I recently came across an article over at comicbook.com from several years ago that ranked, based on the author’s opinions, the 75 most iconic panels in Marvel Comics history. Inspired by this subjective exercise, I thought I would look at my own choices for five comic panels – not for their iconic status, but rather for their importance to Marvel Comics in general.
These five panels (not necessarily issues) helped change the trajectory of Marvel Comics, and in some cases, the industry as a whole. These moments are probably images you have seen countless times before but are ones that stand apart as not just famous art but also fulcrum points that would influence interconnected stories for years to come.
Is this just one man’s opinion? Yes? Do you have your choices? Undoubtedly. Hopefully, we can have some back and forth about this topic to redirect our minds from all the chaos happening around us right now. Here is my list of Marvel’s most important panels ever, in chronological order:
Fantastic Four #5 – Dr. Doom as Grandmaster
The article referenced above listed the famous “four hands in” from Fantastic Four #1 as the most iconic Marvel moment of all time, and there is certainly justification for that. But heroes existed before this moment, as well as hero team-ups (Batman and Robin, for example). Much of Marvel’s success with superheroes evolved from the success of Fantastic Four. In July 1962, however, the Marvel team would introduce an arch-nemesis for the new team of heroes who would serve as an equally strong adversary for going on almost 60 years.
This panel, which literally depicts Doom as a larger than life entity controlling our beloved heroes, set the stage that these stories would not be a simple light-hearted mystery or caper solved at the end of 30 pages, but rather the start of a long struggle that would capture the attention of comic lovers for years to come.
Amazing Fantasy #15 – Spider-Man Discovers His Mistake
I don’t see any way you can capture Marvel’s most important moments and not include this revelation. The internal struggle. The beady eyes that were only seen in this first appearance. The decision that would motivate Peter Parker to become Spider-Man, undeniably Marvel’s greatest asset. With no Spider-man, it’s hard to imagine what Marvel would look like – the iconic villains, the epic battles, the variant suits, it all comes back to this panel.
One month after Fantastic Four #5, this issue would launch Marvel into a new stratosphere of popularity, with Spider-Man ordered straight to his own series which began in March 1963. With Spidey and the Fantastic Four appearing on the cover together in an iconic image, the rest is comic (and really, American) history.
Avengers #4 – Captain America Lives
It was a bold but necessary decision to bring Golden Age icon Captain America back to life when he was thawed out of ice by the Avengers and Submariner in Avengers #4. The early Avengers proved popular but needed some clear direction and guidance, something war-hero Captain America was clearly able to provide.
As a replacement for Hulk in the Avengers lineup, Captain America provided a stabilizing force that would expand the popularity and influence of the Avengers into a team that was powerful, moral, and desirable to all other superheroes. Considering the sheer number of heroes who would filter through the team (Ant-Man, Vision, Wanda Maximoff, Spider-Man, Hawkeye, Black Widow, etc.), the Avengers became the Marvel gold standard for how superhero stories could be told.
In later years, the X-Men, Eternals, Alpha Flight, Defenders, and Heroes for Hire, among many others, would all draw from the example of this early superhero team.
Secret Wars #8 – Symbiotes and Black Suit Introduced
In what was a controversial decision back in 1984, Marvel unveiled the idea of alien symbiotes and the famous black suit in this issue that has become a key collector’s item over the years. Many thought it was confusing when Spider-Woman appeared one issue earlier in a similar suit. Are they twins? Is the new plan for male and female heroes to dress alike? The iconic panel introducing the black suit has been criticized for depicting Spider-Man as too pudgy and hastily drawn. Was Spider-Man good or bad in this new suit? With content that was marketed as heavily as Secret Wars was, they heard a lot of feedback.
But since that time, symbiotes, Venom, Carnage, Eddie and Dylan Brock, Knull, Lethal Protector, and many other off-shoots from this moment have permeated Marvel and become an incredibly popular part of the canon. Just look at the recent success of the Venom run or 2019’s Absolute Carnage series (where issue #1 is projected to have sold more than 200,000 copies) for evidence that symbiotes are now an integral part of many Marvel stories.
This decision charted a new path for a popular, established hero and didn’t end up hurting Marvel’s most valuable property at all, rather opening up more pathways to explore the mysterious nature of the alien being.
House of M #7 – Wanda Powers Down the Mutants
In a story that is still being told, three simple words uttered by Wanda Maximoff essentially eliminated millions of mutants – arguably the most interesting beings in the whole Marvel expanded universe. After Magneto beats Quiksilver unconscious, Wanda lashes out at her father, blaming mutants for the ills of the world, declaring that they are not the powerful beings they claim to be, but rather parasites that have ruined earth. Not fully understanding her powers, Wanda then speaks and verbally removes the x-gene from millions, and the ramifications begin to unfold.
First, it forces the remaining 200 or so mutants to consolidate at a central location in Utopia near San Francisco (a foreshadowing of Krakoa in the recent Powers of X and House of X). Faced with a barrage of criticism and potential attacks, this eventually leads the mutants into Civil War, with the groups separating to opposite coasts. From there, events continue to devolve across several series and crossover events.
It’s not out of bounds to say a modern panel can’t be as important as those listed above, but anytime you remove the abilities of 98% of mutants, that decision assuredly has ripple effects across the entire universe and each version of earth. With the surge of X-related series beginning last year, the mutants are fully in the spotlight as they deal with the impact.
I know you have some in mind that aren’t listed here. What do you think are moments that defined Marvel Comics over the years? Let’s discuss here and on the GoCollect Facebook page.