What is now the cosmic end of the Marvel U started a very long time ago.
Science Fiction comics are as old as the genre itself, but for the real cosmic stuff you need to start just after the dawn of Marvel. There was some stuff at DC and a few of the other publishers, but mostly that was hard sci-fi or outlandish fantasy storytelling. Things like Legion of Superheroes, while lots of goofy fun, was hampered by a lack of imagination and understanding of what was really out there in the cosmos. These books were not really concerned with the cosmic part of the story. They were usually just an excuse to put something very odd and abstract on the cover. Prior to Marvel the extreme caution created by the Comics Code Authority made for lackluster books. They wanted safe, and that is what they got.
But Stan and Jack really got the ball rolling. Most would say more Jack than Stan, but that is no longer really important. The Silver Surfer was more than just the herald of Galactus, he heralded in the age of cosmic grandeur. Marvel didn’t really capitalize on this until after Kirby left and went insane with creativity at DC. The New Gods in particular sparked the real fires. Marvel writers like Roy Thomas and Jim Starlin saw what was happening and started to expand on what Kirby had started at Marvel before he left. Off and on for the next 20+ years Marvel had some great cosmic books. In the 80’s and 90’s Starlin was the go to guy. His versions of Captain Mar-vell, Thanos (created by Starlin) and Adam Warlock are still the definitive versions of the characters.
In the 2000’s things started to fall apart. What little was done with the characters after Starlin was no longer involved was uninspired and often very superficial, even for comics. But in recent years, Marvel’s cosmic fortunes have been looking up. Keith Giffen was there at the start with Abnett and Lanning (DnA) who then ran with it on their own. Annihilation was the real jumping on point. It had been a few years since the last big cosmic storyline and fans were hungry. The books sold well and have spawned a series of books ever since.
DnA have managed to restore most of these characters to what made them interesting, some they have even improved on. The creation of a new team of The Guardians of the Galaxy was inspired. Rocket Raccoon and Groot (I AM GROOT!) are fan favorites, and they have brought back into prominence characters almost completely forgotten like Ronan the Accuser. Adam Warlock too, has been fleshed out. Starlin’s influence is evident, but the guys are really trying to make this their own.
These books have only rarely faltered. Marvel seems to think that the fans like Darkhawk, but this fan does not. Very little good came out of 90’s Marvel, and Darkhawk is quintessentially 90’s Marvel. They keep trying to make him a marquee player, but it is just not working.
Bringing in characters that have not gotten very good stories recently and reviving them is something that these guys are very good at. No one seemed to have any idea how to handle the Inhumans for a very long time. DnA have put the perfect spin on them and they are a force of real menace and intrigue in the Marvel U. They also managed to bring Nova and the Starjammers back without making them feel silly. Nova had not had a home at Marvel in ages that was worth it and the Starjammers have not been handled correctly since Claremont stopped writing the X-Men.
These are great books, and they do not seem to be slowing down. Annihilators: Earthfall is the most recent, and after a brief rest, I imagine they will continue as before. With these great books, Marvel is the place to look for grand cosmic adventure again.