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The History of Marvel Comics

      by SuperMegaContributer Mikkim

Marvel is a name synonymous with comic books and superheroes. Its characters and stories have influenced generations. Helping to invent the comic book and revolutionize its concepts, Marvel began building its empire in the 1930s. Politics, culture, and society molded their expression in both content and illustration. Marvel evolved with many historic events, including the Great Depression, World War II, space exploration, and the Vietnam War. The company saw many highs and lows throughout its history. At times it seemed comic books would have no end, while at other times it seemed they would fade away into history. Marvel rode these waves well and today remains a champion of the industry.

The origins of Marvel Comics begin with a man named Martin Goodman. Fascinated by magazines and publishing as a child, he began his career as a salesman for a New York publisher called Independent News. In 1932, Goodman and a colleague started a pulp fiction magazine company called Western Fiction Publishing (Ro,2004, p. 6-7). Their magazines were geared toward teens and young adults. During a time of cutthroat competition, Goodman created many small, individual publishing companies. If one failed, it would not affect the others. Each company capitalized on public interest and published various concepts of pulp fiction magazines. As the trends of popular appeal changed, so did the concepts and titles of Goodman's magazines. It was this concept changing that ensured survival (Daniels, 1991, p. 18). By 1938 Goodman was publishing 27 pulps. Titles included, Ka-Zar, a story modeled after the new and popular Tarzan, Best Western, which told the tales of cowboys, and Marvel Science Stories, which featured various science fiction stories and included many authors that were well recognized in the genre (Ro, 2004, p. 7-8).

Consistent with Goodman's belief in concept changing for his magazines he experimented with comics. A salesman for Funnies, Inc., Frank Torpey, had a persuasive conversation with Goodman about the prosperous future of comic books. Funnies, Inc. had the artists and the writers, but lacked means for printing and distribution, something which Goodman had both the skill and the resources. Business arrangements were made between the two companies, jumpstarting Goodman's work in the comic book industry (Daniels, 1991, p. 23).

During this period, Superman and the image of heroic figures were making leaps in popularity. Goodman decided to take on this new approach in his comic books. The venture began in 1939 with a character called The Sub-Mariner. He was created by artist Bill Everett as a motion picture promotion, but was cancelled before the release date. The story of this half man and half fish person, a short tempered rebellious young prince who fought for his civilizations existence, was repackaged and issued as the first comic book from the Goodman group. The Human Torch, a fiery bodied android who needed to learn self control, was also introduced in this issue. This ongoing comic bared the title Marvel Comics, a name that would eventually represent the whole company. Goodman released his first comics under the company Timely Publications.

Both heroes were an immediate hit. In an effort to find new heroes, Goodman broke away from Funnies, Inc. and began hiring freelance workers at higher rates. His efforts yielded the titles Daring Mystery Comics and Mystic Comics that had characters, such as Flexo the Rubber Man, Dynaman, and The Phantom Bullet. These titles did not last more than an issue or two, and Goodman's efforts resulted in many failures. In hopes of having more success, he started hiring an in-house staff that included editor Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby (Daniels, 1991, p. 27-32).

Simon and Kirby played crucial roles in the early development of Marvel Comics. Creating new comics that meshed with the times, the children of the Depression era thrived on the thrills and cheap prices. They helped in ushering in the Golden Age of comics, making superheroes the popular trend. All around Europe trouble was brewing and World War II was beginning. Even before the United States joined the war, Goodman's superheroes were battling the Nazi and Japanese threat. The Sub-Mariner battled Nazi submarines, while The Human Torch fought the Axis powers (Ro, 2004, p. 16). Simon and Kirby capitalized on current themes and created the idealized freedom fighter, Captain America. His red, white, and blue costume had stars and stripes like the American flag, and he was depicted on the cover of the first issue punching Adolf Hitler in the face. Captain America was an army reject given a "strange seething liquid" that turned him into a tougher, braver hero. He and young sidekick, Bucky Barnes, battled the swastika sporting crazed villain the Red Skull. The Captain America Comics quickly became sellouts. Popular with children, young adults, and servicemen, they made Timely a true giant of the Golden Age (Daniels, 1991, p. 37-41).

