[Guest post by Doug Glassman]
With my Infinity Gauntlet review marking the last of my personal Marvel Epics and my review of The Dark Phoenix Saga coming up, I thought it might be a good idea to go back and identify the stories which define the spine of the Marvel Universe to me. My criteria are that the story redefines a character, team or universe; that it is limited to one story, even in a long run; that it is critically successful; and that it was published between 1979 and 1993. The following list is in roughly chronological order.
• X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga. This story introduced Shadowcat, set up the still-continuing plot thread of humans as the most powerful threat in the universe, and is arguably the most important story in comic book history.
• Thor: "Thor vs. Beta Ray Bill" (collected in Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 1). This was one of Thor’s most powerful defeats and one of the first times that the “if he be worthy” clause of Mjolnir was used.
• Full Marvel Universe: Secret Wars. This was Marvel’s first mega-crossover, and it led to major changes in team rosters and characters. It also brought the disparate “superhero” and “mutant” sides of the Marvel Universe together.
• Captain America: The Captain. This story features Cap resigning and a new, crazy replacement taking over. It explores Cap’s role in the Marvel Universe and a hero’s responsibilities.
• Daredevil: Born Again. This story tears down its hero even further than The Captain and barely restores him to glory. It marks Daredevil’s final slide into being one of Marvel’s darkest heroes.
• Avengers: Under Siege. This story features the villains uniting and achieving the Masters of Evil’s greatest victory. It also directly led to the Thunderbolts, perhaps the last of the great Marvel teams.
• Iron Man: Armor Wars. This has Tony Stark’s greatest fear—mass misuse of his technology—come true. He wages a war against both friend and foe, cementing his paranoia for decades to come.
• Spider-Man: Birth of Venom. This is the story of Spider-Man’s dark shadow coming back as perhaps his greatest villain. Venom would later become one of the key anti-heroes of the '90s.
• Cosmic Marvel: Infinity Gauntlet. This story sees the forces of the Marvel Universe gather in a complex strategy against an omnipotent foe. Few stories can match the escalation seen here.
The only major characters to not have such an epic are the Fantastic Four. While John Byrne’s run is the closest, there is no overall story, and the Four have had few major sticking changes since the 1960s. Of course, there are some other choices. Kraven’s Last Hunt might be considered an alternate for Spider-Man, while Daredevil also has the Death of Elektra. Feel free to discuss your own Marvel Epic choices in the comments.
So that’s my Marvel Epic Theory. Many have been reviewed for this site, both by me and by Chris Marshall. Along with The Dark Phoenix Saga, I also plan on reviewing Thor Visionaries: Walt Simonson Vol. 1 in the near future. The rest are definitely options for the future for me or another reviewer. All of these stories deserve examination, as they are the core of Marvel’s publishing history.