It is October 2019, which means 80 years ago this month, Marvel Comics was founded. The company is responsible for many of my favorite characters of all time, so I am celebrating the occasion by highlighting all of my favorite Marvel characters in the company’s history, complete with the comic books they first appeared in and their cover dates. If I talked about each of them, this blog would be way too long, so don’t expect any deep analysis of why I love characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and Wolverine so much. If you want to know, read the comics yourself!
Pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman, who started out making western pulps in 1933, created Timely Publications in 1939 when he decided to branch out into comics, a year after DC Comics had tremendous success with the introduction of Superman in Action Comics # 1.
The first comic published by Timely was called (appropriately) Marvel Comics # 1, cover dated October 1939.
The issue was hugely popular. It featured the first appearance of an android superhero called The Human Torch (no relation to Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four) created by Carl Burgos, and the reappearance of an aquatic superhero who first appeared in Motion Picture Funnies Weekly (April 1939) named Namor the Sub-Mariner created by Bill Everett.
These two characters were the most popular, and they were both followed by the even more popular Captain America/Steve Rogers, the super soldier decorated in stars and stripes created by Timely editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby for Captain America Comics # 1 (March 1941), which also featured the first appearances of Captain America’s sidekick Bucky Barnes and Nazi supervillain Red Skull/George Maxon.
Unfortunately after World War II, Timely dropped in popularity due to a lack of interest in heroic figures, and so the company survived on genres like horror, westerns, romance, war and funny animal comics. In the fifties, Martin Goodman changed the name of his company to Atlas to match the name of the newsstand distribution company he owned called Atlas News Company.
Atlas tried reviving the superhero genre by teaming up the company’s three most popular heroes, Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and Captain America, in 1953, but it wasn’t until DC Comics once again led the charge with new versions of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter and the rest of the Justice League that the genre came roaring back, and it wasn’t until Timely editor Joe Simon was replaced by Stanley Lieber, who went by the pseudonym “Stan Lee,” that the company would have real success.
After DC’s success with Justice League, Stan Lee was tasked with creating a new superhero team for the company that became Marvel in 1961, the same year that this new superhero team created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby made their debut in Fantastic Four # 1 (November 1961). The team consisted of the elastic-bodied Mr. Fantastic/Reed Richards, Invisible Woman/Sue Storm, Human Torch/Johnny Storm and The Thing/Ben Grimm.
This new team of superheroes broke a lot of comic book conventions by featuring characters who actually had dimension to their personalities and behaved like real people. The superheroes of DC were great, but unlike the god-like and seemingly perfect Justice League, the Fantastic Four squabbled with each other, made fun of people, made sarcastic remarks and had flaws in their personalities.
This believability was completely different from every other comic book (Stan Lee had ambitions to be a novel writer before he fell into comics) and it would be a hallmark of all of Marvel’s most famous comics and influence the industry as a whole. The maturity in these stories even made comic books popular with college students in the sixties. The Marvel comics had humor, dealt with real-world issues, referenced pop culture, took place in real cities like New York instead of fictional cities like Metropolis, and were significantly boosted by the dynamic illustrations of artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko and the enthusiastic and sharp writing of Stan Lee.
In the sixties the company was on a roll creating popular character after popular character, and many of them remain popular to this day. These characters alone were introduced in that one decade:
Groot – Tales to Astonish # 13 (November 1960)
The Fantastic Four – Fantastic Four # 1 (November 1961)
The Skrulls – Fantastic Four # 2 (January 1962)
Hulk/Bruce Banner – Incredible Hulk # 1 (May 1962)
Doctor Doom/Victor Von Doom – Fantastic Four # 5 (July 1962)
Spider-Man/Peter Parker – Amazing Fantasy # 15 (August 1962)
Thor – Journey into Mystery # 83 (August 1962)
Ant-Man – Tales to Astonish # 35 (September 1962)
Ant-Man’s alter ego Hank Pym did not make his first appearance in this issue of Tales to Astonish. He appeared earlier in issue # 27 (January 1962) as an inventor who created the technology used to control ants that he would later utilize as his superhero alter-ego Ant-Man.
