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Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art (Book) Review

DK produces a gorgeous collected edition book celebrating 75 years of Marvel cover art.

This is kind of a different book than I’m used to reviewing. Usually, when we get an art book in here at BG it’s of the ‘making of’ variety, or one that sort of retells the tale of the universe that it’s based upon, similar to many of publisher DK’s other offerings. Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art though, doesn’t get in-depth on either of the above, and yet is pretty easily one of the best and most enjoyable comic book-related tomes I’ve read this year.

There’s no denying Marvels’ incredible history as a comic book publisher after all. Their catalog of comics and characters from throughout their 75 year history of publication is phenomenal and this book collects a great deal of the biggest, most impactful covers from those books. To see all this in one place is especially cool, and to have it be this well put together is a treat.

Much like their recent Batman book, this volume from DK comes in a sturdy and impressively illustrated slip cover. On one side is the Marvel NOW! issue of Avengers #3, which is fairly current, and on the other is the classic first appearance of Wolverine on the cover of Hulk #181. I”m not the biggest fan of what the Marvel U has been in the last few years, but the art on the Avengers side is cool nonetheless. That Hulk cover though, is awesome in all the right ways and looks great splashed across this ample-sized deluxe edition book.

And I mention the size of this book, as it measures an impressive 13&1/2 inches tall by 10 inches wide, which’ll test the shelf size on your library nicely, and make an impact on any coffee table. Open the cover and you’ll get right into things with removable prints of both Amazing Fantasy #15 and Invincible Iron Man #1, so again, there’s a split between the classic Marvel U and the modern one. The inside cover is plastered with art from within its pages too, which is a nice touch and sets the stage for what’s to come as you read on.

Things are broken up into an interesting format within as well. More than just labeling things in chronological order, author Alan Cowsill takes reader through a virtual tour of the different comic ‘ages’ that are often referenced by fans and those in the industry. Starting with the Golden Age of comics, and continuing through the Silver, Bronze, and Modern ages, you’ll see covers and descriptions stretching back as far as 1938. Diving deeper, these ages are then sorted by character, with sections on heroes like the Hulk, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Captain America spread across time. Each of those heroic sub-sections is like a history lesson all their own as they tell the tale of each character from the start of the time period to the end.

For example, you’ll read about and see the cover for Avengers #1 from February 1998 and then follow along with all the biggest issues till AvX in June 2012. One of the most interesting parts of the book, and this is true especially if you’re a Marvel fan who’s been reading for a few decades, is seeing just how radically the Marvel U has changed over the years. In just that time frame that I mentioned above, the alterations are such that some of the characters are almost unrecognizable by the year 2012. To be fair, the Modern Age section is probably the most change-obsessed in the history of the company, but it’s true for every age to some degree and cool to see in one place.

Each cover is accompanied by a short bit of text where Cowsill recounts some of what that particular issue was about. The cover of 1973’s Tomb of Dracula from artist Gil Kane talks about the exceptionally long run of this particular horror series, which was a popular but almost universally short-lived theme at that time. It also mentions that this issue was the debut of a certain vampire hunter by the name of Blade. Those kinds of descriptions are all throughout the book, and add a lot to the fantastic art that makes up the meat and potatoes of what’s between the covers.

And on that, man is this great stuff. Some of the very best (if not all of the) artists in the game have pencilled for Marvel Comics at one point or another, and all of that greatness is encapsulated here. As you might have surmised from what I’ve said already, you don’t just get a small cross section in this book, you get as complete a picture as has ever been printed of what Marvel’s cover set has looked like through the ages. If you love big, splashy imagery, you’re going to adore flipping through these oversized pages.

It is true however, that some of what’s here isn’t going to be of your taste. Even so though, there are so many different artists represented, even those who only like a crertain style should feel right at home. Personally, I’m a fan of the more classic comic book-style pieces, and stuff from the likes of Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Jim Lee, and Todd McFarlane are more in line with what I enjoy. The art of Moebius and Adi Granov (who also provides the forward here), as different as they both are, just aren’t my cup of super-soldier serum. That they both are in the book, as well as a plethora of others, just adds to the impressive cross-section of what’s been assembled here though, and does improve the experience as you get to see all styles from the different eras, not just the most popular ones or splashiest.

If anything, I would have liked to have seen even more covers and descriptions included. Although the selection is incredible, there are a few issues here and there from some of the smaller and lesser known series’  that I remember very well from throughout the ’90s in particular that I would have included. That’s far from a knock, as the book is already so well done, but it was a thought that popped into my head as I read, and I figured it was worth mentioning.

Final Thoughts

This is just a flat-out great book and one that no Marvel fan should miss out on. The art is incredible and there’s more than a little to be learned in these pages. Marvel Comics: 75 Years of Cover Art should fit nicely into the collection of anyone who appreciates comic book royalty and is easily one of those books that you not only keep on your shelf for years, but that you’ll often take down, open up, and leaf through when you have some down time.

It’s beautiful, fun to read, and well worth your time.

About Jason

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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