Penguin Classics has an exceptional reputation for presenting and expanding the literary canon to a broad audience. Over the decades, the publisher has reprinted the classic stories through various collections and lines, which have included vital ancient texts to 20th-century masterpieces from all over the world. New additions are regularly made, but this week saw Marvel Comics included for the first time.
Thanks to a collaboration between Marvel Comics and Penguin Classics, readers will see the comics publisher enter the literary canon. This comes in the shape of the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, a curated selection of groundbreaking, seminal, or important stories.
Read on to discover everything the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection entails.
What is the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection?
As alluded to in the introduction, the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection is a curated look at the early days of Marvel Comics through curated releases. Each book focuses on a particular character (e.g. Spider-Man or Black Panther) and presents the notable stories from their early publication history. This could include origin stories, first appearances, iconic stories, or events that have left a lasting mark on the comics medium.
Each book collects a sizable amount of material, collecting multiple stories over approximately 400 pages. They also include forwards by notable writers, which help give context to when the tales were created and shine a light on their deeper meanings.
The collection appears to be in good hands, being curated and edited by Ben Saunders. A professor of English at the University of Oregon, who created the first undergraduate minor in comics studies, he had the following to say to The Guardian about the collection:
“From contemporary novelists to hip-hop musicians to Hollywood film-makers. It is not hyperbole but simply a fact: these classic Marvel comics are foundational documents of our culture.”
How did this come about?
If you think about it, Marvel and Penguin Classics collaborating seems like a wild idea. However, it also makes sense if you follow the business side of comics. Marvel and Penguin Random House have had an increasingly closer relationship over the past few years. This started with Penguin Random House becoming the primary distributor of comics and graphic novels into the comic book shop market and has continued with two entities making an agreement on exclusivity for distribution into bookstores. It’s only natural that a relationship like that would eventually bleed into the publishing side of each business.
What is included in the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection?
Find out what you can read as part of the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection below.
The Amazing Spider-Man
Written by Stan Lee. Art by Steve Ditko.
Collects: Amazing Fantasy #15, The Amazing Spider-Man (1963 series) #1-4, #9-10, #13-14, #17-19, and material from Strange Tales #97 and The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.
This Spider-Man collection is a stellar selection of stories from the first two years of Spidey’s publication history. It begins with Amazing Fantasy #15, the comic that introduced Spider-Man to the world and explained his famous origin story. From there, it goes into notable stories from Amazing Spider-Man.
These are jam-packed full of first appearances from Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, including The Vulture (Amazing Spider-Man #2), Doctor Octopus (Amazing Spider-Man #3), Sandman (Amazing Spider-Man #4), Electro (Amazing Spider-Man #9), Mysterio (Amazing Spider-Man #13) and the Sinister Six (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1). Additionally, readers get to see some early chapters in the long-running Green Goblin saga, which would include classic stories for years to come.
Finally, there’s also an interesting oddity of a story from Strange Tales #97. For those unfamiliar with Strange Tales, it was an anthology series of stories about weird happenings before it was taken over by Doctor Strange and other heroes. So why is it included in a Spider-Man collection? It has a story called “Goodbye Linda Brown”, which has the prototype of Aunt May and Uncle Ben.
This collection contains a forward from Jason Reynolds and scholarly introductions by Ben Saunders.
Written by Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, and Stan Lee. Art by Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, and John Romita Sr.
Collects: Captain America Comics (1941 series) #1; Captain America Stories from Tales of Suspense #59, #63-68, #75-81, #92-95; Captain America (1968 series) #110-113; and a story from Captain America (1941 series) #78.
The Captain America collection goes deep into the character’s publication history to a time when Marvel went by other names. The first is 1941’s Captain America Comics #1, Cap’s first appearance, from when the publisher was known as Timely Comics. The other is Captain America (1941 series) #78, from a time when Marvel was known as Atlas Comics.
Other stories featured in the collection include an array of tales from when Captain America could be seen in Tales of Suspense. These include a retelling of Cap’s origin story, adventures in World War II co-starring Bucky, the introduction of Sharon Carter and the villain M.O.D.O.K, plus the reintroduction of the Red Skull.
This collection contains a forward from Gene Luen Yang and scholarly introductions by Ben Saunders.
Written by Stan Lee and Don McGregor. Art by Jack Kirby, Rich Buckler, and Bill Graham.
Collects: Fantastic Four (1961 series) #52-53 and Jungle Action #6-21.
Out of the current selection, the Black Panther book is the most concentrated – with only three stories included. However, they’re all important ones that helped shape the character well into the future.
It begins with the character’s first appearance in Fantastic Four (1961 series) #52-53. This also introduced Wakanda to the world and Jack Kirby’s unique approach to the city’s futurism.
The Jungle Action series sees Black Panther strike out on his own. First up is the seminal Panther’s Rage, a 12-part story that was innovative in its structure and visual experimentation. Many elements made it into the Black Panther movie, the most notable being the villain Erik Killmonger. As for issues #19-21, they’re notable as they see T’Challa take on the Klu Klux Klan – a powerful statement in 1975 as it is now.
