Mark Gruenwald's early work at Marvel ranged from significant runs on Spider-Woman and The Thing to various fill-in issues of titles such as The Avengers and Thor. Despite his early work not being quite as well known as some of his later projects, he created several characters of particular note such as Screaming Mimi, Quasar and the Shroud. Some noteworthy early work includes the Pegasus Project, Eternals Saga and Nights of Wundagore story arcs.
Gruenwald also wrote Marvel's first limited series which was also their first attempt at a crossover storyline. Entitled Contest of Champions, the story saw all of Earth's heroes being abducted by a cosmic being and forced to participate in a competition. The basic premise and practice of the storyline and series became a staple of Marvel comics and was followed up by the likes of Secret Wars and Infinity Gauntlet. Even in the modern day, the template is still used by Marvel with crossover limited series such as Civil War, Secret Invasion and Fear Itself.
The final pages of each issue of Contest of Champions presented a crude and brief catalogue of Marvel's superheroes entirely written and compiled by Gruenwald. Despite clocking in at barely 3 pages each issue, Gruenwald managed to fit in a surprising amount of detail such as first appearances, powers and current whereabouts of the characters. Again, against all odds, Gruenwald manages to briefly profile characters as obscure as Powerhouse, Star-Dancer and Tagak alongside the likes of Spider-Man and Captain America.
Unsurprisingly, shortly afterwards he began writing and compiling the first series of the Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe which greatly expanded on the profiles included in Contest of Champions - giving every character at least half a page for a profile.
Perhaps Gruenwald's first break-out role was writing and pencilling the first Hawkeye series: a series which acted as a percursor of sorts to West Coast Avengers and saw Hawkeye meet and elope with Mockingbird. The series also introduced Crossfire and the Death-Throws. Around this time, Gruenwald also began editing various titles within the "Avengers family" of books such as Avengers and Thor.
While editing two of Marvel's major titles, Gruenwald also became heavily involved in the New Universe line. Despite it's floundering success, Gruenwald was one of the mainstays to the line writing D.P.7 and the New Universe graphic novels The Pitt and The Draft. The New Universe line was eventually cancelled, Gruenwald finished his run on D.P.7 with D.P.7 #32 which also made D.P.7 the only New Universe title to feature the same writer on every issue.
Following the disillusion of the New Universe, Gruenwald began writing the Squadron Supreme series which became one of his most highly regarded works. Gruenwald claimed Squadron Supreme was his work he was most proud of and creators such as Mark Waid and Alex Ross have cited Gruenwald's work on Squadron Supreme as favorites and inspiration to works such as Kingdom Come and Marvels. Despite it's critical acclaim, Squadron Supreme ended after #12 and the was published as a graphic novel entitled Squadron Supreme: Death of a Universe.
While writing Squadron Supreme, Gruenwald also took over the reins of writing Captain America following the abrupt departure of writer J.M. DeMatteis who left in protest after his original idea for Captain America #300 was nixed. Gruenwald's early work on Captain America saw the introduction of the Serpent Society and it's member Diamondback. Gruenwald's early issues saw Captain America fighting the Serpent Society and another new villain called Flag-Smasher, the dissolution of Captain America's relationships with Bernie Rosenthal and his sidekick Nomad, the classic annual in which Captain America fights Wolverine, and crossovers with the West Coast Avengers and even Gruenwald's own Squadron Supreme.
Gruenwald's first major storyline for Captain America wound up becoming a line-wide crossover dubbed "Year of the Scourge". The editorial side of Gruenwald wished to thin out the assortment of unused super-villains roaming the Marvel Universe which led to the creation of a new vigilante named Scourge. Despite the Scourge crossover being entirely driven by Gruenwald, Scourge first appeared in an issue of Iron Man by Denny O'Neil where he assassinated the hitman known as the Enforcer who had being hired by Madame Masque.
The Year of the Scourge continued on with Scourge showing up in various books ranging from The Amazing Spider-Man to even an issue of Secret Wars II. The identity of Scourge quickly became one of the questions on the tips of many Marvel reader's lips and after several appearances assassinating various super-villains, the Scourge story reached it's final act in Gruenwald's Captain America. Year of the Scourge climaxed with Captain America teaming up with the villain Diamondback to track down the Scourge after, in one of the most famous scenes of the crossover, he had killed 20 super-villains at once in the Bar With No Name. After a final confrontation between Captain America and Scourge, the vigilante was unmasked and revealed to be nobody important and quickly assassinated off-screen by someone exclaiming Scourge's catchphrase suggesting their was more than one Scourge or that Scourge had faked the whole thing. Reader response to the Scourge reveal was luke-warm, unhappy with the revelation that Scourge was a nobody, although Gruenwald himself later appeared unhappy that readers didn't quite grasp his intentions with the Scourge character.
