I am relatively new to Graphic Novels and have so far concentrated on the must reads (Watchmen, Maus etc) and Batman novels. This was the book I chose to introduce me to the Marvel Universe and it did so brilliantly.
It is set from the early 1940s to the early 1970s in Marvel's New York. The book begins with the birth of The (original) Human Torch and ends with a significant death in the life of Spider-Man. In between these events we see and hear about many key events in the rise and fall of various Marvel characters but only through the eyes of a news photographer, just a regular guy. In this way we get a potted history of key episodes in the Marvel Universe whilst also seeing what it might be like to actually live in it.
Around 60 or 70 major and minor Marvel characters are involved in the story - some with key roles, many just cameos and others blink-and-you-miss-it appearances or even just small references in the text or background. I knew some of these characters from films (Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man, Daredevil, Fantastic Four), some from general popular culture (Hulk, Captain America, Thor), and some I'd never heard of (Namor the Sub-Mariner, Black Widow).
I would recommend this book to anyone who is new to the Marvel Universe but I also think it would be great to re-visit the more I get to know the various characters from reading other Marvel Graphic Novels.
In 1995, Marvel released the darker spin off Ruins (Books 1-2 Complete) (Marvel Alterniverse)
The 2008 direct sequel is called Marvels: Eye Of The Camera TPB