James O Callaghan of Ireland, comic nerd, editor, and writer for Grayhaven Comics, has spent the last two years reading Marvel comics.
Which many of us do in our daily lives.
But James’s comic reading has a purpose: he’s reading all Marvel Comics from Fantastic Four #1 to the present day. (With a few small exceptions.)
That’s over five and a half thousand comics so far.
I’ve been reading his comments about this mega re-read for over two years now on Facebook and thought it was time to document this ambitious project. I asked him why he started doing this, how he managed to find so many comics, how he managed to find the time, and what were some of the coolest surprises as he went through the re-read. Hint: One of them was the evolution of Sue Storm from Damsel to superhero.
But, mostly, he’s suprised at how much more enjoyable reading yesterday’s comics is over reading the current crossover-laden Marvel Comic Universe.
GeekMom: What the heck inspired you to do this, James?
James: First off, thank you for asking me to talk about this. When I started doing this, I figured I’d be pestering a few friends on Facebook at most with my random updates. I didn’t think people would be interested enough for something like this.
I’ve always loved Marvel’s continuity. I’m that nerd that was able to work out what order issues should be read in, when you had a character like Wolverine starring in 400 different issues a week. For years, I’ve been reading virtually everything Marvel, DC, Image, IDW and various other companies were publishing, either from buying them myself, or borrowing from friends, and I have to be honest, in recent years, I was finding myself growing bored.
Not because of a lack of quality in a lot of cases, or a loss of love for characters. Image alone was blowing me out of the water with the quality of their books, and I’ll be a Marvel zombie till I die. But for various reasons, various books were getting canceled, or having unexpected, extended delays that were spoiling my joy of reading them on a weekly/ monthly basis.
I’ve spent years reading various comic runs that were recommended to me, but oddly, never got around to various classic Marvel runs for whatever reason.
GM: How did you manage to find all these comics to read?
James: A couple of years ago, I’d realized that between my own collection, and the collections of quite a few friends of mine, not to mention the likes of Marvel Unlimited, I had access to pretty much everything Marvel had ever published. I started making a list of classic runs I’d never read, or read fully, and was going to just pick a series and read it, then move on to the next.
But then I thought, given how much I enjoy the continuity, and how often books cross over with each other, why not start at the start of the Marvel Universe, and work my way forward. So I found a website that had been compiling a list, The Complete Marvel Reading Order and using that, plus my own knowledge of continuity, particularly X-Men, started reading.
GM: Where did you start? Did you really include ALL Marvel Comics?
James: I started with Fantastic Four #1, the beginning of the Marvel Age of comics, and continued from there. Virtually everything in the main universe of comics (or at least everything I could get my hands on, if I didn’t already own it myself) is going to be included.
My plan originally was to just include the 616 Marvel Universe books, but I’ve planned for periods where I’ll include the likes of New Universe and the 2099 books, since I’d always intended to read a lot of those books anyway, and they’ve made a return in the main line of comics in recent years. Really, it boils down to what I own, what I can buy through Marvel Unlimited and what I can borrow. If, say, I can’t get my hands on most of the New Universe books for example, since I don’t personally own them, I won’t include them in my read through (at last check, I actually WILL have access to these through a couple of friends, so I’ll likely be reading that line sometime towards the end of the year).
GM: Any exclusions?
James: Stuff like the Rampaging Hulk black and white books I refused to include because they were later written out of continuity. Stuff like Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and U.S.1 were also excluded since while they had a connection, they didn’t really effect the greater Marvel Universe. The Shogun Warriors, for example, pop up in Fantastic Four, once, and then are never referenced again.
GM: Where are you right now?
James: I’m mid 1984/early 1985. My biggest, most recent milestone, was Secret Wars, and the subsequent aftermath books. Using the CMRO’s method of keeping track of stories as a basis, I’m at 5,468 comics read.
I started on January 1st, 2015, so right now I’m 2 years and (nearly) 2 months into it. I try to read between 5 and 10 issues minimum every day. Considering the sheer amount of dialogue per page in older issues, I haven’t always managed to hit this goal, but it’s improving as I get into the 80‘s. And some days, if I’ve been sick, I’ve hit 20, 30, sometimes 40 issues.
GM: What was the biggest surprise you found?
James: The biggest has certainly been my reactions to some books.
A huge pleasure was reading Jim Starlin’s run on Captain Marvel, which I knew of, but never gave much thought to despite liking Starlin’s cosmic books. His Thanos War arc was a joy to read. Certain books like Ms. Marvel and Spider-Woman were a lot of fun that I wasn’t expecting.
