So you want to get to know Marvel Cosmic, the branch of Marvel comics that expands to the spaceways and includes characters like the Guardians of the Galaxy, Thanos, and Pip the Troll (primarily Pip the Troll). Marvel Studios has made a big deal of introducing the cosmic extension of their universe in this summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy, but there’s plenty of excellent reading you can do to familiarize yourself before the film. Yes, I have a comprehensive modern Marvel cosmic reading guide, and I’ve already covered the essential Guardians of the Galaxy reading, so this guide will focus on larger, more all-encompassing cosmic events.
1) Fantastic Four #48 – #50
No Marvel comics introduce the cosmic elements of the universe better than Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s original Fantastic Four. In the classic “Coming of Galactus” trilogy, Galactus, the Silver Surfer, and Uatu the Watcher all come down from the stars to increse our awareness of the universe forever more (and all these years later, Uatu is at the center of Marvel’s current event: Original Sin).
Apart from introducing Galactus, the World Devourer, these three issues of Fantastic Four also set the stage for the eighteen issue Silver Surfer series that might be an even better exploration of one of Marvel cosmic’s most familiar figures.
If you find that this type of cosmic comic is exactly what you’re looking for, then I’d highly recommend you stick with King Kirby for a while. Whether it’s his 18 issue Eternals miniseries, or his New Genesis comics over for the Dreaded Competitor, you won’t find kinetic cosmic imagination quite like this anywhere else.
2) The Life of Captain Marvel
So far there are very few hints that Captain Marvel will play a role in the Guardians of the Galaxy, but if you were reading Marvel comics in the 1970’s, the Kree born Mar-vell was the hero most closely connected to the cosmic landscape (aside from maybe Adam Warlock). Writer Jim Starlin took over the title of Captain Marvel and never looked back, creating and building much of the Marvel cosmic universe we know today.
New readers will want to read Captain Marvel #22 – #35 which features the introduction of the power-hungry Thanos, the cosmic cube, and involves Earth and the Avengers!
As you might expect, you can transition from here to The Death of Captain Marvel (spoiler alert!). An all-time great, and to this day a fascinating use of the graphic novel to tell a Marvel comics story ala the X-Men’s “God Loves, Man Kills.”
3) Thanos Quest + Infinity Gauntlet
Speaking of Thanos… the big purple villain is likely Starlin’s greatest creation, and has been teased during the Avengers post-credits scene as the looming big bad for the franchise. In Thanos Quest and the subsequent Infinity Gauntlet event, Thanos seeks the Infinity gems, all-powerful cosmic devices that allow their holder to control space, time, power, chaos, mind and soul.
Naturally Thanos acquires all of these to satisfy his love, Lady Death, and ultimately wipes out half the universe. (Aside from Dr. Doom, there’s no villain who’s as frequently successful as Thanos.) All while fighting every Marvel hero you’ve ever thought of! An all-time classic story, that spirals into follow-up events Infinity Crusade and Infinity War.
4) Annihilation + Conquest
The cosmic side of the Marvel Universe hit a bit of a lull from the mid-90’s until 2006 when Annihilation brought the sentinels of the spaceways back in a big way. This one pulls in just about everyone who’s ever had a relevant place in Marvel Cosmic, as Annihilus brings the annihilation wave from the negative zone and into our universe. Galactus, the Silver Surfer, Thanos, Nova, Drax the Destroyer, Star-Lord, Gamora… they’re all here, and they’re all fighting for their lives – and the lives of everyone in the Marvel U!
Loosely affiliated with Starlin’s Infinity events, primarily in the sense that Thanos is involved and he’s ready to raze the Earth. The Avengers find themselves standing up to Thanos and standing up for the defense of the entire Universe. Infinity is undeniably more reliant on continuity than some of these other arcs (you’ll want to have a passing familiarity with Jonathan Hickman’s run on Avengers and New Avengers to understand this event – or better yet the Infinity reading order guide), but the 2013 event is one of the most recent entries into Marvel’s ever expanding cosmic narrative.
There you have it – a kickstart to catching up on your cosmic reading. What stories from space do you love that I didn’t include? Do what feels right to you in the comments!