Stan Lee Revisited Marvel’s Past 25 Years Ago With a Month of ‘Minus Ones’

Today, we go back 25 years to see how Marvel did a whole “Flashback” month hosted by Stan Lee where each comic book had a “Minus One” issue.

This is “Look Back,” where every four weeks of a month, I will spotlight a single issue of a comic book that came out in the past and talk about that issue (often in terms of a larger scale, like the series overall, etc.). Each spotlight will be a look at a comic book from a different year that came out the same month X amount of years ago. The first spotlight of the month looks at a book that came out this month ten years ago. The second spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 25 years ago. The third spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 50 years ago. The fourth spotlight looks at a book that came out this month 75 years ago. The occasional fifth week (we look at weeks broadly, so if a month has either five Sundays or five Saturdays, it counts as having a fifth week) looks at books from 20/30/40/60/70/80 years ago.


Today, we head to May 1997 for an unusual month-long event at Marvel Comics called Flashback Month that resulted in a whole pile of “Minus One” issues!

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WHAT ARE ALL OF THESE “MINUS ONE” ISSUES? AND WHAT WAS STAN LEE’S ROLE?

In May 1997, all of Marvel’s comic books had a “Minus One” on their covers instead of a regular number…

Well, I am sure by now, most of you are familiar with the concept of #0 issues, right? DC famously followed its Zero Hour event with a month-long event where all of its comic book titles had #0 issues. These issues were used for origin stories or to launch new titles (while, at the same point in time, essentially doing an origin since it was the first issue). Here, Marvel is sort of poking fun and sort of playing along with that idea by saying that if #0 is the origin issue, then the Minus One issue takes place BEFORE the character’s origins. In other words, these are all stories set BEFORE the introduction of the main character. In other words, Peter Parker before he became Spider-Man, Logan before he became Wolverine, etc.


Oh, and amusingly, Stan Lee served as the narrator of each issue, going from simply “Stan Lee Presents” to literally Stan Lee presenting the stories…

It was a very clever and cute event, just the sort of true “love of comics” sort of event that was so common during this era. Also, one of those things where it was SUCH a “just for the love of comics” idea that it was a major commercial failure, but, well, at least they went down with something cool!

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WHAT WAS THE MOST NOTABLE REVELATION FROM FLASHBACK MONTH?

This event occurred when Captain America, Avengers, Iron Man, Thor and Fantastic Four were all in the hands of Jim Lee’s studio, so none of those comic book titles were involved in the event. That’s obviously a huge chunk of the Marvel Universe, so that blunted the avenue to have a lot of major revelations, but the other titles still did their best.


I enjoyed how the Thunderbolts Minus One came so early in the series’ run, so Kurt Busiek (with guest art by Steve Epting and Bob Wiacek) simply showed us what all of the characters were up to at some point right before Fantastic Four #1 (Fixer was working as a criminal and encountered Namor, Erik Josten was working for the original Baron Zemo in South America, Moonstone was still working as an unethical psychologist and Songbird was still a kid). In this issue, we learn where the second Baron Zemo got the idea to adopt the identity of Citizen V, as his father de él fought against him (and murdered him) during World War II…


Amazing Spider-Man #-1 (by Tom DeFalco, Joe Bennett and Bud LaRosa) sees a young Peter Parker discover his Uncle Ben’s collection of Golden Age comic books…

Peter obsesses over the superheroes he reads about in the story, imagining himself as Captain America and the others, but in the end, Peter gives the comic books away and then begins to doodle about ideas for his OWN superhero weapons, which is, of course , his webshooter…

John Romita paired with Roger Stern for a fun story about Mary and Richard Parker in Untold Tales of Spider-Man #-1 (and yes, this was before SHIELD was a thing. Whatever, it was a minor mistake)…


Scott Lobdell did well with this month’s conceit, showing Sean Cassidy trying to rescue Emma Frost from the Dark Beast (who had traveled to the past at the end of the Age of Apocalypse) in generation x #-1 (by Lobdell, Chris Bachalo and Al Vey)…

then showing a meeting with the Trasks in Uncanny X-Men #-1 (by Lobdell, Bryan Hitch and Paul Neary) where Rachel summers has to stop Tanya Trask from going back in time and stopping her father from creating the Sentinels…

and finally, showing a nice look at Xavier and Magneto before X Men #1in X Men #-1 (by Lobdell, Carlos Pacheco and Art Thibert), with Magneto having just rescued Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch…

The main event, though, was definitely incredible-hulk #-1 by Peter David, Adam Kubert and Mark Farmer, which revealed that Bruce Banner accidentally killed his abusive father, Brian Banner…

That turned out to be a major piece of Hulk’s comic book history, especially in Al Ewing’s Immortal-Hulk.

This was a really fun month as a comic book fan.

If you folks have any suggestions for June (or any other later months) 2012, 1997, 1972 and 1947 comic books for me to spotlight, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com! Here is the guide, though, for the cover dates of books so that you can make suggestions for books that actually came out in the correct month. Generally speaking, the traditional amount of time between the cover date and the release date of a comic book throughout most of comic history has been two months (it was three months at times, but not during the times we’re discussing here). So the comic books will have a cover date that is two months ahead of the actual release date (so October for a book that came out in August). Obviously, it is easier to tell when a book from 10 years ago was released, since there was internet coverage of books back then.


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