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Penguin Classics Marvel Collection: ‘The Amazing Spider-Man’, ‘Captain America’, ‘Black Panther’ (review)

  • The Amazing Spider-Man
    By Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
    Foreword by Jason Reynolds
    Collects Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spiderman #1-4, #9, #10, #13, #14, #17-19 and Material from Strange Tales #97 and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
  • Captain America
    Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Stan Lee, Jim Steranko, and John Romita Sr
    Foreword by Gene Luen Yang
    Collects Captain America Comics #1, Material from Tales of Suspense #59, #63-68, #75-81, #92-95, #110-113, and Material From Captain America #78
  • Black Panther
    By Don McGregor, Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby
    Foreword by NNedi Okorafor

    Introduction by Qiana J. Whitted
    Collects Fantastic Four #52-53 and Jungle Action #6-21

Edited by Ben Saunders
Published by Penguin Random House
Available in both Hardcover and Paperback


I will admit to not being thrilled when it was announced that Penguin would be putting out collections of Marvel Comics classics. After all, how many times can we repackage these same old stories, even if they are classics in their own right?

I have to say, though, that I am—at least for the most part—impressed with the initial three Penguin collections I’ve just read.

The Penguin Classics Marvel Collection seems not to be aimed at the regular comics readers of any age but at the rest of the world. These “carefully curated” (sic) volumes, of which these three are seemingly only the beginning, appear to be designed to go into libraries. They give what many of us have long known to be classic tales the mainstream respect they were never afforded when new.

Each book offers some knowledgeable text pieces, including reprinted articles, essays, and Forewords by Don McGregor and Jim Steranko from prior collections. Some of the texts are a tad opinionated but for the most part they tend to stick to facts and from what I see they tend to get things pretty much correct. The now-legendary disputes between Stan and Jack and Stan and Steve are not ignored but neither is any one party attacked.

The three volumes at hand were clearly chosen to tie in with the Marvel Cinematic Universe and yet they don’t hit you over the head with that: Spider-Man, Captain America, and the Black Panther. The Cap volume in particular offers stories with Cap, Bucky, World War II, Agent Carter, the Red Skull, Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D, the Hulk, the Cosmic Cube (The Tesseract), Hydra, and cameos from Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, Thor, Iron Man, Hank Pym and the Wasp.

The Captain America stories are well-chosen, going so far as to juxtapose a few original Golden Age tales with their Silver Age retellings, which serves to highlight the huge progress Kirby’s early powerful but crude art had made as well as how the Marvel comics stories of the 1960s aimed for a bit more sophistication.

Some of Stan and Jack’s best-remembered short Tales of Suspense Cap story arcs are here, with various different inkers (Personally, I loved the one where Don Heck inked Jack! What a splendid combination!). This is followed up by Jim Steranko’s three book-length issues of Captain America—arguably the best written and drawn Cap story of the Silver Age.

At first, I was surprised that the late Tales of Suspense series guest-starring the Black Panther wasn’t included but then, after all, the Panther now being a superstar, he gets his own volume.

Beginning logically with the Black Panther’s two-part origin story in Fantastic Four from 1966, we then jump to writer Don McGregor’s magnum opus, the “Panther’s Rage” story arc that began in Jungle Action seven years later.

Although a white man himself, McGregor wondered why an African king would take a job as a school teacher in the US—his alias in Avengers. This series saw him returning to Wakanda to face a gauntlet of foes more powerful than him. Known for his well-written prose in comic books, McGregor here found an appreciative audience with fans of all races. Everyone liked this version of the Panther… except Marvel.

While it lasted, though, the artists on the Panther’s Rage series were impressive, too! Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson started out normally but within a couple of issues had developed a pseudo-Steranko style. After a Gil Kane fill-in, Buckler is replaced by black artist Billy Graham, who built his reputation with his stylish work here and on Luke Cage around that same time.

Eventually, it was decided to give the Black Panther his own title but in doing so, his creator, Jack Kirby, was brought in to handle it, ditching all of McGregor’s continuity and his more adult themes, instead coming up with a kitschy sci-fi opus that has its fans (I’m actually one.)…but not one of Kirby’s best efforts. Thankfully, this archival volume spares us any from that series.

Re-reading these stories now after several decades, they aren’t really as adult as I remembered them to be, although they were still miles ahead of, say, your run-of-the-mill Spider-Man comics of the day.

Spidey’s eventual mediocrity is likely why the Spider-Man volume here is all Lee and Ditko. Nothing mediocre about those early issues. Also, they feature villains who have appeared in the movies—Electro, Sandman, the Lizard, Mysterio, Doctor Octopus, and the Green Goblin.

The reproduction is great on all of these, although the modern printing techniques really don’t work as well as the original newsprint. Spotted some coloring errors I don’t believe were in the original printings, either. Also, I question the logic of reprinting letters’ pages as they often dealt with issues not even reprinted here or, in the case of the Tales of Suspense ones, with Iron Man, who shared that title with Cap for years.

Both the Spidey and the Panther volumes have some cool additional features but nothing comparable in the Cap book.

I’m on record as saying I don’t believe we need scholarly academic treatises on stories made for kids on a deadline more than half a century ago but that certainly doesn’t mean I want them ignored. These first of presumably many offerings in the Penguin Marvel Classics Collection do it the right way, footnotes, bibliography, and all, without ever feeling pretentious.

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