This collection contains a forward from Nnedi Okorafor and scholarly introductions by Ben Saunders.
Written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Art by Jack Kirby, Werner Roth, Don Heck, and Neal Adams.
Collects: X-Men (1963 series) #1, #3-5, #7-8, #14-16, #38, #41-42, #44-46
Compared to other Marvel comics of their time, including many collected as part of the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection, the X-Men’s early years are a mixed bag. (X-Men didn’t become well-regarded until the mid-70s when Chris Claremont took on writing duties.) This collection reflects this with the introduction of foundational elements, such as Professor Xavier, the original five members (X-Men #1), Magneto, The Blob (X-Men #2), Sentinels (X-Men #14-15), and the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.
However, at the same time, this collection also includes ideas that were not explored further, making them an interesting curiosity. These include ideas such as Gorotokians and Factor Three (X-Men #38).
This collection contains a forward from Rainbow Rowell and scholarly introductions by Ben Saunders.
Written by Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. Art by Jack Kirby, Don Heck, John Buscema, and Sal Buscema.
Collects: The Avengers #1-4, #9, #16, #26, #28, #44, #57-58, #71, #74, and #83
This Avengers collection characters the evolution of the team through its first decade. We see The Avengers form to take on Loki in Avengers #1. Subsequent issues see the team change as heroes come and go, former villains join, and characters without their own book find a home on the team.
Notable stories include Captain America Lives (Avengers #4), which reintroduced Captain America to readers after falling into obscurity after World War II; The Old Order Changeth! (Avengers #16), an issue that shook up the team with new additions such as Hawkeye, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch; Behold… The Vision (Avengers #57) and Even An Android Can Cry (Avengers #58), which introduced The Vision and then had him join the team; and the fun Lady Liberators tale from Avengers #83.
This collection contains a forward from Leigh Bardugo, introduction by José Alaniz, and scholarly pieces by Ben Saunders.
Written by Stan Lee. Art by Jack Kirby.
Collects: Fantastic Four (1961 series) #1-5, #10-11, #48-51, and Fantastic Four Annual #6
This collection picks highlights from the first half of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s legendary Fantastic Four run. As the first ongoing series of what we know as the Marvel Universe, it was foundational not only in establishing Fantastic Four concepts but ones that would branch out to be part of other Marvel Comics for more than 60 years.
It kicks off with Fantastic Four #1, which tells the origin of Marvel’s first family and a tale that introduces the villain Moleman. The introductions keep coming, with stories that establish Skrulls (Fantastic Four #2), Miracle Man (Fantastic Four #3), Doctor Doom (Fantastic Four #5 and #10), and Impossible Man (Fantastic Four #11). Lee and Kirby also bring back Namor, The Sub Mariner, who had been a regular during World War II.
Readers are also treated to two all-time classics in the Galactus Trilogy (Fantastic Four #48-50) and This Man, This Monster (Fantastic Four #51). The former is one of the grandest tales of this era, introducing the Silver Surfer and the world-eating Galactus. The latter is a superhero drama involving The Thing and the curse of his appearance.
This collection contains a forward from Jerry Craft and scholarly introductions by Ben Saunders.
Paperback or hardcover?
You have two format options if the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection sounds like something you want to check out. Paperback or hardcover. The content is the same for both editions, but the cover stock and art are different.
The paperback collections follow the same design conventions as the Penguin Black Classics. These editions have prominent art on the cover, with a black bar for the title and author credits. Iconic comic book art is used in the context of this collection.
As for the hardcovers, use a single colour for the background and gold foil for the focal image, title, and credits. Due to the nature of hardcovers, these are a more expensive edition but would look great on the bookshelf.
Take a look below to compare both versions.
Why isn’t every story included?
As you’ve probably seen above, the Penguin Classics Marvel Collections do not collect every issue. Instead, the line of collections is about establishing Marvel Comics in the literary canon instead of covering everything. As a result, the stories present have importance by being origins, first appearances, or highly regarded stories.
Check out the Epic Collections or the Marvel Masterworks formats if you want to read everything. These are made with collecting every issue in chronological order in mind.
Are the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection good for new readers?
The Penguin Classics Marvel Collection is fantastic for readers new and old if you want to discover origin stories, first appearances, and early seminal stories.
However, it’s worth noting that these comics were originally published between 1941 and 1975 and read very differently from modern comics. Their age isn’t specifically a bad thing. It’s just that different storytelling methods are used that could be a bit jarring for those who are only used to reading more recent comics.
The above is not made to be a deterrent but more of advice to set your expectations if you choose to check out the collections.
Will there be more?
It’s likely there will be more to come in 2024 and beyond considering there has been two waves of these releases now. There are other characters and teams that could be featured, such as Thor, Iron Man, The Hulk, and Doctor Strange, to name a few. On the other hand, Penguin could also release further volumes for the characters already represented. Especially Spider-Man, which has many important stories that could be covered in the future.
This guide will be updated with additional books when more information has been made available.
Where can I find the Penguin Classics Marvel Collection?
Find out more about the different options for finding comics in this handy guide.