This dazzling gallery of more than 500 Marvel Comics covers chronicles the ever-changing but always dynamic artwork that has become the defining signature of the illustrious brand for three-quarters of a century.

For a generation who are tucked into bed in their Spider-Man pyjamas and trot off to school sporting an Iron Man backpack, the iconic superheroes that inhabit the Marvel Comics universe are part of our everyday culture. But imagine the impact on an unsuspecting youth 75 years ago when the cast of bombastic superheroes first high-kicked their way onto the scene with their daring derring-dos.

The very first Marvel Comics #1 featured the Human Torch (who later appears as one of the Fantastic Four) while the enticing cover lines promised ‘Action’, ‘Mystery’, ‘Adventure.’ And it has been delivering high drama, with a host of heroes and villains, ever since…

This weighty tome – in book terms, it clearly earns superhero status! – takes the story back to the start as it chronicles an impressive roll call
of Marvel heroes that includes Spider-Man, Captain America and
Iron Man. Or, as they are affectionately known, Spidey, Cap and
ol’ Shell Head.

Encased in a decorative slipcase, the book is divided into four chapters that cover The Golden Age (1938-1956), The Silver Age (1956-1970), The Bronze Age (1970-1986) and The Modern Age (1986-2014), so you can see how the iconic characters have evolved and art styles have changed over the years from the hand-drawn early images to computer-generated graphics of today. Each chapter has an informative introduction that sets the scene and name-checks the contributions made by famous illustrators Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, John Romita Snr, and Jim Steranko together with 21st Century masterpieces by David Aja, Adi Granov and John Romita Jnr.

Spider-Man (whose name is hyphenated to avoid any confusion with DC Comic’s hero Superman) debuted in 1962. Co-created by Marvel maestro Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, Spider-Man was groundbreaking at the time, as it was the first time a teen had appeared as a superhero; there was also some consternation about the fact that he is a spider and that kids don’t like spiders. Still going strong after more than 50 years, the doubters were certainly proved wrong on that count. His first coverline summed up Spidey’s story with suitably kitsch hyperbole: “Though the world may mock Peter Parker, the timid teenager, it will soon marvel at the awesome might of Spider-Man.”

For children, the book definitely holds trainspotter appeal, with covers in the Silver and Bronze Age chapters especially likely to appeal, as there’s lots of Spider-Man, Avengers and X-Men featured, with ample opportunity to point out the familiar fists and green skin of the Hulk or spot a baby Iron Man in a diaper! For the artistic minded, there’s plenty of figures to copy, as well as early sketches that show how the composition of scenes comes together for the most dramatic impact, and interesting comment highlighting trends in story-telling that shaped the look of each distinct era.

And of course, every hero needs a foe so there’s also a miscellany of miscreants and villains bringing menace and devilment to proceedings, including Captain American playing fisticuffs with Hitler. (Interesting, Captain America was fighting the Nazis in print before America entered the war). There’s also some heroes with quirky appeal like Millie the Model (a kind of ditsy Lucille Ball gal who appeared in 1945) and the comedic quack Howard the Duck.

The book also comes with two 23.5 x 33.5 cm prints of iconic covers: Amazing Fantasy #15 introducing Spider-Man (August 1962, illustrated by Jack Kirby) and Iron Man #1 (January 2005, illustrated by Adi Granov).

Recommended for Kids who love action heroes and are keen to develop an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Marvel. There’s plenty of action in every single cover to prompt discussion about the genre and, due to its large size and weight, the book is perfect for balancing on your lap as you explore the Marvel Universe together.

Marvel-ously Fun facts

* Tony Stark, AKA Iron Man, first appeared as one of The Avengers in 1963. An arms dealer, a bit of a womanizer and extremely arrogant, Iron Man was loosely based on wealthy businessman and Hollywood socialite Howard Hughes. When the artist Don Heck first sketched Iron Man, he imagined the smoldering good looks of Hollywood leading man Errol Flynn. Who, arguably, is not a million miles away from Robert Downey Jr, who now plays the action hero in the movies.

* Famous fans of Marvel include the late Michael Jackson who toyed with buying the company in the late ’90s because he wanted to play Spider-Man in a movie.

* Game of Thrones author George RR Martin regularly wrote to Marvel’s letter column in the ’60s, in one instance summing up his admiration of a recent issue thus: “In what other comic mag could you see things like a hero falling down a manhole, a heroine mistaking a toy inventor for a criminal, and the President of the USA leaving a conference that may determine the fate of the world to put his daughter to bed.”

* In Disney’s Big Hero 6, Stan Lee has a cameo – as a cartoon. When Fred walks his friends through his home, he stops at a family portrait showing his parents. His father is an animated Stan Lee.

Author notes Alan Cowsill began his career as a comic dealer before becoming a writer and editor, joining Marvel UK. He edited numerous titles for the company including Biker Mice From Mars, X-Men, Action Man and was the launch editor for the company’s Marvel line. He also wrote Power Rangers and the first UK-originated Spider-Man strips for over a decade in Spectacular Spider-Man Adventures. His books include DC Comics: A Year by Year Visual Chronicle, Marvel Avengers Character Encyclopaedia, Avengers: The Ultimate Guide To Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and Spider-Man Year by Year: A Visual Chronicle.