In celebration of Marvel’s 80th anniversary, Marvel Comics is releasing some of their most iconic books, once only in hardcover in the trade paperback format. Recently John Romita Sr.’s Marvel Visionaries got the new format which is nice considering the hardcover has been out of print since 2005.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Celebrate the career of a true Marvel Visionary! From the Fabulous Fifties to the future of the Femizons, Jazzy John Romita brought his distinctive and definitive style to all corners of the Marvel Universe! Witness the coming of the communist-hunting Captain America! A furious face-off between Spider-Man and the Green Goblin! The debut of the Devil’s Daughter! Peter Parker’s parents in perilous predicaments! And classic stories featuring the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, Nick Fury, Wolverine, the Kingpin and more — including rarely seen horror talesf rom the pre-Marvel era!
Why does this matter?
This book collects 336 pages of John Romita Sr.-drawn stories from 1951 all the way up to 1997, giving readers a taste of everything from his mainstream stuff like Spider-Man to his more obscure work on Tales to Astonish and Strange Tales. It’s a wide scope of his work.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This collection opens with an introduction by John Romita Sr.’s son John Romita Jr. written in 2005. The intro helps give some context from Jr.’s perspective growing up wanting to emulate his father. It’s funny to think Romita Sr. started by drawing romance comics, something Romita Jr. reflects on not being interested in when he was very young. There’s certainly a lot of comparing (and Jr. remarking on how he was never as good as his dad) with a nice anecdotal reference to Captain America & the Falcon. It’s a story about speed specifically but also how important that series was at the time. Considering we often overlook how fast an artist can produce high-quality work, this helps put into context the decades of work John Romita Sr. put in drawing what he loved.
The book opens with Romita’s earlier work in genre storytelling which come in shorter snippets with sci-fi and western stories with fun twists. The opening story is just two pages long and involves an alien entering the mind of a baby and killing his mother. A rather shocking starter to the collection with an attention to detail and perspective that shows how good Romita Sr. was at storytelling. The creepy baby helps too. This leads to other wild tales and a few shorter Captain America stories too.
There’s a heavy dose of Spider-Man stories in this collection, including his 1997 work on the 30th-anniversary issue as well as the short-lived Untold Tales of Spider-Man revealing Peter’s parents to be super spies. The most iconic of the bunch collected here is Amazing Spider-Man #39, when Green Goblin flew Spider-Man across the city maskless, and who could forget the iconic moment when Peter chucked his costume into the trashcan? Other heroes represented here include Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and Captain America. If the aim of this collection was to give a taste of Romita’s work over the years, this book is a huge success.
Also included here are a few covers Romita worked on, character designs of Mary Jane, Robbie Robertson, and Prowler to name a few as well as an original proposal for the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip. There’s also a gatefold poster Romita worked on with Alex Ross in the back matter as well. To see something so modern like the gatefold and then sketches of Mary Jane helps show how long Romita worked in the industry.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
This is a collection of morsels across the creator’s career rather than longer runs, so the reading experience is for those with shorter attention spans. It would have been nice to get more information on the artist’s style and how it evolved, possibly by a historian, because you’re left coming to your own conclusions here.
Is it good?
This collection is great at showing a bit of everything a comic book master did over their career. Its wide scope helps create context as well as show how versatile they were. I dare you to read this and not want to pick up a biography on one of the greatest comic artists of all time.