For Your Consideration: Marvel Firsts: The 1980s Vol. 1

Marvel Firsts: The 1980s Vol. 1

Marvel Firsts: The 1980s Vol. 1


by Robert Greenberger

The Marvel Firsts series of trade collections is a wonderful trip down memory lane. These volumes not only reprint first appearances but house ads and covers to titles not included for various reasons (mainly because they were spinoffs or reprint books). But you can clearly watch as Atlas Comics evolved into Marvel Comics the success that put the company on the map. The line, in case you missed it, has come to include the World War II Superheroes, the seminal 1960s, and three volumes for the 1970s. That last decade was explosive given the company’s expansion into black and white publishing and exploration of new genres such as sword and sorcery. They also added tons of movie and television adaptations while giving their bestselling character, Spider-Man, two new monthlies.

Coming this fall is the next volume, Marvel Firsts: The 1980s, and it manages to cover from 1980-1984 promising at least one more volume if not two. It’s an interesting period as Jim Shooter has been installed as editor in chief, added a layer of editors the company desperately needed, and began finding new ways to tell superheroic stories. By this point, X-Men was leading the pack and the company was in the throes of the Dark Phoenix saga.

There’s a tremendous amount of variety in these stories based on the announced contents. It shows Marvel growing in interesting ways while Shooter, at the same time, tightened the reins on how the stories should be told.

Why a story from the Hulk! Magazine? It’s Dominic Fortune from Denny O’Neil and Howard Chaykin, even though the character first arrived in 1975. The crime drama’s protagonist was the latest in a line of Chaykin heroes that can be traced back to Cody Starbuck.

Marvel Spotlight #9

Marvel Spotlight #9


On the other hand, Bill Mantlo and Steve Ditko got truly cosmic with Captain Universe, debuting in Marvel Spotlight #9. The cosmic force arrived just when a mortal needed it, a concept that has lingered and is on display in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers. Two other Avengers earned themselves a miniseries as Bill Mantlo and Rick Leonardi shone the spotlight on Vision and the Scarlet Witch, which performed well enough that the better known maxiseries followed.

Hawkeye #1

Hawkeye #1


Other Avengers received their own miniseries as well. The late, great Mark Gruenwald was the first to tackle Hawkeye solo and introduced him to Mockingbird in the first such miniseries along with the villainous Crossfire. You also get the first issue of Bob Layton’s brilliant and funny take on the demigod in Hercules, Prince of Power #1. At a time when things were pretty grim across the Marvel Universe, this was a breath of fresh air. Similarly, Jim Owsley (now Christopher Priest) and Paul Smith gave us a fresh take on Sam Wilson, Captain America’s partner The Falcon.

And it’s not all about heroes as Belasco, the occult being, is first seen in Ka-Zar the Savage #11 by Bruce Jones and Brent Anderson. This was one of my favorite runs of the character so it’s nice to see again even though only a few pages will be used.

Dazzler #1

Dazzler #1


The other savage, Wolverine, became so popular in X-Men that Chris Claremont and Frank Miller were given the green light to produce a solo miniseries. The story, set in Japan, became, of course, the source material for this summer’s The Wolverine. Another mutant, introduced in Uncanny X-Men #130 in 1980, also got her own title in 1982. Marvel had been developing a heroine with a record company and designed and redesigned her repeatedly before the deal fell through and she wound up being a late comer to the disco craze, but Dazzler #1, the first direct only title from Marvel, proved you can sustain a book sold only in comics shops.

On the other hand, the biggest mutant debut in this volume comes from Marvel Graphic Novel #4 as Claremont and Bob McLeod introduced us to the New Mutants. After years of resisting spinning off and diluting the mutant franchise, Shooter finally gave in to commercial demands and the results were stunning.

Alpha Flight #1

Alpha Flight #1


Claremont’s ex-partner, John Byrne, went from mutants to government-sponsored heroes as his Alpha Flight received a series of their own in 1983.

When America pulled out of the summer Olympics in 1980, a projected treasury-sized story was left lying around until it was suggested it be repurposed as a miniseries. On the heels of DC Comics successfully mining the new format came Marvel Super Hero Contest of Champions which gave us some international heroes for the first time.

Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior #1

Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior #1


Some of the most interesting work done in these years could be found in Epic Illustrated , the color magazine edited by Archie Goodwin which led to the Epic imprint of creator-owned titles, beginning with Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar in 1982. Rights issue clearly prevented any of that from being used here. On the other hand, Saga of Crystar: Crystal Warrior #1, a 1983 fantasy title based on Remco toys can be found in this collection. Go figure. Of course, some issues crossed into the Marvel Universe so an argument could be made here.

Rounding out the book are three of the more idiosyncratic and interesting firsts such as Jack of Hearts, who had been around since 1976 but became a fascinating character under the ministrations of writer Bill Mantlo and artist George Freeman. Then there are Cloak and Dagger, spinning out of their recurring appearances in Spectacular Spider-Man courtesy of Mantlo and Leonardi.

And Louise Simonson stepped away from her editor’s desk to begin writing the delightful adventures of the Power family, partnered with June Brigman as readers first met Power Pack in 1984.

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Marvel Firsts: The 1980s Vol. 1

Classic comic covers from the Grand Comics Database.

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