Monday, May 07, 2007

The Rest of the Story

What makes Marvel's Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus (and last year's Fantastic Four Omnibus) even more appealing than the superlative Marvel Masterworks versions of the same material? The inclusion of letters columns, that's what!

I grew up in the 1960s, and I remember reading not only these comics but the letters columns as well. The letters sometimes reflected my own opinions, sometimes not; they sometimes brought up points I hadn't considered; and they sometimes served as an opportunity for Stan (or whomever was ghosting the responses for him) to present information that I found useful. But most of all, those letters columns, filled with give-and-take between readers and the man behind the stories, created the sense of community that was such a vital part of the early days of the Marvel Universe.

I love being able to read the stories--but being able to read the letters columns as well serves to make the experience more real. It's a fascinating opportunity to see how Marvel fandom developed in the early 1960s... and it's fun to look for familiar names in those letters columns--there are letters here from people who went on to become prominent in comics fandom, in comics retailing, and in comics creations.

Now, if Marvel would only restore the house ads that were also a vital part of the books; it's great to put the whole thing in historical perspective, seeing what else was shipping that month.

In fact, I've often thought that Marvel should do a series of trade paperback called--oh, I don't know, let's start with Marvel 1961-62. In that volume, Marvel would collect, in order by month, all the various Marvel superhero titles, letting us experience vicariously what it was like to shop for Marvel titles each month. By the end of 1962 or early 1963, the volumes would have to become Marvel 1963 Volume One, collecting the first few months of the year; then Volume Two, collecting the next few months, and so on. This could continue until at least 1968-69, when Marvel's expansion was so great that we'd have to have a separate volume for each month.

And of course, these books should include the letters columns and the house ads, just to keep everything in perspective. Should they include the 1960's Western titles as well? Certainly they should, beginning with Stan Lee & Jack Kirby's reinvention of Rawhide Kid as a Western-themed action hero book. I remember feeling like a true Marvel maniac when I began picking up the Westerns as well--it's like I was on to something that the average Marvel fan didn't know about...

Check out the house ad at the top of this entry--it came from Amazing Spider-Man #2. Already Marvel is establishing a "line unity," using the brilliantly-developed corner symbols to make their books stand out. But most of all, the ad reminds us that all of these heroes exist in the same world--and at least subtly hints at their upcoming interaction. These ads are a part of the early Marvelverse, too--and I'd love to see them restored to their rightful place in comics history!

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