The History of Marvel Comics
By - Eric B. Senzer ESP 1999 Introduction to Web-Authoring
The Three Stages of Marvel
• Timely Comics (1939 - 1947) • Atlas Comics (1947 - early 1960s) • Marvel Comics (1961 - present)
Timeless Timely Characters
From l. to r. - The Human Torch, Captain America, and Namor the Sub-Mariner
The Timely Age
• The publisher of timely Comics at this time was Martin Goodman, who, in 1939, published Marvel Comics #1, the first Marvel Comic book. • The book starred Ka-Zar, Paul Gustavson’s “Angel”, Carl Burgos’ “Human Torch”, and Bill Everett’s “Sub Mariner”.
The Cancelled Issues
• Goodman saw the success of Marvel Mystery Comics and decided to launch other books. Daring Mystery Comics and Mystic Comics were both started and shortly cancelled because, unlike other comics at the time, these titles didn’t have a solid cast of characters. They had new characters every issue. Even Red Raven Comics was cancelled after issue #1. • For some reason, Marvel Mystery Comics was Timely’s only mainstay for sales.
The War Years
• Since World War II was underway, Timely and the rest of the nation as well was paying close attention to the events going on in Europe. It was at this time that Simon and Kirby decided to create a hero that was the embodiment of America, and he was called Captain America. • Captain America Comics #1 hit shelves December 20, 1940, and it was an immediate best-seller. It sold nearly a million issues, at a time when Time magazine sold around 700,000 issues a week.
• Martin Goodman then hired his nephew, Stanley Lieber, to work for him. Stanley’s first work was on Captain America Comics #3. Of the pseudonyms that Stanley would use, the one he’s referred to as is Stan “The Man” Lee. Stan is one of the most, if not THE most famous man in the history of comicdom
The Post-War Years
• Before WWII ended, things were looking good for Timely. The years of 1943-1944 were when Timely was at its finest. Goodman even expanded into other markets such as the humor market with Joker Comics and Comedy Comics. Then the war ended... • As World War II ended, so did timely and the climax of the Golden Age of comics. Timely lost an outlet for their comics when the war ended. The government no longer shipped the comics to the soldiers and the public was no longer interested in superheroes anymore but realism. • Timely’s superhero days were over for the most part but, the company continued to produce comics under the Atlas title however not the publisher title of Timely.
Atlas Comic Covers
The Atlas Age
• In the late 1940s, early 1950s, Timely no longer existed, but Goodman and his staff were still working away making comics under different genres. Such genres included books aimed at teenage girls, funny animal books, true crime books, adventure, Westerns, etc. • This phase of Marvel’s history takes place from 1947 to 1961 and has generally been ignored by people as part of Marvel History. But after searching, fans have found early prototypes of famous Marvel characters within the pages of Atlas comic books. Most of the infamous artists of the Marvel Universe have drawn for Atlas as well, portraying some of their best work.
• Most importantly, during the latter end of the Atlas years, the three key players in the creation of the Marvel Universe, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko, came together. So in essence, Atlas gave birth to the Marvel Universe.
The Marvel Age
• Around 1961, Martin Goodman had a struggling Timely/Atlas company, so he turns to his nephew Stan Lee for help. Martin needed Stan to create some new superheroes.
• So Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created the astoundingly successful Fantastic Four (1961) under the “Marvel Comics” banner. This was the first superhero team book that Marvel produced. • Stan and Jack didn’t stop there though...
The Triumvirate’s Creations
• 1962 • Amazing Spider-Man (done with Steve Ditko) • The Incredible Hulk • 1963 • Uncanny X-Men • The Avengers • The Mighty Thor (in Journey into Mystery) • The Invincible Iron Man (in Tales of Suspense) • A revived Captain America • Dr. Strange (in Strange Tales) • Sgt. Fury and the Howling Commandos • Daredevil (1964)
• As Marvel’s titles began to sell greatly, the company was ready to set some precedents. Marvel was the first to allow heroes to get married. This first appeared in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965) where Reed Richards and Sue Storm got married. Then Reed and Sue had a baby named Franklin in Fantastic Four Annual #6 (1968). Also, before Marvel, villains didn’t have any super powers. But Marvel changed all that by giving their villains superpowers. •
The X-Men were different heroes because they were born with special abilities and therefore were known as “mutants”. It portrayed social oppression, relentless prejudice, and cynical pessimism.
Revamping and Novelty
• During it’s time, Marvel came up with a lot of new characters but also revived some of its Golden Age heroes, such as: – Namor the Sub-Mariner (in Fantastic Four #4) – Captain America (in Avengers #4) – Ka-Zar (in X-Men #10) – Conan the Barbarian, in 1970, was a different type of hero. His series would last 20 years and beyond with a new series.
• In 1971, Marvel went against the CCA (Comic Codes Authority) by publishing Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. The story was about the harmful effect of drug use, and the CCA thought that the drug issue should be ignored completely, but the public was on Marvel’s side in this case.
• In Alpha Flight #106, the first mainstream gay superhero arrived. The superhero was Northstar, a member of the Canadian team of superheroes called Alpha Flight.
• Another and currently the last social issue covered by Marvel was when one of the supporting characters in the Incredible Hulk became HIV positive. Since then, Marvel has stopped doing socially controversial stories.
The Turning Point
• In 1986, Marvel Comics was sold over to businessman Ron Perelman by Heroes World. Under the new ownership, Marvel started an aggressive marketing campaign to sell more comics. • One way was to do huge storylines that would crossover into every title, forcing readers to buy them all if they wanted to read the story. • Cover gimmicks (ex. holograms, glow in the dark, extend out into a poster), promotional items, death and revival of heroes, heroes turning into villains, villains into heroes, and many other ideas were used. • Many other comic industries followed suit, even though fans hated it.
The Good, the Bad, the End?
• When Marvel decided to launch another X-Men title, simply titles X-Men, Marvel was on the right track. When the book came out, they had 5 different covers (4 that formed a picture and the 5th that was the picture in a gatefold) This comic sold over 8 million issues and remains the world’s best selling comic book. Then Marvel screwed up.
• In 1994-96, Marvel made one of the worst mistakes in their history. They made Peter Parker the clone of the original true Spider-Man, causing Peter to leave the guise of Spider-Man and have a new character take over the superhero’s role. Fans were so angry that Marvel Comics had a 60% sales drop in their Spider-Man titles. Marvel did some reversing and brought back Peter as the true web-slinger in Spider-Man #75.
• This all happened when the mighty Marvel Comics entered Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.
• Marvel continues to return top notch writing and drawing on many of it core titles, while enduring financial problems with surprising durability. • As the Editor-in-Chief of the nicknamed “House of Ideas”, Stan Lee, once said, “The Best is Yet to Be! Excelsior!!”
In the Beginning…