Marvel Comics #1000
Published by Marvel Comics
Review by David Pepose
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
Equal bits exquisite corpse and equal bits celebration to 80 years of publishing, Marvel Comics #1000 is a strange, challenging, and creatively stacked tribute to the House of Ideas. But in many ways, it’s also a supremely conflicted one - while this anthology leans towards an overarching story thanks to the herculean efforts of writer Al Ewing, the snapshot structure of this narrative (and deviations therein) makes this anniversary issue a demanding undertaking even for diehard Marvel historians.
Given his well-deserved success with The Immortal Hulk, it’s not surprising that Marvel tapped writer Al Ewing to spearhead this gargantuan read, as we delve into the entire history of the publisher year by year, page-by-page. The problem is, nearly every page is written by a different creative team - while Ewing gets to pop in occasionally to build upon the evolving conspiracy of the Three Xs, readers get little in the way of consistency elsewhere, as we’re forced to start over and over again.
On the one hand, the structure feels ambitious - how else are you going to try to build even the barest semblance of a story, while still nodding to major events that happened in Marvel history every year from 1939 to the present? But on the other hand, it’s that same maniacal sense of continuity that makes it tough for even a longtime reader like myself to get into things - there are so many deep cuts and nods to Marvel lore that you’ll likely find yourself having to pause to remember the reference… or possibly boot up Wikipedia to fill in the gaps. It’s a worthy attempt, but it often feels like it’s trying to fit in way too much in such a limited period of time.
But that said, the jam band nature of this anniversary issue also means that Marvel Comics #1000 comes with an incredibly stacked artistic bench. Given the latest battles over his cinematic future, it’s almost bittersweet to see that Spider-Man, ultimately the quintessential Marvel superhero, invariably gets the best stories of the bunch - Into the Spider-Verse directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller team up with artist Javier Rodriguez for a particularly funny riff on Spider-Man and his powers, while Brad Meltzer and Julian Totino Tedesco deliver probably the most potent single-page story of the bunch with a tear-jerking nod to Uncle Ben. And given his work with the Webslinger in Absolute Carnage, Donny Cates also does some terrific work with Peter Parker in his one-page story with Geoff Shaw, exploring exactly what goes into planning Spider-Man’s nightly patrols.
And beyond Spider-Man, there are also some other great gems scattered throughout the book. Joe Quesada gets to flex his muscles with a page of Daredevil in honor of he and Jimmy Palmiotti’s launch of Marvel Knights in 1998, while a single-page Cable story written and illustrated by Jeff Lemire makes me want to see him tackle the character for at least a limited series. Domino collaborators Gail Simone and David Baldeon reunite for a fun short featuring Deadpool, and Jason Aaron makes me want an ongoing book with Goran Parlov, as they somehow sell the goofiest Wolverine/Punisher team-up with gusto. And even though the characters doesn’t really fit in the rest of the book, Charles Soule and Terry Dodson knock it out of the park with a Darth Vader story that shows both the desperation of the Rebel Alliance and the unstoppable fury of the Dark Lord of the Sith.
That said, the problem with such a sprawling narrative - and a bench full of legends, some of which are clearly hard to come by - is that there’s often a disconnect in the overall reading experience, and that there are plenty of characters that get short-shrift despite being longtime gems in the Marvel crown. The Fantastic Four, the team upon which the Marvel foundation was built, are almost nonexistent in this book, beyond some appearances by the Thing and one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from Reed Richards (in 2017) - even Doctor Doom and Galactus get more page time than 75% of the FF — while Doctor Strange gets more of a single-page gag from Mike Allred rather than anything epitomizing the character.
Meanwhile, Iron Man, the modern-day face of the entire Marvel Universe, is delegated to a recap page from Walt Simonson (albeit one beautifully rendered) and an admittedly cool design experiment from Chip Zdarsky - even though these are extremely talented names on board, these stories barely scratch the surface of what’s proven to be a complex and charismatic character, let alone summing up what Tony Stark has meant over 80 years of publication. Perhaps faring worst are the X-Men, who get two splash pages that pay only the barest of lip service to one of Marvel’s most iconic teams - basically, if you’re looking for a well-balanced look across the House of Ideas, you may be disappointed, since Marvel Comics #1000 is a comic that wears the preferences of its rotating cast of creators on its sleeve.
Given the number of balls they had to juggle for this anniversary issue, it’s not unsurprising that Marvel Comics #1000 is an ambitious but flawed book - to be honest, I think given that they were committed to their plan of 80 years in 80 pages with 80 different creative teams, it was probably unavoidable that there would be some wonkiness in the final product. For diehard fans of everything Marvel has built over the past eight decades, you’ll likely find something to love in this book - but if you’re looking for some sort of narratively satisfying statement about the Marvel Universe, where it’s been and where it’s going, you’re likely going to come out disappointed. The creators are ultimately the main draw for Marvel Comics #1000, but this book is far more retrospective than concrete story, which means for many readers, your mileage will vary.