The Troubled Story of Marvel Comics

The Troubled Story of Marvel Comics
VOICE OVER: Tom Aglio WRITTEN BY: Johnny Reynolds
It's time for a deep dive into the tumultuous history of this iconic brand! For this video, we'll be exploring the Troubled Life of Marvel Comics. Our video will trace the origins of Marvel all the way up to its current state.

The Troubled Life of Marvel Comics

Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be exploring the Troubled Life of Marvel Comics.

How far back does your love of Marvel go? Share your pride and fandom in the comments below!

Marvel is an absolute juggernaut of pop culture. The MCU is the biggest, most profitable franchise we’ve ever seen and will likely ever see. But long before that, heroes like Spider-Man, the X-Men, and the Fantastic Four wowed fans through incredible powers on the page. However, Marvel hasn’t always been an unstoppable behemoth. It grew from humble beginnings and was even under threat of disappearing at one point.

Marvel Comics has been around even longer than its name. The company was founded in 1939 at the onset of the Golden Age by Martin Goodman under the name Timely Comics. Timely was just one of Goodman’s divisions; his other branches produced magazines and novels. However, with the debut of DC’s Superman in 1938, comics became a hot commodity. Timely’s first release, ironically named “Marvel Comics #1,” released in October of 1939 and featured the first appearances of Namor and the Human Torch. It was a massive hit that helped Goodman expand; during this time, future Marvel heavyweights Stan Lee and Jack Kirby would also join. Among other series, Timely released the groundbreaking first issue starring what would become one of its most popular heroes: Captain America.

Captain America’s first run would last through the 40s and would receive Marvel’s first live-action adaptation. But as the Golden Age began to wind down and other forms of media like television became more prominent, comics grew less popular. Books starring Cap, the Human Torch, and Namor the Sub-Mariner were all canceled between 1949 and 1950. By 1951, Timely had undergone its first name change to Atlas Comics. With superheroes not as profitable, Goodman chose to cash in on trends that sold well initially but didn’t have much longevity. Horror, Western, and Comedy comics made up the majority of Atlas’ releases. This, along with some other poor business decisions from Goodman, led to downsizing in the mid-50s. It was certainly a tumultuous period for the company with Goodman even considering closing its doors. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Jack Kirby, who had previously left, returned with his unique artwork to propel Atlas’ sci-fi outings in the late 50s. And what came next was one of Marvel’s most vital eras.

Atlas underwent another name change in 1961, finally becoming Marvel Comics. Soon after, and somewhat following in DC’s footsteps, it took another stab at superheroes. 1961’s “The Fantastic Four #1” was a monumental turning point, taking a more adult approach than Marvel’s previous superhero comics. After that, the floodgates had been opened and a sea of creative endeavors gave us characters that are still iconic today. Spider-Man, the Hulk, the X-Men, Iron Man, Doctor Strange; all of these heroes and many others debuted during this period. Additionally, Captain America made his heroic return, being thawed from ice by the first incarnation of the Avengers. Indeed, the Silver Age was even better for Marvel than the Golden Age. The period helped it grow through the following decades and built the foundation for what Marvel is today.

The 70s and 80s were a time of expansion for Marvel. The financial boom of its superpowered stories allowed it to branch into other genres as well as tie-ins, like its first of many “Star Wars” comic runs. Goodman retired as publisher in 1972, and editor-in-chief Stan Lee took over not long after. Marvel also found alternative ways to reach its fans, like its own convention named MarvelCon in 1975 and several live-action adaptations, such as “The Amazing Spider-Man” and “The Incredible Hulk” TV shows. Additionally, two successful imprints launched in the 80s: Epic Comics, which produced creator-owned books, and Star Comics, which was geared more towards kids. Marvel’s world on the page began to grow larger as well. Incredible stand-alone stories continued to thrive, such as Frank Miller’s take on Daredevil. But massive crossovers like “Secret Wars” brought many of its beloved heroes together.

Unfortunately, the 90s weren’t as kind to Marvel as previous decades. In 1992, many talented artists, including future “Spawn” creator Todd McFarlane and Deadpool co-creator Rob Liefeld, left to form Image Comics. With comic sales again decreasing, Marvel filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1996. Toy Biz purchased the publisher’s parent company, Marvel Entertainment Group, the following year, together becoming Marvel Enterprises, which would end up being the saving grace for Marvel Comics. Toy Biz co-owner Ike Perlmutter and his business partner Avi Arad, two controversial figures to many Marvel fans, knew that to survive, Marvel would need the big screen. And so Marvel began selling the film rights to many of its heroes. First up was 1998’s “Blade” from New Line, a decent hit that led to the sales of Spider-Man to Sony and the X-Men to Fox, among others.

Although this process led to a mixed bag of movies, it allowed Marvel to stay afloat and come back better than ever. The 2000s saw more successful imprints, including the long-running Ultimate universe. But it was clear that film adaptations were the way to go. Marvel Enterprises rebranded to Marvel Entertainment in 2005 with plans to create its own movies. But it didn’t have Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, or many other beloved heroes. As it turns out, it didn’t necessarily need them. In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe began with a hero who hadn’t been popular in quite a while and an actor whose private struggles had become very public. Still, “Iron Man” was one of the best superhero movies of the era and kickstarted the immensely successful mega-franchise. In 2009, Disney announced plans to buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion, an amount that, in retrospect, was an absolute steal.

The MCU is the best thing, at least financially, to happen to Marvel Comics in a long time. It can please superfans and non-comic readers alike, although it has probably led to many of us taking an interest in the source material. The comics side has continued to expand as the movies have released, and the two areas have become more closely linked. Even now, relatively new heroes like Ironheart and Ms. Marvel are set to make live-action debuts. Who knows what the future holds for Marvel Comics whenever the MCU does wrap up? But we’re sure it can survive anything and will be there to welcome us with excellent characters and awesome powers. Excelsior!