I was 11 when Amazing Spider-Man #252 debuted his black costume and blew my mind. Art by Ron Frenz and Klaus Janson.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a short-term road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
I’ve just now lived to see 50, and after weeks of research and indecision, we planned an overnight journey to the next state over, to the capital city of Columbus, Ohio, which had cool stuff that this now-fiftysomething geek wanted to see. Columbus, then, would be the setting for our first outing together as quintagenarians…
Now we’re to my favorite part of the Marvel exhibit at Columbus’ Center of Science and Industry. The statues were fun and the MCU film props and costumes were quite a sight to behold up close, but original comics art is a rarity for me to see in person. Growing up, buying original art was something rich comics investors did for fun and showiness, nothing a poor kid like me could ever afford. In adulthood I’ve climbed up the ladder high enough that I now own a few modest pages, nothing fancy.
The Marvel exhibit features over six dozen pages drawn by the original artists across 80+ years of the medium’s history — not just reproductions, the real thing, largely loaned by private collectors identified below each frame for provenance and gratitude. Some were autographed by the artists; in a few of the older pieces, you can see where artists (and Stan “The Man” Lee) autographed them years after the fact. The following gallery, less than half the total works on display, is a selection of those that stuck out to me for various reasons and didn’t succumb to blurry photography. One of them even has color. (Painted, at that!) A few have behind-the-scenes Easter eggs, such as our lead photo — if you click on the cover to ASM #252 you can read Klaus Janson’s notes in the margins addressed to George Roussos, the colorist who handled all Marvel covers at the time. For me, the little details add to the thrill of comics art appreciation.
The Sub-Mariner stars in the only surviving page from 1939’s Marvel Comics #1. Art by Bill Everett.
World War II rages on in 1944’s Human Torch Comics #16. Art by Alex Schomburg.
One of Jack Kirby’s latter-day monster comics before he began focusing on superheroes full-time. This was used as the cover and first page for 1962’s Tales to Astonish #34. Inks by Dick Ayers.
Lee and Kirby introduce mutants in X-Men #1 — page 19, inked by Paul Reinman.
I’ve seen original Kirby art before, not never Steve Ditko’s until now. From the Lizard’s debut in Amazing Spider-Man #6, page 9.
Ditko’s successor John Romita took over with ASM #39, in which he and Stan couldn’t wait to reveal the Green Goblin’s secret identity. Inks by Mike Esposito.
Years later in ASM #121 would come the Goblin’s most shocking act: the death of Gwen Stacy. This time saw Romita inking the pencils of the great Gil Kane.
Meanwhile, Daredevil spent his early days fighting losers like the Matador. Cover to #5 by former EC Comics mainstay Wally Wood.
In Tales of Suspense #98, headliner Captain America takes on the Black Panther, because ’60s kids loved seeing good guys punch each other. Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia.
A Hulk cover trio: King-Size Hulk Special #1 (Jim Steranko); Incredible Hulk #102 (Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia) and #180 (Herb Trimpe).
A Ramona Fradon page from The Cat #5, which never saw print because the series was canceled with #4.
The first appearance of Ghost Rider in Marvel Spotlight #5. Art by Mike Ploog.
Gun control advocacy from 1973’s Luke Cage Hero for Hire #7, page 11. Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham.
From that wondrous era when Uncanny X-Men dominated the sales charts for its first time. #110 penciled by Dave Cockrum; #114 penciled by John Byrne; both inked by Terry Austin.
Tony Stark’s groundbreaking struggle with alcoholism in Iron Man #128, handled far better here than it was in Iron Man 2. Art by Bob Layton.
The Elektra Saga was in full swing, two issues away from its tragic finale. Cover to Daredevil #179 by Frank Miller and Klaus Janson.
Make mine more Miller: in 1982 Wolverine got his very first #1 (as did Hercules, maybe a week or two earlier) when Marvel introduced their new concept, the “limited series” (not to be confused with DC’s “miniseries”). Inks by Joe Rubinstein.
After Uncanny X-Men, John Byrne took over Fantastic Four for a fun five-year run in which Dr. Doom popped up quite a few times, especially in #246.
1986’s Captain America Annual #8 heralded the “Wolverine MUST guest-star in ALL the things” trend that would explode in the ’90s. Art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty.
Marvel brought back teen heroes (such as Nova here) in New Warriors. Art from #12 by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt.
Speaking of the ’90s: a new decade let superstar Todd Mcfarlane play to his strengths in adjectiveless Spider-Man #6.
Before WandaVision de-aged her and made her cool, Agatha Harkness was basically Witchy Aunt May, as seen here in Darkhold #6. Art by Richard Case and Stan Woch.
The 21st century brought the advent of digital lettering (hence no more writing on the artwork itself) and a rebooted Spidey and Goblin in Ultimate Spider-Man. Art from #7 by Mark Bagley and Art Thibert.
A pair of Jessica Jones studies: the cover to Alias #8 by David Mack, and a standalone piece by Michael Gaydos.
Artists plying a different method: pencils from Daredevil (2008) #113 by Michael Lark, paired with the same page’s inks by Stefano Gaudiano, who worked from a blue-line scan.
As with the medium in general, gender parity wasn’t exactly a primary objective in the exhibit. Among the few contrasting examples(in addition to Marie Severin’s Hulk coverm and the next one down), a pair of Amy Reeder covers from Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur #18 and Ironheart #2.
In recent times Marvel has decreed all comics shall be team books, crossovers, or chock full of guest stars, because readers today hate solo heroes. Hence Captain Marvel sharing the cover of Avenging Spider-Man #9 by Terry and Rachel Dodson.
One of Marvel’s last great solo books, and a fantastic Doctor Who tribute to boot: Silver Surfer (2014) #1 with cover art by Michael Allred.
Fans of non-comic art could also see a selection of concept sketches for Into the Spider-Verse, such as this glimpse of the new Doctor Octopus, voiced by Kathryn Hahn. (We have more Spider-Verse pics if anyone out there wants to see more.)
To be continued! Other chapters in this very special MCC miniseries:
Part 1: The Merry Marvel Museum Menagerie
Part 2: Mighty Marvel Cinemania
Part 4: COSI All Around
Part 5: Schiller Park Intermezzo
Part 6: Lichtenstein Pre-Pop
Part 7: All Around the CMA
Part 8: The Columbus Cuisine Collection
Part 9: Arts in Columbus
Part 10: Sir, This is a Wendy’s
Coda: Happy Birthday, Captain Janeway