Loki – Journey into Mystery # 85 (October 1962)
Iron Man/Tony Stark – Tales of Suspense # 39 (March 1963)
J. Jonah Jameson – Amazing Spider-Man # 1 (March 1963)
Chameleon/Dmitri Smerdyakov – Amazing Spider-Man # 1 (March 1963)
Vulture/Adrian Toomes – Amazing Spider-Man # 2 (May 1963)
Nick Fury – Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos # 1 (May 1963)
Wasp/Janet Van Dyne – Tales to Astonish # 44 (June 1963)
Doctor Strange/Stephen Strange – Strange Tales # 110 (July 1963)
Doctor Octopus/Otto Octavius – Amazing Spider-Man # 3 (July 1963)
Sandman/Flint Marko – Amazing Spider-Man # 4 (September 1963)
Professor X/Charles Xavier – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Cyclops/Scott Summers – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Iceman/Bobby Drake – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Angel/Warren Worthington III – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Beast/Hank McCoy – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Marvel Girl/Jean Grey – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr – X-Men # 1 (September 1963)
Giant-Man – Tales to Astonish # 49 (November 1963)
The Lizard/Curt Conners – Amazing Spider-Man # 6 (November 1963)
Electro/Max Dillon – Amazing Spider-Man # 9 (February 1964)
Quick Silver/Pietro Maximoff – X-Men # 4 (March 1964)
Scarlet Witch/Wanda Maximoff – X-Men # 4 (March 1964)
Black Widow/Natasha Romanova – Tales of Suspense # 52 (April 1964)
Daredevil/Matt Murdock – Daredevil # 1 (April 1964)
Mysterio/Quentin Beck – Amazing Spider-Man # 13 (June 1964)
Green Goblin/Norman Osborn – Amazing Spider-Man # 14 (July 1964)
Baron Zemo – Avengers # 6 (July 1964)
Technically Baron Zemo actually appeared for the first time in Avengers # 4 (March 1964) but that was in a flashback sequence.
Kraven the Hunter – Amazing Spider-Man # 15 (August 1964)
Hawkeye/Clint Barton – Tales of Suspense # 57 (September 1964)
Kang the Conquerer – Avengers # 8 (September 1964)
Wonder Man/Simon Williams – Avengers # 9 (October 1964)
Dormammu – Strange Tales # 126 (November 1964)
Scorpion – Amazing Spider-Man # 20 (January 1965)
Scorpion’s alter ego Mac Gargan appeared for the first time earlier in Amazing Spider-Man # 19 (December 1964).
Juggernaut/Cain Marko – X-Men # 12 (July 1965)
Gwen Stacy – Amazing Spider-Man # 31 (December 1965)
Hercules – Journey into Mystery Annual # 1 (1965)
The Inhumans – Fantastic Four # 45 (December 1965)
Silver Surfer/Norrin Radd – Fantastic Four # 48 (March 1966)
Galactus – Fantastic Four # 48 (March 1966)
Black Panther/T’Challa – Fantastic Four # 52 (July 1966)
Rhino/Aleksei Sytsevich – Amazing Spider-Man # 41 (October 1966)
Mary Jane Watson – Amazing Spider-Man # 42 (November 1966)
Shocker/Herman Schultz – Amazing Spider-Man # 46 (March 1967)
Kingpin/Wilson Fisk – Amazing Spider-Man # 50 (July 1967)
Ronan the Accuser – Fantastic Four # 65 (August 1967)
M.O.D.O.K. – Tales of Suspense # 93 (September 1967)
Adam Warlock – Fantastic Four # 66 (September 1967)
Captain Marvel/Mar-Vell – Marvel Super-Heroes # 12 (December 1967)
Carol Danvers – Marvel Super-Heroes # 13 (March 1968)
Ultron – Avengers # 54 (July 1968)
Vision – Avengers # 57 (October 1968)
Polaris/Lorna Dane – X-Men # 49 (October 1968)
Yellowjacket – Avengers # 59 (December 1968)
Havok/Alex Summers – X-Men # 54 (March 1969)
Falcon/Sam Wilson – Captain America # 117 (September 1969)
Marvel heroes and villains from the 1970s and beyond will be covered in my next blog.