Marvel: The Golden Age 1939-1949 – the Folio Society review

Take a trip through Marvel Comics history with this gorgeous new collection from The Folio Society...

The fine folks from The Folio Society have brought together an impressive tome that sums up a vital era in the development of the Marvel universe – it’s a chapter in the overarching story of Marvel that helped the comic book company grow into the blockbusting behemoth it is today. This new collection, curated by former Marvel editor Roy Thomas, will guide you through the “Golden Age” of Marvel Comics across 272 glossy pages that span the years 1939 to 1949.

First things first, if you’re splashing out on a prestigious nerdy item like this (and priced at £150, this is quite the splash), you’re going to want something that looks properly snazzy whether it’s attracting attention on a coffee table or sitting proudly on a sturdy shelf. And we’re pleased to report that The Folio Society’s Marvel: The Golden Age 1939-1949 does exactly that – the collection comes in a gorgeous, gold-tinted box that was illustrated by Marvel’s own Marco D’Alfonso. Before you even dive inside to lift out the book, you’re very aware that you’ve got your hands on a high-end slab of geekery that will turn the heads of any like-minded fans that happen to be passing through your living room. It’s sure to boost your geek credentials.

Once you’ve stopped gazing lovingly at the box, you’ll open it up to find a brace of brilliance housed in its innards: there’s the chunky blue book that contains the key classic comics, and there’s also an extra treat wrapped in a protective red sleeve. Just begging to be slipped out of the sleeve and admired is a 64-page facsimile of the highly-sought-after Marvel Comics #1. There’s also an exclusive 10˝ x 7˝ artwork by D’Alfonso, safe in the sleeve, which would look great in a frame or tacked to a wall in pride of place.

Flicking through the loving reprint of Marvel Comics #1 is a good way to prime yourself for the main collection – it’s a pulpy series of tales including still-famous characters like The Human Torch and The Submariner alongside lesser-known-in-modern-circles heroes like Angel and Masked Raider. The stories have more exclamation marks than you could shake a stick at, heaps of dramatic explanations from the writers, and an endearingly limited colour palette that will take you right back to those retro glory days when printers didn’t have lasers in them.

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Then it’s time to crack open the main collection – it’s a big blue book that blows up classic comics to 13¼˝ x 9¼˝ size, giving them a well-earned sense of weight and importance that wouldn’t’ve been present in their original printed style. Before you’ve read a word, you will notice some further fancy flourishes: there’s the metallic ink of the endpapers, for example, which are once again illustrated in style by D’Alfonso; and there’s also a red ribbon dangling down, to help you mark your page, which combines with the golden endpapers to give this collection a sense of almost biblical importance – it makes a certain amount of sense, considering that what you’re about to read are the stories and ideas that effectively served as the big bang of the Marvel universe.

Kicking things off is an introduction by Marvel’s Roy Thomas, which will bring even the most casual comic book fan up to speed on what they’re about to read. Thomas explains that the collection is comprised of four lengthy comics: there’s Sub-Mariner #1, which introduces the seafaring superhero that fans still want to see on the big screen; and then it’s Human Torch #5, which will remind you that the flaming fighter’s origins go way further back than the Fantastic Four; and then it’s Captain America Comics #10, which puts the star-spangled man through a barmy array of battles; and finally, closing things out is All Winners Comics #19, which brings those iconic characters together along with some lesser-known heroes for an epic team-up.

With Thomas’s informative introduction to guide you through, this collection serves as a neat summary of Golden Age of Marvel. It proves that all the action-packed excitement and day-saving heroism was present and correct long before anybody knew what a ‘Marvel Cinematic Universe’ was. In fact, even the term ‘Marvel Comics’ wasn’t that famous back then – the company itself was still called Timely Comics.

The incredibly dramatic writing and the primary-coloured art style immediately takes you back, serving as a welcome reminder of just how much Marvel itself – and comics as a medium – has evolved over the decades. But it’s also nice to notice the things that haven’t changed: Captain America was envisioned as the ultimate good guy, punching Hitler on various classic covers and going toe-to-toe with an endless parade of wrong-uns, and that kind-hearted spirit endures to this day, enabling Cap to win the hearts of viewers with his journey from Hitler-punching performer to multiverse-saving Avenger in the MCU. And with Avengers: Endgame still being fresh in the mind, witnessing Cap’s early days in this glossy and respectful way is a genuine treat.

As well as recognising the heroes that are still famous today, you can also spot deep cut characters like Whizzer, who was taken seriously by writers at the time but more recently parodied in Jessica Jones on Netflix. You’ll also spot household name creators like Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Bill Finger showing off their skills in this classic collection, putting in the work that gave Marvel a solid foundation on which to build an entertainment empire. All in all, whether you’re a long-time reader of this era or a newcomer to Marvel history, as long as your Marvel love is strong, you’ll find plenty to enjoy while flicking through these fancy pages.

The Folio Society edition of Marvel: The Golden Age 1939–1949 © 2019 Marvel is available now from The Folio Society.

Rating:

5 out of 5