rock of Ages, Infinite Crisis, The Sinestro Corps War, and so many other historic stories and events that I could go on listing them all day. This era was brought to an end by yet another universe-altering event – Flashpoint.
In 2011, a new era for the DCU began as The New 52 launched. This streamlined, sleeker version of DC continuity lasted 5 years. In 2016, yet another era for DC was launched with Rebirth. Rebirth carried the torch for another 5 years until the end of yet another multiverse-changing event, Dark Nights Death Metal.
Now in 2021, the History of the DC Universe begins anew with a bold new era launching out of the events of Infinite Frontier. For over 80 years the DCU has built a comprehensive multiverse, tore it down and rebuilt it, produced tales that run the gambit of everything from action to sci-fi, mystery to horror, drama to humor and everything else in-between, and all that narration can be catalogued into 5 distinct eras of history.
So, what about Marvel?
Marvel Comics has been around nearly just as long as DC Comics (Timely Comics which was established in 1939 would eventually evolve and become Marvel Comics). Marvel also has a rich history dating all the way back to the harrowing days of World War II.
Marvel History does not have those complete relaunches and universe reset moments like DC does with events like Crisis on Infinite Earths, Zero Hour, and Flashpoint. Marvel has pretty much the same continuity it has had since day one, with a few tweaks and retcons along the way. For instance like Frank Castle’s Vietnam War origins have been moved forward to the modern day conflict in the Middle-East. But, like DC History, Marvel can be catalogued into distinct chapters that define certain eras of its amazing history.
What are the Epochs of Marvel?
Marvel’s illustrious history was kicked off with three very distinct, unique, and imaginative superheroes. Just over a year after the debut of the Man of Steel, 1939’s Marvel Comics #1 introduced the world to the fiery android the Human Torch. That very same issue introduced the world to the lord of the seven seas, the mighty Sub-Mariner. The Marvel Universe was truly born when these two mega-powers collided in the pages Marvel Mystery Comics #9, thus establishing a shared universe.
It wasn’t long before the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner were joined by the Sentinel of Liberty – Captain America! Joined by their sidekicks, Bucky and Toro, this trio of Marvel icons joined the war effort and took the fight to the Axis Powers as only a band of superheroes could. Together with their fellow heroes from the All-Winners Squad and the Invaders, the Marvel Heroes and the Allied Forces won the war!
In the years after the war, the Human Torch android was deactivated and his remains were lost in antiquity. The Sub-Mariner, having spent too much time away from the sea, lost his memory and wandered the earth as an amnesiac. And, Captain America, along with his partner Bucky, went M.I.A. on their last mission in the waning days of World War II. Thus, bringing an end to the wartime era of heroes.
With World War II in the past and the Atomic Age upon us, the Marvel Universe found itself at a crossroads. With no costumed defenders around, the world was bombarded by threats and intrigue that reflected these uncertain times. Criminal masterminds like Yellow Claw built vast underworld empires. Murder and the macabre were chronicled in the pages of Menace. In the pages of Tales of Suspense, Tales to Astonish, and Journey into Mystery, mankind contemplated the universe and their place in it and found that the cosmos was full of terrors undreamed of.
This was the time of the Kaiju, great mythical titans that crawled out of the depths of the ocean, awakened from their slumber within the bowels of the earth, or descended upon mankind from beyond the stars. Monsters like Bombu, Bruttu, Goom, It the Living Colossus, Groot, Xemnu, and the great Fin Fang Foom shook the ground they walked on and threatened to trample mankind in their monstrous wake.
But then a shimmer of light shown on the horizon and the dawn of a new age of heroes began.
The iconic cover of Fantastic Four #1 is a perfect bridge between these two eras as the FF can be seen sending the last monster of that era, Giganto, back to the shadowy depth from wince it came.
