Marvels” was a brilliant retelling of early 616-Universe history. “Marvels Comics Group” borrowed that “Marvels” concept and twisted it: A series of one shots actually “created” by Earth 616 characters. It was a gimmick that could have gone very, very bad…But by doubling down on the concept and investing in solid creators, the publisher ended up producing something wonderful.

It started with Marvel Comics: Spider-Man #1, which told a Spider-Man story from the perspective of T.T. Thomas, a publisher who hates the hero and blames him for the death of his son. This book does miss the point just a little, by turning Doctor Octopus into “Professor Squid” and, most ponderously: If this takes place in the Marvel 616, then why isn’t this book written by J. Jonah Jameson?

But writer Paul Grists’ concept of Spider-Man as a horror book is great, and Kyle Hotz’s art alone is worth the price of admission. Grade: B.

The next issue that came out (and I think these were published every other week) had Karl Kesel telling random stories about the Fantastic Four in four chapters, each narrated by one of the four members, with art by the likes of Paul Smith, Joe Jusko, and others. It was fun, but not as novel as the Spider-Man book.

The cover has the banner: The World’s Only 100% Authorized Comic. This pushes the meta concept even further, telling us that only the FF agreed to be in these Marvels Comics–meaning the other stories are unauthorized.

Grade: C+

After that came Peter David and Mark Bagley tackling a Captain America story written Rick Jones (Peter David) and drawn by comic book artist Steve Rogers (Ron Frenz and Mark Bagley).

It’s here–with a story actually created by the characters (i.e., not just “narrated” like was done with Fantastic Four)–that the concept really takes flight, as Rick Jones writes himself into the story.

It plays with Rick Jones’ frequent role as more than just a bystander, the ideas of time travel and comic book canon…

It even has one of the Captain America’s from Jack Kirby’s classic tale of alternate Caps, Roger Stephenson, as President!

This is a fun, funny, and awesome comic. Grade: A.

After that, we got yellow Daredevil portrayed as a fallen angel with fangs, trying to redeem himself and get back to heaven. This is where the Marvels idea has a solid mis-step, moving completely away from the idea of Marvel characters telling their own stories and instead offering something completely non-canonical. Grade: C.

Next, Eisner winner Ty Templeton, with Derec Aucoin, give us Thor–and the oddest story so far. The 616 writer decides Thor’s origin and the existence of Asgard is too far fetched, and so he creates a brand new Thor that is fully human–the product of alien technology who speaks with “doth” and “verily” lingo only when he’s in public. Grade: C+

Closing it all out: Early Mark Millar work, paired with artist Sean Phillips, offering a version of the X-Men who are actually controlled by Colonel America of SHIELD, performing over-the-line black op missions (explaining why the world sees them as evil). Grade: B-

Overall, I give this event a B+: High concept. Fun (something critically lacking at Marvel in 1999/2000). Irreverent.

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