Previous Marvel Age iterations have been set to focus on anniversaries and stunning moments in Marvel history. Marvel Age #1000, conversely, is not intended to coincide with any particular anniversaries — even if this year marks the 60th anniversaries of the X-Men and the Avengers. With top creatives like Steve McNiven, Ryan Stegman, Armando Ianucci, Dan Slott, J. Michael Straczynski, and Jason Aaron on the book, Marvel still pulled out all the stops to make it great.

In essence, the very purpose of this book is simply to look back at the past in a new light. After countless developments turned Jean Grey into the Dark Phoenix, Daredevil into the ruler of the Fist, and Spider-Man into a talking spider with a midlife crisis, a return to a simpler time is a way to reassess these characters and consider just how much the future has warped them.

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Jean is little more than a lovesick girl falling in love with an over-protective boy in the anxious leader Cyclops. Spider-Man is not yet a Spider-totem or an over-cloned remnant of an original Peter Parker. The Human Torch is not even Johnny Storm, but just a synthetic man fighting for a semblance of a personality. It’s a refreshing take, made even better by the touching tribute to their creators at the end of the issue.

The Mighty Thor story, especially, covers just how far Marvel has come, while also emphasizing why superheroes are such compelling characters. Instead of serving as a mark of love for the characters alone, the book is a signature of respect for the entire genre. Comics, creators, superheroes, and characters all earn the careful attention of every creative working on this book.

There are some faults in Marvel Age #1000. The Daredevil story, “Overload”, is difficult to parse. The art is beautiful, but the flow feels as jarring as the “overload” that Daredevil suffers from. It makes the overall story difficult to comprehend, even with Daredevil repetitively narrating it like a classic Marvel comic.

The Silver Surfer story, “Deaf Heaven”, however, is an immediate reward. With Mephisto encroaching on the Surfer’s horror in the face of war, the complex philosophy of Norrin’s story is lain bare. In just a few pages, the character’s journey is fully fleshed out and feels as touching as it is consequential. No, the Silver Surfer’s journey will not be completely redefined by a one-off appearance in Marvel Age #1000, but the issue still feels like essential reading for anyone with even some love for the character. Steve McNiven absolutely ripped it out of the park with this piece.

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One character is redefined by Marvel Age #1000. The original Human Torch’s journey to heroism, because of a radio play, is a brilliant and fun take on a classic character. Jim Hammond rarely receives much attention in the modern age, so it’s great to see him finally get the chance to enjoy the spotlight for a change. His story doesn’t necessarily change, but it doesn’t need to. His very origin gets a new take that embraces its classic elements, while encouraging a deeper look at his modern pro-AI persona.

Marvel Age #1000 also offers Captain Marvel some much-needed focus. With Carol Danvers there to tie the comic to recent takes on the concept, Captain Marvel’s love for humanity is given some clarification and context. For a warrior of such prominence to gain sympathy for humanity because of failing war strategies and a love for music is a great message. Somehow, it only makes his early death more tragic, which is impressive.

The X-Men love story is also touching and really shows why Jean and Cyclops managed to fall in love. Even when Cyclops was a rules-as-written boy scout, he was breaking them just to help the girl he was in love with. The issue also helps to underscore Jean’s isolation as the only young girl in the entire mansion. It shows just how she was overlooked, underestimated, and disrespected in those early years. Even in a love story, the seeds for “The Dark Phoenix Saga” are well-planted.

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Spider-Man’s Marvel Age #1000 story is especially fun, because it doesn’t necessarily attempt to redefine him. Instead of putting in too much effort to update his origin, show Uncle Ben’s death for the seventh time, or threaten his love life, Marvel Age #1000 just depicts a typical day for Spider-Man. The stakes are refreshingly low, and his stress over being late to dinner is as relatable as it is hilarious.

Finally, the last addition to the book revolves around little boys peering over the fences as they watch superheroes at work. The mystery of who these boys are is compelling, and it’s touching to see the eventual revelation. It’s a brilliant tribute that makes the entire book feel complete. It’s also a great touch that it includes Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, rather than just focusing on Stan Lee.

There’s nothing particularly game-changing in Marvel Age #1000, but that is hardly a fair critique. The book is not attempting to rewrite the history of Marvel Comics. Instead, it serves as an adequate and enjoyable dive into Marvel’s earliest years. The book is a charming glance into a distant past, and it’s fun to take another look at Marvel before these characters went through hell.

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