Saturday, October 16, 2021

The Golden Bookshelf:

Marvel Masterworks – Golden Age Marvel Comics

From long-shot to comic mogul, this collection of Golden Age classics chronicles the early appearances of noteworthy super-heroes like The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner, Ka-Zar, and more. But how does this compendium rate on the scale of the Golden Bookshelf? Read on to find out!

In 1939, witnessing the early success of DC and the other comic book pioneers, pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman decided to get into the game with a title of his own. The result was Marvel Comics #1, and to say it was a long-odds bet to become the cornerstone of a global media empire would be an understatement. In the context of other Golden Age work, it was nothing special. The art and stories were crude, the characters were a mixed bag of one-note super-heroes (The Angel, The Human Torch, The Sub-Mariner), detectives, stock Western figures, and a Tarzan clone called Ka-Zar.

Later events of course conspired to make those early issues of Marvel Comics (Marvel Mystery Comics from #2 on) valued collectibles of extreme historic significance. Teen-age artists and writers like Bill Everett, Carl Burgos and Paul Gustavson went on from these inauspicious beginnings to become solid comics professionals. The Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch became central characters in the Timely stable of the 1940s before being integrated into the Marvel Universe during the classic era of the early 1960s. Hell, even the office boy grew up to become Stan Lee.

Marvel reprinted some Golden Age material before in low-budget anthology titles like Marvel Super Heroes and Marvel Collectors Item Classics in the 1960s, with abominable print quality and arbitrary editing (though Marvel Comics #1 was reprinted in a good facsimile edition in 1990). This Marvel Comics Masterworks, however, represents the first systematic attempt to present early Timely/Marvel comics in a serious way. The hardcover edition offers every story from the first four issues, in color, on heavy coated paperstock, and a new introduction from Golden Age maven (later Marvel editor-in-chief) Roy Thomas.

Unfortunately, the reproduction of both the color and the linework leave a lot to be desired. The art looks muddy throughout (worst on the half-tone effects of the first Sub-Mariner story) and the lettering is occasionally unreadable. Also, a lot of the work in this first edition, which pre-dates the arrival of Joe Simon as editor-in-chief and Jack Kirby as art director, is frankly bad: simplistic, amateurish and derivative even by the standards of the early Golden Age. The highly entertaining meetings of the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner, and the introduction of intriguing Simon and Kirby characters like the Vision, still lay a year in the future. If this reprint series continues, and the production quality improves, it will soon become an indispensable addition to the Golden Age bookshelf for more than just curiosity’s sake.

Marvel Masterworks: Golden Age Marvel Comics

Marvel Comics

Publication Year: 2004

Writer: Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Al Anders, Steve Dahlman, David Cooke
Artist: Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Paul Gustavson, Al Anders, Irwin Hassen

Hardcover w/dust jacket
Introduction by Roy Thomas

Rob Salkowitz is a Seattle-based writer and authority on all manner of aging newsprint. You can e-mail your comments and queries to Rob at Use "ComicBase" as the subject line.

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