On the other hand, I’d wanted to read the 70‘s horror comics for a long time, but once I did, I found them particularly bland. Tomb of Dracula was a book I grew to seriously dislike seeing pop up, which was a shame since I really looked forward to that. Oddly, Man-Thing, which I expected to hate, became one of the few horror books I enjoyed by the end. Rom was another I heard people praise, but I haven’t been fond of. Though as I near the end of his run, I’ve found the book improving a little.
GM: How did the portrayals of women and people of color change through the years?
James: They’ve definitely changed a lot. In regards to portrayals of women, when you consider Sue Storm at the start of Fantastic Four, where she basically exists to be the fourth member of the team and nothing more, to at the point I’m at now where she’s finally being considered a formidable hero in her own right, it’s impressive to see the change.
I just finished an issue of The Thing where she holds her own against a mind-controlled Ben Grimm, which was pretty awesome.
And by now you’ve also got Storm leading the X-Men, Danielle Moonstar leading the New Mutants, Wasp has just resigned as Avengers chairman, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Woman, and She-Hulk all had solo books by now that lasted at least 2 years. It’s a far cry from when the women were there just to be plot devices when they’d need to be rescued by the male team members.
Characters of color are starting to be portrayed better by this point too, I think.
Luke Cage has had an ongoing that’s run over a hundred issues. Shang-Chi’s comic has recently ended at 125 issues. As I said, Storm and Danielle Moonstar are the team leaders for their respective mutant teams.
There are still issues by this point. Particularly insults. There are a lot of insults in books I know were considered for kids, that I know for a fact wouldn’t make it into a book that didn’t have a Mature Readers logo on it these days. It’s jarring, even though I remember reading the same things years back when I read a lot of these books first.
GM: Did you change your mind about any characters? Or storylines?
James: I wouldn’t say my mind has changed too much. Stuff I’d read that I’d read before, I still enjoyed (or didn’t, as the case my be). Characters I loved, I still love now. I suppose there are some characters I was ambivalent to that I’ve grown fond of.
I had no real love for Man-Thing or Misty Knight and Colleen Wing, but I kinda like them now.
Hank Pym’s still an unlikable dick. [Note from Corrina: Even in the cinematic universe!]
GM: Who’s your favorite artist so far? Has it changed from before?
James: God, I couldn’t choose. There have been so many greats at this point, it’d probably be easier to pick ones I’m NOT fond of.
By this point, I’d have to give a shout out to the likes of John Byrne, John Romita (Sr and Jr), Frank Miller, Paul Smith, Gene Colan, Mike Zeck. Ed Hannigan is a Spider-Man artist I don’t think gets enough praise too.
GM: Favorite writer?
James: Again, that’s almost impossible for me to narrow down, given the sheer amount of creators involved. I’d say Chris Claremont is the most consistently enjoyable by this point. John Byrne and Frank Miller would be close, for their Fantastic Four/ Alpha Flight and Daredevil runs respectively. Roger Stern’s stint on Amazing Spider-Man has been another highlight.
GM: Any storylines you feel that Marvel should revisit that they never have?
James: I don’t think so. I think, so far, any storyline that felt like it needed more story told has already been revisited, either by the creator of the story in question or by someone down the road. Nothing immediately springs to mind as having been forgotten, so to speak.
For me, it’s not so much storylines that should be revisited, but I think taking a look at how stories were done back then would go a long way.
For one, and it’s something the movies do fairly well, spreading the heroes out a bit more would be a nice sight to see. In the early years, characters lived all over the US. Nowadays almost every hero is based in New York. All it’s doing is making the villains seem like morons for not chancing their luck in LA or Chicago.
Off the top of my head, only Ant-Man was situated outside New York.
Also, right now Marvel goes from event to event to event, with no real break. You’ve got 8 or 9 months of event and three or four months either side of set up/ aftermath from the previous event, and then it’s right back to the next event. And God forbid an event gets delayed, which they almost always do. When you stop to consider that most creators also write-for-trade still, nothing feels like it really has time to breathe.
If there’s one thing I’ve noticed from this read through, it’s that I’m getting much more enjoyment out of re-reading these classic stories than I am the current ones, and a big part of that is due to the current constant events/ crossovers that take 6 to 10 months to be told. I still read the current stuff, but I’m nowhere near as invested as I used to be. Reading the old stuff has brought back a sense of joy that I think had been missing for a while.
I’ll close with saying, I’ve been asked a few times if I’d recommend someone attempting this kind of read through too, and I’d say it depends.
It’s understandably a huge investment in time, and it’s not easy if you don’t already have access to the books. I’d highly recommend attempting something of its type, though, if you love comics.
There aren’t many other mediums where you can see characters grow over such a long time period. If you’re an X-Men fan, or a Batman fan, or whatever, I definitely think you should start from scratch and plow through the books at least once. Read the great storylines.
Read the crummy ones too. Rewatch the characters grow. Remind yourself why these characters mean so much to you.