Following the Year of the Scourge, Gruenwald wrote and compiled a follow-up to the Official Handbook. He also edited (and wrote a Captain America issue which crossed over with) one of the most highly regarded Avengers storylines of the 80s in Under Siege. Despite the acclaim of the story, tensions behind-the-scenes of Avengers led to writer Roger Stern quitting the book after a disagreement with Gruenwald. The latter wished to see Captain America resume leadership of the Avengers whereas Stern wished that his Captain Marvel would remain leader of the team. Following the departure of Stern, the Avengers title entered a stagnant period where a consistent creative team or even Avengers roster became almost impossible to find.
Walt Simonson eventually took over writing Avengers for a few issues before abruptly leaving after a dispute with Gruenwald, again over the Avengers line-up. Simonson wished to ironically have the team comprised of almost entirely X-Men characters, whereas Gruenwald just wanted the team to return to being an Avengers book. A compromise was met and two members of the Fantastic Four were added to the Avengers in one of the line-ups only memorable for being odd.
Meanwhile, in the pages of his own book, Gruenwald's next storyline for Captain America became one of his most renowned storylines of them all. Captain America No More saw Steve Rogers being forced to quit as Captain America and being replaced with a former antagonist called the Super-Patriot. The storyline lasted for over 20 issues and saw the new Captain America facing challenges and questioning whether he was worthy of the legacy he was now upholding. The storyline reached boiling point when the new Captain America's parents were murdered which dove him down a darkpath of murder and brutality and lead to the inevitable confrontation between himself and the real Captain America.
Other notable moments within the Captain America No More storyline included crossovers with Fall of the Mutants and Armor Wars, the return of Scourge and the rebirth of the Red Skull. The story ended with Steve Rogers resuming his identity of Captain America and Super-Patriot becoming the U.S.Agent.
As well as writing Captain America, Gruenwald stepped in to write several fill-in issues of Avengers writing both the Day of the Adaptoid and Super-Nova Saga storylines. During the latter, Gruenwald's old character Quasar joined the Avengers which led shortly afterwards to a Quasar on-going series written by Gruenwald. Gruenwald also was heavily involved with Marvel Age magazine and wrote a column entitled "Mark's Remarks" in every issue wherein he shared honest and interesting insight into the inner-workings of the Marvel Offices.
Elsewhere, the Avengers title had found a creative team in John Byrne and Paul Ryan and with Gruenwald editing it became heavily integrated with Byrne's West Coast Avengers. This led to the major crossover Acts of Vengeance which played out in both Avengers books as well as crossing over into Gruenwald's Captain America and Quasar (alongside countless other titles). Gruenwald continued writing Captain America and Quasar and saw developments such as Captain America's relationship with Diamondback, the introduction of Crossbones and Squadron Supreme and D.P.7 appearing in Quasar.
Gruenwald also was involved in another handbook series at this point: the 1990 Master Edition which was actually quite a departure from the previous formats. These handbooks were based more around statistics rather than information and featured character model sheets.
Gruenwald stepped down from editing to focus more on his writing, shortly afterwards seeing the release of the first U.S.Agent series. The series starred the character he had created and introduced in the pages of his Captain America and the writer attempted to resolve the Scourge saga (which by this point he was admittedly fed up of people asking who Scourge really was). Having the character's identity again revealed as nobody of particular importance as well as having the character killed once and for all, Gruenwald put to bed the Scourge character. Despite Gruenwald having never said so himself, there is strong indication that Scourge was always intended to be Captain America's former partner Nomad - which was an element later picked up and used by Fabian Nicieza years later in Thunderbolts.
