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There are some comics so iconic, so massive in their importance, that even the most casual longtime reader might assume that they’ve already read them. Maybe it’s because decades of comics have retold, reframed, or recontextualized their events; Amazing Fantasy #15 and Detective Comics #33 feature stories that have been told so many times and in so many different mediums and styles that readers can’t remember exactly how they learned the stories in the first place. These stories seem almost inborn, parts of the culture that are so ever-present that their ubiquity is a part of their inherent value.

It would be easy to assume that classic comics are filled with stories like this – after all, so many early comics feature first appearances or origins of some sort or another – but the truth is much less spectacular (and a good deal stranger).

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Marvel Comics

Take the first twenty issues of The Avengers, collected in Avengers Epic Collection – Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Of these issues, perhaps only three story beats are of the sort to pass into common pop-culture consciousness: Loki accidentally facilitating the team’s foundation in #1, the discovery and thawing of Captain America in issue #4, and the debut of the team’s second roster (Captain America, Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, and Hawkeye) in #16.

Even these cultural milestones might not reflect the issues themselves. The larger fandom might not remember, for example, that issue #4 features not only Captain America’s resurrection (and the reveal of Bucky’s death) but also the first appearance of broccoli-like alien race, the D’bari, a race made significant when the Phoenix wiped them from existence during the Phoenix Saga. Indeed, much of the issue’s plot revolves more around Vuk, a D’bari who had been stranded on Earth so long that the myth of Medusa was inspired by him, than it does Captain America.

Marvel Comics

These first issues are filled with oddities like this, moments so startlingly goofy and off the wall that they could only have been created by Lee and Kirby in 1963. In the first issue, the Hulk – much less of the mindless monster than he would become – dresses up as a clown-faced circus robot (naturally). This plot contrivance barely makes sense in context, lasts only four pages, and is never spoken of again. Later, in issue #11, Kang creates a Spider-Man robot to betray the Avengers (naturally), and the actual Spider-Man saves the day – he does so without engaging with the Avengers, then floats away on the wind; they are in South America at the time; how Peter Parker made his way there (as a teenager, mind you) is anyone’s guess.

Marvel Comics

These stories are filled with exuberance and charm, but they are rarely milestone moments (no matter how hard Stan Lee tries to sell them on their covers and intro pages). Instead, readers fresh to these issues will find themselves treated to a sort of surreal, joyful fever dream of early Marvel before the heavy construction of the Universe got underway. These are comics still trying to understand their own rules before fans began writing in letters to question the most minor narrative inaccuracy.

Avengers Epic Collection: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes isn’t a book for readers seeking insight into the Universe’s origins; it’s a book for readers who want to enjoy the quirky fun that preceded the cultural juggernaut that Universe would become.

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In this article:Avengers, Marvel

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