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Marvel Monsters | Review

Marvel Monsters cover

Marvel Monsters: Creatures of the Marvel Universe Explored
Writer: Kelly Knox
DK Children

Before Marvel turned its attention to superheroes following the success of the Fantastic Four in the early 1960s, the publisher was a veritable monster factory, with artist Jack Kirby and writers Stan Lee and Larry Lieber filling the pages of Tales of Suspense, Tales To Astonish, Journey Into Mystery and more with giant, colorful monsters with memorable, fun-to-say names like Droom, Goom, Fin Fang Foom, Tim Boom Ba, Monstro, Monstrom, Monsteroso and  many more. Each story read a bit like an abbreviated mid-century sci-fi movie, in which a courageous scientist or otherwise ordinary man would save the day from some titanic invader born of space, magic or radiation with some inspired trick or another.

As Kirby, Lee and their collaborators made more and more superheroes, and Marvel’s publishing line started coalescing into the shared-setting that would become known as the Marvel Universe, some of these beloved behemoths began to re-enter the narrative, now fighting super-heroes rather than opposed by simple civilians. Over the decades, many more monsters of various kinds would join their ranks, from monster/superhero hybrids exemplified by The Incredible Hulk (whose very name was repurposed from an alien invader in an earlier comic) to the many horror movie-inspired monster heroes of the 1970s,  to post-modern, revisionist takes meant to make sense of so many creatures stomping around Earth at the same time.

By this point, the Marvel Universe is home to so many monsters, one practically needs a guidebook to tell them apart. And that’s exactly what writer Kelly Knox provides in Marvel Monsters: Creatures of The Marvel Universe Explored, a heavily illustrated character encyclopedia devoted to detailing Marvel’s many monsters.

Breaking the monsters into seven broad categories—Aquatic, Artificially Created, Space and Other Dimensions, et cetera—Knox presents sixty different monsters and a handful of monster teams. Each is given a page of prose text telling their basic stories and histories, with a monster-sized image of the subject occupying the facing page, and another, smaller, inset image among the text. Stats, like height, weight, origin and powers, run vertically alongside the monsters’ portraits.

Sample page from Marvel Monsters, showing Groot.

About half of the book consists of those famous Kirby/Lee creations, mostly from 1960-61, which means Knox usually re-tells their original stories in brief, and then offers updates on their later appearances, usually one of a handful of stories in which some inspired writer tried to group a large swath of them together for a mini-epic, a crossover event series, or a monster-specific new title. Each entry helpfully includes the first appearance of the character, which notes their real-world creators and offers the opportunity for further reading, although one imagines citing trade paperbacks collecting the stories would be infinitely more useful. That is, a casual reader will have a much easier time finding the story of, say, Gorgilla in 2017 trade paperback Monsters Unleashed Prelude than in an original copy of 1960’s Tales To Astonish #12, you know?

In addition to Kirby’s creatures, the book also includes a handful of monstrous supervillains like The Lizard and Sauron, monstrous heroes like Man-Thing and Groot, dinosaurian best friends like Devil Dinosaur, Kitty Pryde’s pal Lockheed and The Runaways’ Old Lace, and various werewolves, vampires, aliens, robots, sea monsters and everything in between.

Perhaps the most interesting section is the final one, “Monster Teams,” which chronicles some of the more recent high-concepts, like the undead superheroes from an alternate universe known as The Marvel Zombies, the paramilitary team of monsters The Howling Commandos and Kid Kaiju’s team of monstrous creations from short-lived Monsters Unleashed series (which followed the 2017 event of the same name that starred many of the monsters in this book).

That chapter highlights some of the ways—some more natural than others, some more successful than others—that Marvel has sought to keep its beloved monsters around in its superhero setting, and how attempts to capture various trends, like interest in more mature monsters in the 1970s, or the millennial zombie zeitgeist, have fared over the years.

While obviously not the best way to meet Marvel’s many monsters—the best way remains to reading the comics that they appear in, obviously—Marvel Monsters nevertheless provides an admirable introduction. It also makes pretty great use of all of the tons of modern art the publisher has on hand featuring its catalog of creatures, with various artists offering their versions of Kirby and company’s original, inspired designs for their giant monsters.

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J. Caleb Mozzocco About J. Caleb Mozzocco

J. Caleb Mozzocco is a way-too-busy freelance writer who has written about comics for online and print venues for a rather long time now. He currently contributes to Comic Book Resources' Robot 6 blog and ComicsAlliance, and maintains his own daily-ish blog at EveryDayIsLikeWednesday.blogspot.com. He lives in northeast Ohio, where he works as a circulation clerk at a public library by day.

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