What is it about Marvel Comics that we can’t resist? Comic book historian Greg Theakston, who knew comic book creator Steve Ditko personally, said that the artist saw “The Amazing Spider-Man” as semi-autobiographical. “Spiderman was the culmination of everything Ditko was up until that moment,” Theakston wrote. “Ditko had personal ties to the character.
When people started to ‘manipulate him’ into bringing in more romance into the strip and changing the direction, Ditko felt slighted, crushed … they were telling him how to do it. He wouldn’t be told.” It’s that sense of self that comes across on the pages of a Marvel Comic; the deep psychological dimensions, the obtuse parallels to real-world problems and struggles, the innate desire to be a little superhuman from time to time.
Marvel Comics began as Timely Publications in 1939, founded by Martin Goodman who started Western, Mystery and Science Fiction pulp magazine in 1933. Graphic novels were becoming the next hottest thing, so publisher Goodman added an editor, managing editor and business manager and moved into an office on West 42nd Street in New York City.
The first publication was Marvel Comics # 1 starring the Human Torch (Carl Burgos) and Namor the Sub-Mariner (Bill Everett). Their real blockbuster comic book series was Joe Simon and legendary Jack Kirby’s Captain America (debuting as “Captain America Comics #1” in March 1941), which sold nearly 1 million copies!
The bulk of the memorable Marvel Comics came out during the 1960s under Stan Lee’s creative direction, featuring the unique illustrating styles of iconoclastic Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. X-Men, Thor, Iron Man, Spiderman, The Incredible Hulk and Silver Surfer all emerged during this time. Over the next few decades, Marvel attempted to diversify into other lines intended for more mature audiences.
Management shifted, cartoons and films were made, trading cards and merchandise were issued; and so the empire began. In 1991, junk bonds were offered by the owners, putting the company in jeopardy of bankruptcy. After narrowly escaping this dire fate, Marvel Comic creators began diversifying with different offshoots again, with “Ultimate Marvel” (to reinvent their old characters for a new generation), “MAX” (for mature readers) and “Marvel Age” (for younger audiences), which has helped them endure over the years. The success of the “Spiderman” and “X-Men” movies has renewed interest in the Marvel comic publications in recent years too.
Marvel comics has adapted with the times. Last year, they focused on pertinent post-9/11 issues in their “Civil War” comic book series where X-Men, Captain America, Spiderman and others suffered a breech of their liberties, having to register their secret identities with the government. The X-Men and Spiderman heroes and villains have undergone transformations and personal growth in the film studios. And Marvel Comic publishers have even offered unlimited downloads of their comic books through their website for $60/year.