On June 14th 2022, Penguin Classics Marvel Collection released three volumes: The Amazing Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain America. Released under the editorial direction of professor of English and director of the Cartoon and Comics Students at the University of Oregon, Ben Saunders, each of these volumes showcase the first appearances of legendary superheroes; Captain America, Black Panther and Spider-Man.
These character defining books were constructed by the original Marvel powerhouse writers and creators; Stan Lee, Joe Simoni, Rich Buckler, Billy Graham, John Romita Jr. Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko and Steve Ditko. The collection features fascinating introductory essays detailing the vast cultural influences and impact each of characters made. Saunders offered essays for for Captain American and The Amazing Spider-man, and an Qiana J.Whitted introduces Black Panther. In addition, acclaimed authors, Gene Luen Yang, Jason Reynolds, Nnedi Okorafor, all wrote insightful and interesting forwards.
In a recent interview with PW, Saunders shared some of his experience as acting as curator for including Marvel’s superheroes in the Penguin Classics line of established pieces of literature. Here are a few excerpts from their interview; for the full interview, please check out: Penguin Classics Adds Marvel to the Literary Canon, by Brigid Alverson (July 6th 2022).
PW: How did you choose what would go in and what would not?
Saunders: “A lot of comics collectors have this completist instinct: You don’t want issues 1, 3, 7. You want them all. But I think we are now at a point with this material where we can think, instead, in terms of introduction of a key character or a story element that gets played out over 50 years’ worth of material. For the Spider-Man volume, for example, one of the most striking things about the Lee and Ditko run is how many extraordinary villains are created during that period and Ditko’s inventiveness. So, we have the first appearances of these characters, which a whole generation of people know only from their movie iterations.”
PW: Where does Black Panther fit into this?
Saunders: “…I think [Lee and Kirby] were thinking about ‘How can we introduce a super powered Black character into our universe in 1966?’ They knew nothing about Africa, except what they had learned from pulps, and they decided, well, let’s just reverse every cliché that we know from those things…what if we made it the site of the most advanced technological society on the planet? And of course, the cultural status of that character was transformed in the last five years or so, because of the success and the social significance of the movie. So, this seemed to me like an important volume to get out there early in the series.”
In addition, Saunders talks about how Jim Steranko only wrote three issues of Captain American, and how in Saunders opinion, Steranko was attempting to “take things back to the World War II vision of the character.” Saunders goes on to discuss how Stan Lee stepped in to change the direction of Captain America’s story by focusing on the “endlessly self-questioning man out of time” theme. As such, it’s very interesting to read Steranko’s original take on Captain America in the context of the history at the time.
These three books are of course fantastic on their own. However, with the bonus of the insightful forwards, essays and introductions, offered by today’s writers and creators, reading these stories now is an entirely new experience, that is surprisingly quite thought provoking and intriguing. The stories are available in both print and e-Book versions.
An avid book reader, Angela Waterfield is new to the world of e-Readers. She has a background in education, emergency response, fitness, and loves to be outside. She has contributed writing to The London Free Press, The Gazette, The Londoner, Lifeliner, and Citymedia.ca.