Marvel Comics has kept audiences captivated along multiple mediums of entertainment for the past decade. Marvel has refined the comic book genre and has gone on to create some of the greatest stories in the business. From small beginnings of a pulp magazine producer to the entertainment monolith of today, lets take a look at the history of Marvel Comics and their affect on the world.
In 1939, a man by the name of Martin Goodman (a producer of pulp magazines) created Timely Publications. Goodman had published plenty of western magazines by the time the comic book craze hit, so he created a new line of stories to cash in on the comic book mania. Timely Publications opened their doors in New York City and got to work. In October of 1939 they published Marvel Comics #1 telling the tale of the android called The Human Torch and the anti-hero known as Namor the Submariner. It was such a hit that within the first two months the issue had sold nearly 900,000 copies. By the next year, Timely Publications had their own crew to work with which included the likes of Joe Simon and Jack Kirby who in 1941, went on to create the star spangled man himself: Captain America. More heroes poured in like the original Vision, Whizzer, Miss America, and the Destroyer. Goodman hired a man named Stanley Lieber (who would later take the pseudonym of ‘Stan Lee‘), who worked his way up to become an editor for the company, and a creator of many characters; a title he held for nearly his entire life. With their cunning business prowess, now Timely Comics Inc., was on it’s way to become an empire.
Marvel Comics At Last
Following World War II, the comic book genre began to be a passing fad. Like most publication companies they turned to making western comics, men’s adventure-dramas, romance comics and anything else that would make a buck. Timely Comics published these through Atlas Comics which Stan Lee said only worked because they were fast and cheap rather than high quality. After DC revived the genre in the ’50s, Marvel rose to the occasion. Many of DC’s heroes were meant to appeal to a younger audience; yet the people at Marvel Comics decided to appeal to a more mature demographic which led to the publication of The Fantastic Four created by Stan Lee. This broke the comic book conventions of the time and paved the way for Marvel’s creators to make more amazing heroes such as Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel was lauded for being grounded in realism, and for it’s characters being more relatable than DC’s heroes. After this, Marvel boomed into popularity now with more titles than ever such as the X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil, and so many more. This shared universe, known as the “Marvel Universe”, engaged the readers and inspired wonder and awe in the people of America.
In 1954 the Comics Code Authority was formed in order to censor and regulate what was published in comics. It prohibited large amounts of violence, suggestive themes, and drug content. It also included many ridiculous rules that hindered the imagination of some writers whose comics could no longer include vampires, werewolves, or circumstances where evil prevailed in the end. Decades later, the comics code was updated to allow more content which led to Marvel branching out and creating all sorts of new comics (Howard the Duck, Conan The Barbarian, The Tomb of Dracula, etc). At this time Martin Goodman stepped down and let his son Chip have his job which was later given to Stan Lee. Marvel pulled ahead of DC comics later in that year as well making them the top comic book distributor in the world. They also did a lot of license work for movies and TV shows such as Star Wars. In 1978 Jim Shooter became the editor-in-chief and began to remedy a lot of the problems that Marvel had had up until this point. In the mid ’80s Marvel lost some ground to DC after some of their team defected to work for their rival, yet Marvel still kept a very firm foothold on the market.
The Comic Boom and Comic Crash
By the late ’80s Marvel was killing it. Some of the greatest artists of the time were drawing for Marvel and they were making quite the profit. Todd McFarlane’s first issue of Spider-Man sold two million copies and completely revitalized the character. Jim Lee‘s first issue of X-Men sold eight million copies and remains to this day as the most comics sold for one issue. The comic book industry was doing amazing. Then Marvel took a massive blow in 1992 when seven of their legendary artists quit in order to create Image Comics. By the mid nineties the comic book industry had fizzled out almost completely due to fan speculation and poor decision making on the part of all comic book companies. This Comic Book Crash hit Marvel so hard that in 1996 the Marvel Entertainment Group filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. In order to escape their monetary situation they sold off the movie rights of their big name characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Fantastic Four. Luckily, in the late ’90s, they got Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld back to help them out which left them with just enough to make it into the next decade.
A New Millennium
As they had sold the rights to their characters, the studios who had acquired them began churning out all the movies they could make. By 2002 they had made Men In Black, Blade, X-Men, and the massively successful hit Spider-Man. Marvel left the Comics Code Authority and created their own rating system and began to diversify once more. Comic runs were ended and comic runs were started. In 2007 they digitized their comics to make it more accessible to their readers. The Marvel Ultimate Universe was created in order to give new origins and specifications to characters and engage the audiences even more. In 2008 Marvel Studios rocked the world with the incredibly successful Iron Man movie. Seen mostly as a B-list character, Iron Man was the first in a set of plans to roll out a series of interconnected movies which would later become known as the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This move by Marvel may have very well saved the comic book industry from a slow demise, since this movie revitalized a lot of the fans hopes for comic book properties and the interest of the general public.
Disney Conglomerate and the MCU
On August 31, 2009 Disney announced that they would acquire Marvel Entertainment. With this, Disney was able to distribute comics for the many titles that they also owned and help create many more movies and other media for the comic book characters found at Marvel already. As the MCU started to ramp up, Marvel Studios and Disney saw great success. After Iron Man, the world received The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man 2, Thor, Captain America: The First Avenger, and the very first Avengers movie which dominated box offices and garnered insane popularity amongst comic book fans and layman alike. The MCU goes on today with sequels to all the original titles and the introduction of more characters in their own movies such as Ant-Man, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Black Panther, and many more. The MCU is a shining example of how well a shared universe of the worlds favorite characters can work.
Modern Marvel Comics
With the release of more movies, they started to produce more comics focused around the movies which people initially flocked to for more information and to delve deeper into the characters they loved. By 2015 Marvel announced that they would relaunch their comics calling it an “all new, all different Marvel.” Some amazing comics had come out in this modern era like Civil War, Spider-Man: Spider-Verse, Old Man Logan, and Civil War II. However, later in 2017 they released what was called Marvel Legacy which was met with much complaint from comic book stores who boycotted the procedure. With the movie industry for Marvel comics booming, the comic books were sadly not doing as well, sales-wise. Many comic runs began to fail with the Guardians of the Galaxy run being cancelled completely. Due to this, the developers realized that the movies do not affect comic book sales. As of 2018 Marvel comics has announced a return of Conan comics, a series of all-ages Disney comics through IDW Publishing, and a Big Hero 6 comic, in addition to the excellent Star Wars titles that Marvel has been releasing. Marvel will continue to produce the familiar titles that we all know and love while the MCU will flourish stronger than ever leaving Marvel comics (and Disney) as one of the greatest entertainment studios in the world.