Marvel “Timeslip,” collected

Last November, I splurged on a dozen or so $1 back issues, at Carol & John’s Black Friday Sale. For under $15 total, I bought myself a reasonable value in entertainment.

Timeslip Collection is not the highlight of those purchases, but feels worth examining as one more look at old, odd and/or obscure comic books.

This is a November 1998 collection, which I don’t recall noticing at the time, of a feature in Marvel Vision which I do recall. In fact I still have a few issues of Marvel Vision—an example of the for-purchase promotional periodicals which now feel difficult even to explain in a thoroughly online era—with some of the earliest “Timeslip” entries.

Part of my limited excitement at what is on balance a nifty little artifact is that I think those entries already familiar to me accounted for most of the feature’s best.

Still feels compelling to me after nearly a quarter century

The entries for Dr. Doom and Spider-Man, by John Paul Leon and Mike Allred respectively, still stand out among other material that’s mostly new to me. I’m not sure how much I can convey, here, without posting the entire book for context. Those four pages just feel like a cut above most of the other Timeslip content.

Overlapping with that feeling is the fact that Timeslip started as one thing, then became another after just a handful of entries.

The original Timeslip concept was more subtle, I think. It was primarily a contemporary artist’s vision of how he (looks like the artists were all men) might have designed a Silver Age Marvel character, if he had received the original creative brief from Stan Lee back in the early 1960s.

The resultant pin-up and some supporting sketches were in each case accompanied by a sort of pastiche creative brief, written by Jim Krueger in the conversational style of Stan Lee. This part, I think, was a notable subtle novelty of the original Timeslip. It wasn’t just a remake/remodel challenge, but a kind of text vignette taking readers back to the creative ferment of Marvel’s early Silver Age.

After just a handful of such entries, however, Krueger replaced this version of Timeslip with what were basically condensed Elseworlds stories. In other words, not just a reimagined visual but a reimagined fundamental concept of the character.

I saw one of these, for The Red Skull, when it first appeared in the 1990s. One of the earliest of the revised Timeslip entries, it still had something of the early entries’ subtlety. Most of the others roamed wildly, however, including one in which the origin of Dr. Octopus turns into a story of the entire human race mutating into an aquatic species.

Some of these Timeslip stories had more clever ideas, to my mind, such as those for the Silver Surfer and the original Human Torch. That which imagined the Punisher as an accountant, instead of a marine vet, walked an interesting line between novel and silly.

A lot of Timeslip feels a bit ho-hum, though. Plot summaries for the kind of stories which Marvel eventually began actually producing under its What If banner. Maybe Timeslip seemed more exciting in the 1990s, before most of those What If stories, and before some measure of the same protean approach became more common even in the canonical “Marvel Universe.” (Ms. Marvel Kamala Khan comes to mind as one example.) What may have come across as flirtation with the taboo in the 1990s now seems, though, just kind of half-assed.

That feeling of decline in Timeslip, from a more thoughtful and disciplined beginning, may be accentuated by the feature’s graphic design.

Timeslip Collection credits five designers, without specifying who did what. But whoever was at work under whatever circumstances, the first several Timeslip entries had a graphic sophistication largely missing thereafter.

Also I think this Spider-Man Timeslip qualifies the collection as a true “comic book” for any sticklers, out there. It’s a sole instance of comics, in the sense of some sort of narrative story told with imagery.

Granted that these aren’t brilliant graphic design, but there’s an attention to design for each entry which I think has aged well. Later on, it devolves into a mostly grungy sameness, which looks very much of its era in a forgettable way.

This shift doesn’t align completely with the shift from Timeslip 1.0 to Timeslip 2.0, but it does mostly. Result: all in all, it still feels like I saw the best of Timeslip in its initial appearances and like Timeslip Collection was not the treasure vault it might have been.

But it’s worth noting that Timeslip was created as a minor feature in a periodical, not for collection and certainly not for the critical evaluation of a 40-year-old looking back from 2019. Even then it’s well worth purchasing for one dollar. Not bad!

As a final note, apparently there is even more Timeslip than the 23 entries in this collection. A final spread with a mildly odd author’s note shows several more entries not in the collection. It also suggests that the whole series could be found at marvel.com and marvel-zone.com. I presume that has not been the case for years, and don’t feel the need to dig around archive.org versions, but for what it’s worth I mention this in service to good librarianship.

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