Oh my god...it is DELICIOUSLY bad! Even by the standards of the day.
I thought the clunky Human Torch origin by Carl Burgos was the worst thing I'd ever seen...and it was, till I kept reading.
I say that with love and respect, mind you. I knew what I was getting into and was not disappointed.
Not as much Simon and Kirby as I had hoped. The book features all first appearances, in the order of original publishing, so the limits them. There is a solo outing by Joe Simon on The Fiery Mask. Jack does some inspired work without Joe on Mercury.
Early Marvel had a thing for robots...4 I think, counting the not-quite-human Torch. Maybe 5...not sure WHAT Dynamic Man is.
One thing that stands head and shoulders over everything that isn't Simon & Kirby is the Sub-Mariner origin by Bill Everett, in quality of both art and story. It is a tragedy that his personal demons limited his productivity and shortened his life and career. Though his second contribution, The Fin, is nearly incomprehensible. And nearly might be kind.
A lot of forgettable characters, a lot of forgettable art. A smidgen of inspired weirdness. The Black Widow, though not precisely good, is just so far out there...rounding up criminals for Satan, really?!? Rockman, drawn by the great Basil Wolverton, is interesting to look at. The Whizzer, gifted with super-speed thanks to a transfusion of mongoose blood...really, if that's all it takes Lance Armstrong could have avoided a lot of trouble. With three dozen-ish costumed crimefighters, surely something will grab your attention.
One thing that struck me is the sheer bloodlust of early Marvel's villains, heroes and writers. Some of the heroes are practically serial killers. The body count piles up pretty high as skyscrapers collapse, ships sink and wild weather events wipe out whole towns.. You wouldn't want to be an innocent bystander in this book!
For the most part, you'll forget each character as soon as you turn the page but the book is packed and the pages keep turning. The reproduction is good, colors and printing aren't muddy, pages are nice and white. I wish there was more in the way of editorial commentary but I tend to feel that way about most collections.
As always when dealing with this period, expect some awful ethnic stereotypes and I think you need a history with and a love for the genre to enjoy these wacky trips back to yesterday. Still, well worth picking up for anyone who enjoys the wondrous entertainment power of bad Golden Age comics.