It was difficult to leave off so many wonderful genre-based stories when we created the list of the best Marvel stories from the 70s. But when we came to the best Marvel storylines of the 80s, it reached a whole new level of difficulty!
We easily could have made a list of only Chris Claremont stories! The depth, breadth, and quality of the comics at Marvel in the 80s was simply stunning.
Left off this list is the incredible Wolverine miniseries, the “Death of Jean Dewolff,” a wonderful Spider-Man story, the “Grey Hulk” stories written by Peter David, best-selling GI Joe tales by Larry Hama, John Byrne’s incredible Fantastic Four run, “Demon Bear” that featured ground-breaking art, the audacious Inferno, and the Cross-Time Caper, which began in 1989 but concluded in 1990.
We even had to leave off Secret Wars, the 12-part extravaganza that pretty much invented the comic book crossover. But that should tell you just how good the below 7 Marvel comic book storylines are. Let’s remember the 80s.
Amazing Spider-Man: “Kraven’s Last Hunt”
In this incredible 80s comic book story, Kraven the Hunter decides that his greatest hunt is Spider-Man, so he hunts him down, shoots him seemingly dead, then buries him. Yeah.
What happens next is Kraven becomes Spider-Man, donning the costume and then sets about beating criminals across New York City. (We’ve explored this more deeply here.)
The story even has a gothic overtone to it, being set alongside the poetry of William Blake, which gives it an elevated literary tone that doesn’t cross over into silly. The art is incredible as well.
It’s a story that is among the absolute best Spider-Man arcs, even as Peter Parker isn’t the focus of it.
Here’s an affordable collected edition.
Uncanny X-Men: “Mutant Massacre”
For me personally, this the the absolute top of this list. I can distinctly recall reading this as a kid, absorbing it in a way that significantly shaped my life-long love of comics.
Mutant Massacre was gritty without being grim, it was dark without slipping into nihilism. Stakes were higher than ever before, yet hope was threaded throughout the book through critical reminders that the X-Men looked out for each other, despite who or what was coming for them.
As a story it was tighter than many crossovers, yet was given a berth wide enough to pull in other titles like Thor and Daredevil. Flowchart checklists in the back helped readers follow along, but you hardly needed them. The story was so engaging that I would’ve robbed a drug store of its entire spinner rack in order to find out what happens next.
Daredevil: “Born Again”
Frank Miller’s first run on Daredevil took it to best-seller status. With then writer Denny O’Neil preparing to leave the series, Frank Miller was asked if he would be interested in returning for another tale.
What a tale it was. Frank Miller told a story that had Daredevil descend into insanity and desperation at the hands of the Kingpin. Literally every support structure that Daredevil once had was torn away from him in the most heart-breaking, chilling way possible.
Frank Miller once again showed he had no sunshine in his life, but he penned a tale that defined the character of Daredevil, challenging the Man Without Fear in greater ways than he had ever been before.
Season 3 of Netflix’s Daredevil picked and chose some of the elements of this classic 80s storyline, but you really should read it for yourself. You can get it here.
Thor: “He Stood Alone at Gjallerabru”
I’ve written fully about this arc and it has been adapted to the big screen in Thor: Ragnarok, so it’s no wonder it was selected as one of the best 80s comic book storylines.
The Simonson Thor run of Thor #337-382 is filled to the brim with iconic moments like Frog-Thor and dragon battles, but none is higher than the story of Skurge.
When Skurge had his realization that it was time to stand up and be the hero he needed to be rather than the lackey he was being, he stood alone again the hordes of Hel, allowing Thor and his allies to escape. It was a metal moment that was simultaneously a very emotional story of redemption.
There are very few moments in all of comics that are better. The entire run is collected here.
Uncanny X-Men: “Days of Future Past”
Claremont didn’t invent the concept of alternative future timelines but he sure as heck wrote the definitive tale and defined it for millions.
“Days of Future Past” is a storyline from Uncanny X-Men #141–142, published in 1981, not long after the Dark Phoenix Saga.
It tells the story of a dystopian future in which mutants are incarcerated in internment camps. An adult Kate Pryde transfers her mind into her younger self, the present-day Kitty Pryde in order to prevent that horrible future.
The storyline was published as the Uncanny X-Men were rocketing to an unprecedented run under the writer/artist team of Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne.
X-Men: “God Loves, Man Kills”
It seems obsessive to focus so much on Chris Claremont when so many other incredible Marvel storylines of the 80s are left off this list, but the man’s stories endure to this day as among the very best of the entire medium.
In 1982 Chris Claremont penned a graphic novel entitled “God Loves, Man Kills.” Perhaps no other X-Men title explored the topic of prejudice better.
Two mutant children are killed by henchmen of a religious leader named Reverend William Stryker. Stryker sought the extermination of mutants while preaching to the public that mutants are abominations in the eyes of God. The worldviews of both Magneto and Professor Xavier are tested.
It was a chilling story, yet one that beautifully and hopefully shared the promise of the X-Men, which was inclusion and acceptance.
Avengers: “Death of Captain Marvel”
Cancer, man. It sucks.
Another graphic novel was written for Marvel in 1982, this time by Jim Starlin. It was called the “The Death of Captain Marvel.”
Before Carol Danvers took the mantle of Captain Marvel, another character had the name, which was a mispronunciation of his Kree name, Mar-Vell. This alien warrior Mar-Vell had a pretty unique backstory: sent to Earth to prepare it for colonization, Mar-Vell decides instead to become its protector, while turning his back on his home race.
The graphic novel has a simple story, yet one told with poignancy and compassion. Mar-Vell had inoperable cancer. Readers were invited to witness the Avengers’ grief as they lost their friend.