Marvel’s 80th-anniversary trade paperback series Decades continues with the latest focusing on the 80s. This series as a whole has celebrated each decade of Marvel’s existence by collecting stories so as to give readers an idea of what the publisher was about for that specific decade. In the 80s big changes were afoot as characters gained new purpose, new costumes, and in some instances new characters to take up the mantle.
So what’s it about?
The official summary reads:
Celebrate 80 years of Marvel Comics, decade by decade – and witness major shakeups for iconic heroes in the Awesome Eighties! A new generation of creators crafting character-defining runs changed everything, with new faces donning Iron Man’s armor and slinging Captain America’s shield! Bold makeovers were everywhere, including Spider-Man’s black costume, Storm’s mohawk, Thor’s battle armor and the Hulk’s return to gray! Super team shake-ups included the sensational She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four – and the transformation of the original X-Man, Angel, into Apocalypse’s metal-winged Horseman of Death! And Peter Parker faced the biggest life-altering event of all – marriage to Mary Jane Watson!
Why does this matter?
As writer Jess Harrold aptly puts it in the introduction this is a collection celebrating new creators putting new spins on superheroes of the last two decades. That makes this collection particularly interesting as it gives readers a taste of how dramatic change was occurring across series — from Iron Man to the X-Men.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
This is the kind of series that requires a bit of context and a step back to really appreciate it. I’ve reviewed a few of the previous volumes and each one captures a sense of what Marvel was up to at the time. This collection is no different giving readers an idea of how big shifts for each of the books was in order. Editors, writers, and artists alike were working to establish something new with every Marvel book while still capturing what was good about the characters. This book does a good job showing this by featuring 10 issues throughout the 80s. Not every issue is a one-shot, but each one gives readers a dramatic moment that shocked the world at the time. That makes this collection quite a fun slice of history to enjoy in one sitting.
It’s an eclectic read to be sure, but a fun one if you’re at all familiar with these stories. Spider-Man gaining the Symbiote costume, for instance, gets a focus here and it’s fun to see how Peter had no idea what he was wearing. In another, Wolverine and Rogue go on a mission in Japan and their dynamic is quite intriguing. Rogue was still coming off being a villain and Wolverine was as mysterious as he’d ever been when it came to his backstory. The big reveal in that story has to do with Storm’s mohawk, which is possibly one of the coolest costumes ever put to the comics page. Other tales include Spider-Man marrying Mary Jane, Archangel’s debut, She-Hulk joining the Fantastic Four, and Hulk turning grey. The latter story is particularly interesting due to the body horror contained within especially since Al Ewing and Joe Bennett are leaning heavily into that realm in their current Immortal Hulk run. Other forever changing stories include James Rhodes wearing the Iron Man costume (due to Tony hitting the bottle way too hard) and Thor getting a new look and feel.
Enough cannot be said of the artists working on these stories. This is a great looking book and the 80s were clearly a great time to be reading comics. John Byrne, Ron Frenz, Sal Buscema, Paul Smith, Walter Simonson, Luke McDonnell, and others were all putting in their A-game. I honestly think you could reprint these stories and tell folks they’re new and most won’t notice the difference save for the printing challenges at the time.
It can’t be perfect, can it?
One could argue this trade paperback could have been retitled “Awesome Costumes” instead of “Awesome Evolutions” since each story is more about the new look of the characters. The Spider-Man Symbiote story, for instance, is a nice taste of what was going on but isn’t the most iconic story from that era. The X-Men story seems a bit out of place given the big “evolution” within is Storm’s new costume which is only featured briefly. The Captain America story is also a bit odd since it drops you into a narrative about an ex-villain taking on the mantle. This is all a long way of saying it’s a good smattering of stories, but the focus seems to more about costumes in some cases than evolutions.
Is it good?
I had a blast reading this collection and I can’t wait to read what Marvel has cooked up for the 90s. This series as a whole is a great way to celebrate Marvel Comics especially if you’re interested in seeing how comics evolved over the decades.
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