In 1993, as one of Marvel's many attempts to recapture the interest in their Cosmic line due to Jim Starlin's Infinity Gauntlet, Gruenwald found himself overseeing a cosmic crossover spinning out of the pages his Quasar entitled Starblast. The crossover saw the return of several New Universe characters as The Stranger attempted to acquire the power of the Star Brand. By this point, Marvel had seriously deflated interest in their Cosmic line after several attempts to ape Starlin's work and Starblast was almost entirely overlooked. What also didn't help was the crossover only actually crossed over with Marvel's lowest selling books in Secret Defenders and Namor the Sub-Mariner.
Following Starblast, Gruenwald penned another crossover entitled The Terminatrix Objective. An Avengers story that served as a way for Gruenwald to hopefully clear up a lot of ambiguity and confusion with the character of Kang the Conqueror. The crossover was again overlooked and is mostly only remembered for featuring an odd Avengers line-up of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, U.S.Agent, War Machine and Thunderstrike.
In 1994, Gruenwald was diagnosed with poor health which led to him resigning from writing Quasar (which ended immediately after his departure) and also opting out of writing Captain America after he wrote a final story arc which turned into the scarily poignant Fighting Chance - a story where Captain America faced his own mortality. Gruenwald also did editing for the final issues of the first volume of Avengers.
Gruenwald's final works were objects of criticism, particularly story arcs such as Man and Wolf. Gruenwald admitted sometimes his intentions were misunderstood, for example Man and Wolf was meant to be a jab at the hugely successful Midnight Sons line. Another subject of negative reception was Captain America's new costumes in his final story arc. One costume featured excessive amounts of pouches and the other was a ridiculously impractical armored suit. Again, Gruenwald claimed he was poking fun at Marvel's more successful heroes of the time but the redesigns are largely considered among Captain America's worst.
Following wrapping up his run on Captain America, which clocked in at over 10 years and over 120 issues, Gruenwald suffered a heart attack and died. Famously, Gruenwald wished for his remains to be used in the printing process of a comic book and his ashes were used for a trade paperback reprinting of Gruenwald's own Squadron Supreme.
Despite disagreements with several writers he worked with, Gruenwald was incredibly well-liked in the Marvel offices and many of his colleagues have nothing but positive things to say about the man. Gruenwald was also a regular practical joker around the offices which led to many of the Marvel staff believing his death was actually a prank Gruenwald was playing.
Outside of the offices, Mark Gruenwald had two marriages. The first was to singer Belinda Glass in 1981 which was followed by a divorce later. Mark Gruenwald met his second wife, Catherine Schuller in 1991, and the two married a year later. Gruenwald and Schuller had a daughter, Sara.
Gruenwald's contribution to Marvel is still felt today, with even the current staff honoring Gruenwald as "Patron Saint of Marveldom" in 2006. Gruenwald's work such as Squadron Supreme and key story arcs of Captain America are available as trade paperbacks. Collections of the first batch of issues of Quasar and D.P.7. have also been released. Updates to the Official Handbooks to the Marvel Universe are still printed to this day and have mostly retained the same principle set forth by Gruenwald in 1982.
Within comics themselves, Gruenwald is paid tribute to with various homages and appearances in comics:
- The Time Variance Authority are staffed entirely by several Mark Gruenwalds.
- Gruenwald's character Screaming Mimi was redesigned as Songbird and joined the Thunderbolts quickly becoming the book's break-out character. Songbird has since appeared in several major storylines and even as an Avenger in Avengers Forever.
- Squadron Supreme returned in one of the first story arcs of Kurt Busiek's Avengers and also co-starred in the 1998 annual. This storyline directly followed on from Gruenwald's Squadron Supreme run.
- Haywire of Squadron Supreme is residing on Mt. Gruenwald during Celestial Quest.
- Squadron Supreme was reinterpreted by J. Michael Straczynski as a MAX series called Supreme Power which proved hugely popular and led to several spin-offs and crossovers.
- One of Gruenwald's final creations, Jack Flag, returned in the pages of Thunderbolts and eventually joined the Guardians of the Galaxy.
- Mark Gruenwald is also portrayed as the current Director of Project PEGASUS.
- Marvel Zombies Supreme was seen as something of a love letter to the works of Gruenwald. Featuring not only versions of his Squadron Supreme but also his character Battlestar. The story also took place almost entirely at the Project Pegasus facility.
In Mark Gruenwald's home town Oshkosh, Wisconsin, his name has been incorporated by the Oshkosh Public Library into an comic book creation contest called the Mark Gruenwald Comic Book Creation Challenge on April 30th 2020. It's open between children to adults for any entry category challenges.