Review: History of the Marvel Universe Treasury Edition
There's a few different aspects to focus on when trying to review this book, and unfortunately some of that will require me to get a bit nitpicky on some elements of choice in the content. So I'm going to try my best to avoid being that type of nerd, because all-in-all I really enjoy this entire package. I just want to voice some oddities in editorial decisions that still have me scratching my head.
HOTMU is definitely a labor of love, a crafted reinterpretation of the Marvel timeline that is supposed to serve as many things. On one hand it's a working timeline of the Marvel Universe, which after 2015 has experienced numerous reality altering story arcs that have adjusted how things work in the universe. Much like the 1986 History of the DC Universe, it's understandable that it might not hurt to have a little guide for the universe considering how often Marvel reveals a secret history that's supposed to tie loose ends together. I mean, they legit have 2 secret Superman archetypes whose histories were hidden over decades. When you are frequently adding on to the past it's nice to make sure you're not contradicting yourself too much.
On the other hand, it's also a nuanced attempt at filtering out some aspects of Marvel history while putting others on pedestals. And for the most part I can't blame them on some choices (large chunks of X-Men history are glossed over, which can be argued as redundant given the Grand Design series), while others seem odd. For example, Waid goes out of his way to mention the Confederates of the Curious, the Mystery Men, the Monster Hunters, The First Line, and the 1959 Avengers lineup.
And hey, cool, I appreciate all of that (well, except for the Avengers 1959), but at no point in the main book does it mention J. Michael Straczynski's The Twelve. The Monster Hunters appeared in four issues of Marvel Universe, a story that the general public does not remember or will ever care about.
The Twelve, despite a lot of the problems I have with Straczynski, was a very engaging 13 part story that I'm pretty sure still counts as continuity. The Twelve is mentioned in the annotations in the back, so some completist on the project thought to include a quick note at least. It's an exceedingly odd piece of history to leave out of the main presentation though when you consider what made the final cut, and one has to wonder if this is due to any sort of bias.
So with that missing, we need to stop and wonder how much of this is due to time and space restrictions, how much of it was editorial, and how much was Mark Waid's choice. I'm willing to give Waid the benefit in that he was probably screwed in just how much he could fit in with a six issue limit. I would guess he probably would have loved to go for ten to twelve issues max, but Marvel decided to reign it in. If that was the case, then yes, this is very much an astonishing job. Keep in mind that Marvel never had a Crisis like reality altering event like DC until 2015. For the most part, every major story element we wish wasn't a part of history is a part of history that needs to be mentioned, meaning the minor (and better quality) story arcs are left to the wayside. For example, Civil War gets a two page splash while Annihilation and Annihilation: Conquest get smushed into one page and painfully ill summarized.
Likewise, Original Sin gets a full page, but Fear Itself, Acts of Vengeance, and many others get the axe. Oddly, the Avengers storyline Under Siege gets a prominent full page feature, and while I agree it's an amazing story it's still one that not as many readers are familiar with so this feels like a bit of favoritism. A favoritism I can understand though because it's a great Roger Stern story.
The formation of Generation X is noted, but the entirety of the Phalanx Covenant is ignored. And hey, I get it, not a great story, but to ignore the Phalanx is to ignore chunks of X-Men history and a connection point to other pieces.
On a merciful note, Waid does summarize the entirety of the Spider-Clone Saga in one page, and it's a beautiful piece of art that that story does not deserve. I mean we even get to see Spidercide, which is a real character that we should never be reminded of because why? Why would you why?
On that note, let's take a quick break from story content and focus on that artwork. The main reason to purchase this book, especially in the oversized treasury format, is to fully appreciate the glory of Javier Rodriguez's art. His beautiful and innovative page layouts and compositions are what truly elevate this book from being a dull summary of events into a grander remembrance of times past.
Granted, Waid does give the script some punch and a good framing device, but even then without such engaging artwork our eyes would still gloss over a bit as we have to sit through an explanation of how the Celestials screwed with crap. As you work through the book you can see Rodriguez experimenting, playing with character designs to create dynamic scenes and show the drama in the history.
Also, I love how Rodriguez snuck in a minor appearance of Jessica Drew and her friend Porcupine Man from the 2016 run of Spider-Woman that he worked on. It's minor but noticeable, a good way to summarize the best parts of Marvel History (the book and the actual history).
Riiiiight next to Devil Dino...
It's worth noting that once we hit more current events (pretty much issues #5 & 6), things get summarized pretty tightly and this whole section is what made me feel like there should have been more issues to the run. It's handled well enough, but it also feels rushed and is probably the dryer portion of the book. The engaging stuff is mostly at the front half where Waid tried to fit in all the new history elements introduced over the past few years into the pre-existing history. There's a certain type of exciting fictional alchemy happening at that phase, which we lose during issues #3-4 as it's just summaries of the origins of characters we are already pretty familiar with like say The Avengers and FF.
That isn't to say the final chunk isn't engaging though, as we're brought back faster and faster to the framework story of Franklin Richards and Galactus at the end of time.
As Galactus starts to unravel at the end of time, his remembering of 'modern events' scisms, giving us a vague concept of possible future events (some like Empyre and King In Black being pretty current). Galactus then picks and chooses elements of possible alternate dystopian futures to summarize, but leaves us on the usual message of hope (which is like the one and only appearance of Squirrel Girl, so at least she's doing better than The Twelve I guess).
Any complaints I have are of a more personal nature, coming from the part of me that feels bummed at the absence of fond memories and nostalgia. Creating a cohesive and enjoyable history book about a messy superhero universe is a major accomplishment, regardless of the inevitable nitpicks and completist mentalities. Plus, Marvel made a great format decision with this Treasury Edition to highlight an artist in his prime. So if you want an amazing artbook that doubles as a crash course in Marvel superheroes, you should definitely check this out.