Eventually named for its first Comic – much as DC Comics was named after Detective Comics – Marvel was founded by Martin Goodman (1910-1992) as Timely Comics before, in the 1950s, being renamed Atlas Comics after its distribution company; it became Marvel Comics in 1963. Marvel Comics #1 (November 1939) featured two of the company's three early mainstays. The Human Torch was an Android who could become a figure of living flame; he was created and drawn by Carl Burgos. Prince Namor, the Sub Mariner – a warlike undersea monarch who had an ambivalent relationship with the surface world – was chronicled by William Blake (Bill) Everett. Throughout the 1940s both The Human Torch and Prince Namor had their own comics (The Human Torch from Fall 1940, Sub Mariner Comics from Spring 1941). Running alongside them were Marvel Mystery Comics (Marvel Comics retitled) and the third of those mainstays: Captain America (March 1941-January 1950). The original masked superpatriot was created by artist Jack Kirby and writer Joe Simon.
In the 1950s Marvel Mystery Comics became Marvel Tales, and was indistinguishable from dozens of other horror, war, sf, Western, gag and romance anthology titles; Stan Lee was credited with writing most of the contents. Not quite lost among the chaff were strips by many fine illustrators, including Bill Benulis, Gene Colan, Richard Doxsee, Bernie Krigstein, Joe Maneely, Gray Morrow and Al Williamson. The mid-1950s slump in comics sales saw the disappearance of Atlas but not of all of its titles. Stan Lee retrenched in 1958, giving more of an sf/horror/Monster-Movie flavour to his titles. With the help of a returned Jack Kirby (who had worked elsewhere through most of the 1950s) plus regular artists Dick Ayers, Steve Ditko and Don Heck, editor Lee and his "Bullpen" were soon eager to re-enter the Superhero genre, starting with November 1961's Fantastic Four. Lee allowed his heroes to be fallible: they could be bad-tempered, immature, repressed . . . The motif would establish Marvel at the vanguard of comics publishing.
At the dawn of the "Marvel Age" Marvel experimented with an sf-anthology title. Produced by Lee and Ditko and complete with contents and letters pages, Amazing Adult Fantasy ran for eight issues December 1961-July 1962 before being retitled Amazing Fantasy for one final issue, which featured the debut of Marvel's most popular character ever: Spider-Man.
Most of Marvel's superheroes had various kinds of run-ins with Pseudoscience, especially The Fantastic Four, a group of Superpowered troubleshooters. Kirby and Lee elegantly plundered Norse mythology for their Thor series (Journey into Mystery #83 [August 1962] to present; renamed Thor in 1966) while Lee and Ditko produced the definitive interdimensional Magic strip in Doctor Strange (Strange Tales #114-#134 [November 1963-1965]; then his own title #169-#183 [June 1968-November 1969]; then in a relaunched Strange Tales #1-#19 [April 1987-October 1988]). Marvel Super-Heroes #12 (December 1967) saw the arrival of Marvel's space-born superhero Captain Marvel; it was not long before he had the red-yellow-blue costume and a teenage alter ego full of wisecracks and buzzwords like his 1940s namesake. (For the full, tortuous story of Captain Marvel, see his entry.) During 1968-1971 Marvel's finest sf character, The Silver Surfer, was given his own title, drawn by John Buscema (1927-2002) and with the writing credit going, inevitably, to Lee. In 1970 Marvel began publishing its own version of Robert E Howard's Conan, adapted by Roy Thomas with artists Buscema, Gil Kane and Barry Windsor-Smith.
Marvel currently dominates the US comics marketplace, most notably with the bestselling X-Men titles. It has also the most successful comic-book inspired film franchises, including the Spider-Man, X-Men, Iron Man and Captain America series, and the surprisingly science-fictional film adaption Thor (2011).
After several decades of revolving corporate ownership, Marvel was acquired in 2009 by The Walt Disney Company. An authorized and therefore somewhat uncritical account of the company's history is Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics (1991) by Les Daniels. [SW/JP]
see also: Illustration.
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