How could DC/Marvel fans keep up with nearly 80 years of their comic history?

Answer by Thaddeus Howze:

Only the dedicated (and wealthy) superfans try.

Stately Wayne manor which has an extensive Marvel Comics wing…

Unless you are sitting on top of a very large trust fund, are the CEO of a megacorporation and have enough money to simply burn it as kindling, and have nothing else to do with your time for the next 45 years or so, you will likely never have the time, money or capacity to sit and absorb everything Marvel has had to offer since it first started making comics. Everyone else picks up what they can, when they can, following the stories that interest them most.

Timely's first publication, Marvel Comics #1 (cover dated Oct. 1939), included the first appearance of Carl Burgos' android superhero the Human Torch, and the first appearances of Bill Everett's anti-hero Namor the Sub-Mariner, among other features.

Marvel started in 1939 as Timely Publications, and by the early 1950s had generally become known as Atlas Comics. Marvel's modern incarnation dates from 1961, the year that the company launched The Fantastic Four and other superhero titles created by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and many others.

As I wrote in a previous Quora piece: How can I know everything about DC Comics? I point out the near impossibility of any individual keeping up with every single story, every single character, ever supporting character, event, catastrophe, supervillain that took place across the seventy or so years of the existence of Marvel comics and its associated publications.

In recent years (let's say since the original Secret Wars and DC Comics' Crisis on Infinite Earths circa 1986) Marvel has made money by cross-pollinating books with multiple heroes, divergent stories, parallel universes, multiversal collapses and any number of ways to bring heroes who may have never shared pages, to suddenly have connections they didn't before.

Even if you read a single hero with zeal and gusto, if you wanted every appearance of that hero, you would sooner or later need to purchase books outside of your preference.

I am a huge comic fan, been following them hard for thirty five years, had the blessed opportunity to read Golden Age comics because my neighbor was a collector. Having read tens of thousands of comics and being fortunate enough to have a huge mental comic hard drive, am able to track a variety of the most significant stories in the DC and Marvel archives.

And even with all of that working in my favor, I can safely say, I have forgotten more about comics than I currently know. It's simply impossible to keep up with every aspect, every nuance of each complexly written character over thousands of issues. One of my favorite heroes, whom I have watched pretty much from his beginning has a history that would make the average soap opera blanch from jealousy…

Spider-Man has been:

  • a wrestler, a photographer, a home-schooled super-scientist,
  • in love, out of love, watched his love interest die at the hands of his enemy,
  • discovered his best friend's father has tried to kill him.
  • cloned, mutated to have eight limbs
  • then discovered his best friend has now become his worst enemy,
  • found a symbiotic costume that he loved and it loved him, until he discovered it was trying to BE him and then they broke up violently,
  • which then took over his friend and made him an enemy,
  • He hung out with his previously made clones and makes friends with most of them.
  • meanwhile he discovers his radioactive powers may have been a blessing of a previously unknown spider deity and he was being hunted by a creature named Morlun who was immune to his spider-sense and had the power to kill him,
  • but he escapes and married his true love only to have his marriage undone by a magical demon,
  • where he is believed to have been psychically killed and replaced by his arch-enemy Otto Octavius who pretends to be him for a number of years, screwing up his life
  • to ultimately having, traveled to parallel worlds finding out he's died in more than one of them, finding his long lost girlfriend had gained spiderpowers and is now more interesting than he is,
  • and then we as readers discover, Peter Parker may be replaced by a Spider-Man from the Ultimates Universe, named Miles Morales. Geez, see what I mean about soap operas?

And these are only some of the highlights in Spider-Man's very long career spanning at least half a dozen different comic series he appeared in: The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man, and The Sensational Spider-Man, just to name a few.

Now multiply this by the 5000+ heroes, villains and supporting casts of the Marvel Universe and you can see why no one could seriously entertain a complete knowledge of every character who has ever appeared in a Marvel comic.

If you don't know who Miles Morales is, you better get caught up because he is going to be a part of the new Marvel Universe and a member of the newest team of Avengers. Here's an absolutely wonderfully written primer on the newest Spiderman:

How could DC/Marvel fans keep up with nearly 80 years of their comic history?