Next up in The 2019 PopCult Gift Guide we have two oddball relics of Marvel Comics history that were released as part of this year’s 80th Anniversary celebration.

Marvel has become a major cultural force, but the two books we’re recommending for the comics historian on your holiday shopping list shine the spotlight on their humble beginnings, and on their sense of humor back when they really  were “the house of ideas.”

This is not the slick, cinematic Marvel Universe. These collections go back to a time when the pure, unbridled fun of comic book creativity was on full display without any concerns for marketing or merchandising.

Marvel Comics #1 80th Anniversary Edition
by Carl Burgos, Bill Everett, Paul Gustafson and more.
ISBN-13: 978-1302918606

The book that kicked off the Marvel Universe back in 1939, presented better than ever in glorious hardcover – together with an extensive array of special features! Marvel Comics 1 promised action, mystery and adventure, and it delivered! The issue’s cover star, the original android Human Torch, blazed his way into readers’ hearts – and Namor the Sub-Mariner made a big splash! As well as the dazzling debuts of these two Golden Age heroes, pulp star Ka-Zar swung into comics, and costumed detective the Angel made his debut! Plus Western adventures with the Masked Raider – and terror in the jungle! And from this one issue, published 80 years ago, grew the entire Marvel Universe! Now, Marvel Comics 1 is collected along with bonus artwork, insightful essays, a gallery of homages to its iconic cover, and much more!

In addition to a reprint of the original comic, we also get a couple of modern retellings of the origin of The Human Torch, and a complete second reprinting of a special edition of Marvel Comics #1 from ten years ago, redone with modern coloring techniques.

It’s a great artifact of comic’s Golden Age, and Bill Everett’s artwork on Sub-Mariner is worth the price by itself. By the way, you can order this from any bookseller, using the ISBN number, or check comic shops or Amazon, where you might be able to shave a few bucks off the retail price.

Not Brand Echh: The Complete Collection
ISBN-13: 978-1302918828

Back at the height of Marvelmania, just after Steve Ditko left the company, but before Stan Lee ran off Jack Kirby, the company decided to publish a parody comic that harkened back to the early days of MAD, when it was a comic book, but with a focus on superheroes.

The result was hilarious at the time, and now that most of the humor is completely dated, the comics that sprang from this idea remain endlessly fascinating. The idea of Jack Kriby drawing goofball humor comics seems bizarre, as does the idea of his work being inked by Tom Sutton, who is better known for his Lovecraftian horror stories.

Not Brand Echh: The Complete Collection collects Not Brand Echh (1967) #1-13; Not Brand Echh (2017) #14 and material from Amazing Spider-Man Annual (1964) #1 and #5, Daredevil Annual (1967) #1, Fantastic Four Annual #5, Sgt. Fury Annual #4 and Avengers Annual #2.

When Stan Lee set the tone for the Marvel Age of Comics, it came with a healthy dose of humor. And when fans demanded more Marvel mayhem, Stan — along with Jack Kirby, Gene Colan and the Bullpen’s mistress of mirth, Marie Severin — turned the dial to 11 and let loose! Presenting the masterpiece of Silver Age satire, packed with Marvel’s greatest talents taking a sideways look at the heroes they made famous (and even some they didn’t). Charlie America, Scaredevil, the Revengers, Sore: Son of Shmodin, the Sunk-Mariner and the one and only Forbush Man are coming at you.

Truth be told, after the first few issues, Lee and Kirby, along with other legendary Marvel Bullpenners like Don Heck and Bill Everett dropped out of the book, leaving it as a showcase for the brilliant humor art of Marie Severin and Tom Sutton, with Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich handling the bulk of the writing.

This volume also includes a modern attempt at Brand Ecch humor, as well as three-page piece by Steve Ditko about how Spider-man comics were created. While Lee is credited as the writer of this story, it pretty clearly lays out that he true division of labor, and is both hilarious and enlightening to those who haven’t yet figured out why Ditko left Marvel.

This book is interesting to fans because of the sense of self-parody (along with shots taken at DC, Gold Key and Tower Comics, as well as newspaper comic strips), the topical humor (lots of Beatles jokes) and the sense of fun that the artists were clearly having. Also available at comics shops, booksellers and Amazon.

Both of these books have an appeal that extends beyond the average Marvel Zombie. Marvel Comics #1 shows what kind of comics Marvel published back when they were known as “Timely Comics,” while Not Brand Ecch! is like a time capsule of the late 1960s.