Marvel Comics' epic retelling of its revised, expansive continuity in History of the Marvel Universe ramps up the number of familiar faces in its sophomore issue. The creative team of Mark Waid and Javier Rodríguez cover the entire Golden Age of Comic Books in the second chapter, hitting everything from the start of the 20th century to the pre-heroic beginnings of several key characters. The issue is another all-encompassing history lesson, true to its title, packed with nods and allusions to classic events and characters that would make the shared universe what it is today.
Picking up right where the debut issue left off, the second issue ignores the series' framing device to hit the ground running cover the first half of the 20th century. Both World Wars are depicted as are the familiar heroes and villains that fought for either side during them. Following the end of World War II and the dawn of public superheroes, the creative team retcons world history, presumably to match Marvel's sliding timeline as the modern Marvel Universe is poised to make its grand entrance in the follow-up.
Waid continues to demonstrate both his vast, encyclopedic knowledge of the Marvel Universe and deep love for its characters, and is sure to leave no stone unturned as he continues his exhaustive retelling of its history. Elements of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's classic The Marvels Project play a major part in this issue, given the time period, while Waid brushes off Marvel's largely forgotten period between the late 1940s and late 1950s with interim heroes and villains duking it out as future icons took their own nascent steps towards good and evil.
One of the more problematic elements of the issue is the retcon of a major world event that directly played an impact in several Marvel characters before their descent into heroism or villainy. On the one hand, the entire Marvel Universe is an exercise in make-believe; a fictional world that mirrors our own on a superficial level with fantasy and sci-fi flourishes represented by the super-powered characters that populate it. Having said that, the retcon is a significant departure and may strike some fans the wrong way but those less invested in the real-world parallels and more invested in the fictional world that the creative team is revisiting and building.
Given the time period covered, Javier Rodríguez and inker Álvaro López's artwork veers less into the Jack Kirby/Steve Ditko psychedelia that permeated throughout the first issue and more into gritty, war-themed visuals that dominate this issue's era. The sequences are certainly evocative of the classic stories that inspire their inclusion here, from Epting's The Marvels Project to Michael Golden's The 'Nam, but the art team also puts its own visual flair to make the issue itself feel less like a walk down Marvel's merry memory lane and more like an ambitious retelling.
History of the Marvel Universe #2 sees the creative team enter more familiar territory without compromising the miniseries' brisk pace. As more recognizable characters and events are introduced throughout the story, the title becomes a lot more fun. However, it is important to keep in mind that the miniseries completely lives up to its title as a history lesson and not a bombastic reimagining of the Marvel Universe; preservation and faithful integrity of the retelling is the overall mission statement here. When the comic veers from it, like the retconned global conflict, it tends to lose its way a bit. Fortunately, the creative team also provides clear links to comics which inspired it to more than prove they have done their homework in their expansive love letter to the Marvel Universe.