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A Survey of the Absolute Best Marvel Comic Storylines through the Decades

Nowadays, Marvel Comics is known as a Disney subsidiary that is pilfered for source material for the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the most commercially successful movie franchise of all time by a long shot.

But the history of Marvel Comics goes all the way back to 1939. Started as Timely Publications, the funny books made a name for themselves with covers that showed Captain America punching Hitler in the face. Then in the 1950s, the company went by the name Atlas Comics.

It was in 1961 that the Marvel Comics that we know came to be. That was the year that the company launched the Fantastic Four title, created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Steve Ditko and many others came shortly thereafter, and Marvel vaulted to #1, counting among its characters some of the most well-known superheroes in the world today.

Needless to say, those characters have been the stars of countless incredible storylines in the decades that followed that 1961 creative explosion generated by Lee, Kirby, and Ditko. We’re gong to go decade-by-decade and point out the absolute best Marvel storylines, starting in the 1970s (because I sheepishly must admit that I haven’t read many 1960s comics).

The Best Marvel Comics Storylines of the 70s

The 70s were a wild time in comics and they were a wild time at Marvel Comics. The shared Marvel Universe had already been established by Lee, Kirby, and Ditko, but Marvel was also a little more free to explore the corners of it.

The result was a combination of trippiness and genre-laden tales. First, when you have as many creators trip on acid as it was rumored that Marvel creators were doing, you get stuff like the mystical Doctor Strange and the cosmic Adam Warlock.

But eager to further stake out a broader market share, Marvel made titles that took inspiration from the popular culture of the day, capitalizing on the horror and kung-fu mania, among others, with titles like Shang-Chi, Iron Fist, and Tomb of Dracula.

The Best Marvel Comics Storylines of the 80s

The 80s are the absolute best decade for Marvel Comics, according to most of us “pundit” types. I can distinctly recall reading Marvel comics in the 80s as a kid, absorbing them in a way that significantly shaped my life-long love of comics.

We easily could have made a list of only Chris Claremont stories! But it’s not just nostalgia. The depth, breadth, and quality of the comics at Marvel in the 80s was simply stunning, even as the distribution was pushing hard away from spinner racks and into shops.

The 80s were so strong that left off the list was Secret Wars, the 12-part extravaganza that pretty much invented the comic book crossover, as were the Handbooks, titles created solely because Marvel characters had exploded in popularity and fans wanted to know more about them.

Also 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.

Many amazing tales were passed by in order to cut the list to 7.

The Best Marvel Comics Storylines of the 90s

The 90s were a weird decade in general for comics. Jim Shooter was out as Editor in Chief at Marvel and with him left his discipline. Meanwhile, the artists who had come onto the scene in the late 80s were reaching superstar status, so storylines took a turn–HARD–away from writers and toward artist-driven plotting.

Finally, the marketing of comics were being caught up in 90s glam with hologram covers and a multitude of variant covers to showcase the artists. Investors were pushing to have comics marketed as collectibles, driving sales through the roof.

But storylines often stunk. Yet, there were some diamonds to be found. And you guessed it, we highlight those top 7 gems from 90s Marvel Comics.

The Best Marvel Comics Storylines of the 00s

The excess of the 90s caused the entire comics market to collapse. Marvel, in fact, had to declare bankruptcy not long after their superstar artists cashed in their ludicrous paychecks in order to form Image Comics.

But Marvel rebounded nicely as their comics swung back to a realistic balance between writer and artist, which drove the overall readability of the comics much higher. Additionally, they brought in some top tier writing talent for significant runs, like when Grant Morrison came in for New X-Men.

The Best Marvel Comics Storylines of the 10s

That brings us to this past decade, which has been marked by the MCU and the insane popularity of the movies, which ironically has overshadowed the incredible source material of the comics.

The past decade has also been known for an increased diversity in creators and storylines, as well as a continued shift toward the graphic novel format.

Meanwhile, the 10s have been marked also by an increased difficulty in collecting comics. The frequent relaunches have generated new #1 issues presumably as a tactic to lure in new readers, but it has created the unintentional side-effect of producing dropping off points as readers find more and more confusion in trying to follow a run, long the bread and butter of comic book storytelling.

Yet, lots of great stories have been produced this decade, a couple of them presently!