The great early cosmic moment in marvel’s history was the fantastic four’s first encounter with Galactus
Marvel has always been Cosmic, of course. The modern company grew out of the 1950s Atlas Comics, publishers of science fiction and giant monster anthology titles called things like Journey Into Mystery and Strange Tales, where mammoth space beasts like Xemnu the Living Hulk menaced tiny, ant-like men.
By the start of the ’60s, however, the company had been renamed Marvel, and long-underwear titles – inspired by the recent superhero revival over at DC – began to appear. These, too, were broadly Cosmic, with The Fantastic Four #1 (November 1961) revolving around the space race, cosmic rays and monsters from the centre of the Earth. By FF #2 Marvel’s first species of dangerously advanced, exclusively hostile aliens had emerged – “the Skrulls from outer space” – and interstellar enemies would crop up regularly from here on in, not just in the FF, but in Thor (which mixed ancient mythology and space opera with surprisingly satisfying results), Hulk and The Avengers. Even the domestic, urban and relatively low-key Spider-Man fought aliens as early as Amazing Spider-Man #2.
More recently, of course, Cosmic Marvel has been a grab-bag term for the company’s assorted space-based characters and space-opera storylines. Anything involving the Silver Surfer or Warlock, Nova or Captain Marvel is routinely dubbed Cosmic, as are the endless machinations of space empires like the Kree, the Shi’ar or, indeed, those long-enduring Skrulls. Space has become a vast “corner” of the Marvel Universe that’s bubbled along merrily over the decades, but has really come into its own over the past eight years or so, initially under creators like Keith Giffen, Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning, who gave the whole Cosmic idea a rocket up its arse with the 2006 crossover Annihilation and follow-ups like Annihilation: Conquest and War Of Kings. Suddenly characters like Nova, the Silver Surfer, Super-Skrull, the Guardians of the Galaxy, the now-space-based Inhumans and many more were front-and-centre – and with the upcoming Guardians Of The Galaxy film introducing the whole idea of superheroes-in-space to a mass audience this summer, it looks unlikely to be going away any time soon.
All well and good, then – except none of this is what we’re referring to as Cosmic Marvel here. Not exactly.
Instead, let’s wind the clock back to the early ’70s, a time when Marvel enjoyed one of the most exciting, experimental and artistically satisfying periods in its history; a time when innovative young creators like Steve Gerber, Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin were stretching the company this way and that, and Cosmic began to refer not just to stories exploring the far edges of the Marvel Universe, or ones that threw at us vast, otherworldly “Powers Beyond Human Comprehension”, but tales that delved into the “inner space” of the human psyche too. Here’s where many key space-faring characters – Captain Marvel, Thanos, Adam Warlock, The Man Called Nova – were born or defined, and others, like Doctor Strange, sent in fascinating new directions. This is when Marvel was truly Cosmic.