FF#1 launched the Marvel Age and introduced the world to a new kind of superhero. These were heroes with foibles, anxieties, shortcomings, and real life problems readers could actually relate to. Spider-Man was a teenager with all the angst and growing pains that comes with that. Doctor Strange was an arrogant, cold man who after a horrible accident had to rebuild himself mentally and physically to ultimately become a stalwart hero. Bruce Banner was a brilliant scientist who whenever he got angry transformed into the Hulk, a living, breathing WMD. Daredevil was blind but still became a champion for truth and justice in the courtroom and on the streets of Hell’s Kitchen. The Avengers were Earth’s Mightiest Heroes assembled from the Island of Misfit Toys. And the X-Men were a band of mutants that protected a world that fears and hates them simply for being born different.
In the years to follow, these Marvel Legends would be joined by an even more eclectic and diverse group of heroes – Black Panther, Silver Surfer, the Inhumans, Power Man and Iron Fist, the All-New, All-Different X-Men, Dazzler, Captain Marvel, Shang-Chi, and many more! Monsters would return to the Marvel Universe – Dracula, Werewolf by Night, the Monster of Frankenstein, Man-Wolf, Morbius the Living Vampire, and Simon Garth – along with those that keep the monsters at bay – Blade, Ghost Rider, Daimon Hellstrom, Brother Voodoo, and Moon Knight.
An assortment of the vilest, most dangerous, and quite honestly interesting villains arose. Names like Doctor Doom, Magneto, Ultron, Loki, Mephisto, Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, Thanos and the Dread Dormammu, would be joined by an endless parade of evildoers that would challenge our heroes and strike fear in the hearts of lesser men.
The Marvel Age not only gave us fantastic heroes and villains and supporting characters that lived in a world very similar to our own, but it produced some of the most resonating and classic stories in the history of fiction. Stories like The Coming of Galactus, The Death of Gwen Stacy, The Dark Phoenix Saga, Ragnarok n Roll, and Born Again pushed the limits of the four color medium to new heights and forced comics and everyone involved from creators to editorial to the fans themselves to reassess what can be done and expected from the medium.
Contest of Champions introduced the concept of the companywide crossover to the Marvel Universe. Marvel Super Heroes Secret Wars perfected it. Yearly, status quo-changing storylines became popularized by tales like Mutant Massacre, Acts of Vengeance, Inferno, Operation: Galactic Storm, and the Infinity Gauntlet.
The Marvel Age was definitely not afraid to take chances as proven with startling changes like Spider-Man’s Black Costume, the return of the Grey Hulk, the depowering of Storm, and the fall of Angel. As well as big, bold gambles like Age of Apocalypse, an epic story that replaced the entire X-Franchise, THE #1 selling comics of that time, for a few months and it paid off by becoming a staunch classic.
The Marvel Age era covers over three decades of Marvel History and I have barely even scratched the surface of everything that happened and the impact it all had on the Marvel Universe, the fans, and the industry as a whole. But alas, all good things must come to an end. In the mid-90s, the era began to stumble toward a close as darker and misshapen tales like The Clone Saga and The Crossing began to twist and change our heroes in bizarre and quite frankly upsetting ways. And it all came to a head when the mysterious traitor of the X-Men was revealed to be none other than Professor Charles Xavier.
Onslaught saw the mobilization of Marvel’s greatest champions to stop a global threat no single hero could possibly hope to contain. They succeeded but only with the ultimate sacrifice of the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Bruce Banner, and Doctor Doom. The Marvel Age came to an end in 1996, but what would happen next in an era without Earth’s Mightiest Heroes and Marvel First Family?
Be sure to tune in next week to see the eras of Marvel History that bridge the gap between Onslaught and the present. With the world’s greatest heroes gone what kind of Marvel Universe will be forged in those years to come? Here’s a hint – “NO MORE MUTANTS.”
This is Odinson bidding thee farewell
NOTE: For past entries of the So Sayeth the Odinson blog, over a decade’s worth of comic book and pop culture articles and reviews, click HERE. Also, be sure to check out my novels The Survivors and Autumn Dawn, which were inspired by 1980s horror – HERE and HERE.