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  • Writer's pictureJoe Pace

Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #84: Marvel, The Characters and Their Universe


In a couple of hours I'm heading to soak up the experience of Avengers: Endgame, the capstone of the unprecedented and magnificent continuing experiment that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe. I've managed to avoid any spoilers thus far - being out of the country helped - and I'm giddy with anticipation. I understand and appreciate how widely shared the love for the MCU is. It's well-earned; Marvel has redefined cinematic storytelling and set a standard that its longtime rival, DC, hasn't been able to match. MCU is for everybody, baby.

But I will say this - there's an added pleasure for those of us who knew these characters and these stories long before they became the centerpiece of modern film perfection and mass appeal. For those of us who grew up reading the comics, breathlessly awaiting that monthly trip to the mailbox or the comic store for the latest installment, the last decade has been apotheosis of the highest order. It's akin to those of us longtime Pats fans who knew Hugh Millen and Dick MacPherson cherishing the Brady-Belichick era with a unique fierceness. We earned this. We knew and adored Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but we also knew and adored John Byrne and Chris Claremont, Steve Ditko and Mark Gruenwald, John Romita Jr and John Buscema, Ann Nocenti and Louise Simonson.

We knew Tony Stark before he was funny, Captain Marvel when she was Ms. Marvel (and Binary, and Warbird, and just Carol Danvers too), and Hulk when he was gray. We knew Ant-Man when he was Henry Pym (and when Pym was Goliath, and Giant-Man, and Yellowjacket). We knew Black Widow when she wore fishnets and Thor when he had a beard (and when he was a frog). We knew Vision and Scarlet Witch and their imaginary twin babies. We knew the Guardians of the Galaxy before they were cool and we were there when Peter Parker met Mary Jane Watson (and when Gwen Stacy died).

And that's just the Avengers.

The X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, all of them, were our Saturday morning serial Westerns and secular catechism. We know these characters as personal friends, many of them from a time when actual friends might have been harder to come by. The protectiveness is natural and healthy. (Until it becomes toxic sexist incel shut-in paranoia, of course. Shudder.)

I couldn't be happier that millions of people are enjoying the MCU. I couldn't be happier that Game of Thrones is an epic shared cultural experience. Go back and tell ten-year old me that halfway decent adaptations of epic fantasy literature will dominate Sunday night television and water-cooler chatter. Tell that same kid that there will be dozens of brilliant cinematic versions of his favorite Marvel characters. Hell, tell him there will be another ten Star Wars movies (maybe don't tell him about the prequels). Then tell him about the Patriots and Red Sox. He wouldn't believe any of it. I still don't.

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