Encouraged by the success of Captain America, Timely continued expanding its operations. It was then that one of the most prominent names in comic book history entered the industry. Seventeen year old Stanley Martin Lieber, better known as Stan Lee, was hired as an assistant at Timely Comics. Eager to get into the field of writing, though not completely thrilled to begin in comic books, he wrote two page text pieces required in Goodman’s comic books in order to obtain cheaper mailing rates. Lee quickly stepped into the shoes as head of the creative department, after Simon and Kirby left the company due to royalty disagreements. Forced into this important position, he would eventually play a major role in the success of the company (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 21-23).

Change at Timely was inevitable with the start of World War II. Many of the young writers, artists, and workers of the industry were drafted into the war. This resulted in Goodman hiring more salaried workers and relying on his older crowd of staff to complete the work. During the war the trend for comics books took a drastic turn. Humorous comics like Krazy Comics and Terry-Toons, which featured Mighty Mouse, began publication. They sold just as well as those of the superheroes, however they typically appealed to younger readers, while the superheroes appealed to the young men in service. Timely's production of pulps diminished and many new concept comic books where developed that attracted the attention of new audiences. In 1944, Miss America Comics began publication. Initially intended as a female version of Captain America, it soon included features about clothing, cooking, and makeup. The comic's success led to other titles like Millie the Model and Tessie the Typist. Goodman kept to the popular trends and began publishing many new titles featuring gangsters, sweethearts, and cowboys. Justice Comics, Two-Gun Kid, Romances of the West, and Love Romances were among the popular ones. In its wake, the demand for superheroes began to lessen. Not even stories featuring multiple popular characters could keep them afloat as the war came to an end. In 1949, The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner faded out of publication, with Captain America Comics ending the year after (Daniels, 1991, p. 49-57).

Timely was flourishing during the harsh times of war and was able house their offices in the Empire State Building. Even after the war ended, business was good. By 1950, eighty-two different titles were being published on a monthly basis. Goodman cut back on his artistic staff, in order to open up his own distributing company, the Atlas News Company. This decision was intended to increase profits. The name Atlas took over where Timely had left off. The Atlas logo of a black and white globe now appeared on all of Goodman's comics. Popular trends began to shift as the Korean War brought opportunity for a new production of war comics. Drastically different from those of World War II, they did not depict stories of superheroes, but portrayed the pain, despair, and fear of the ordinary soldier. Another popular trend of the time was horror. These comics also seemed to depict a dark level of violence and cruelty, perhaps reflecting the experiences and feelings of those that had returned from war. The characters The Human Torch, Sub-Mariner, and Captain America even appeared in short runs. The enemy was now communism and propaganda and it showed throughout the pages (Daniels, 1991, p. 66-69).

As the popularity of comic books grew, judgment and criticism for the art form clearly surfaced in the media. Some of this criticism showed itself in the 1940s. Sterling North wrote an article criticizing comic books explaining, publishers "…were responsible for creating a curriculum made up of cheap thrills, simply constructed sentences and gaudy pictures that would ruin the vocabularies and stunt the imagination of an entire generation" (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 40). In 1948, Parent Magazine included a section assigning appropriate ratings for comics based on the opinions of a group called the Committee on the Evaluation of Comic Books. Goodman reacted to this committee by hiring a psychiatrist from the New York City Board of Education’s Child Guidance Bureau to advise his company on content, something of which he bragged about in his editorials.

The biggest and most influential criticism came 1954, when Dr. Fredric Wertham, a well respected psychologist whose expertise focused on the effects of social factors on an individual's psyche, published his book Seduction of the Innocent. Wertham claimed that comics taught children how to commit criminal acts and defy authority. They contained immense amounts of violence and sex, even promoting homosexuality and racial intolerance (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 43-44). No type of comic was acceptable to him, not even those about funny animals. Wertham (1954) explains, "Ducks shoot atomic rays and threaten to kill rabbits" (p. 276). He even went as far as to enlarge a comic book panel and claim that a triangular mark in a character's shoulder depicted a woman's genitalia. In April of 1954, Wertham's claims came to the attention of a Senate subcommittee. This committee met to discuss the relationship between juvenile delinquency and comic books. Various testimonies were given from both sides of the line and were well publicized. Although the senate eventually dropped the issue, major damage had been done. Sales had drastically dropped and many comic book publishers went bankrupt. Some comic book retailers were even boycotted and books were burned (Daniels, 1991, p. 71-72.)

As a reaction to such controversy, Atlas shifted away from themes of war, superheroes, and horror. Titles now emphasized science-fiction, humor, westerns, and female interests. Apparently, Wertham believed that violence against aliens and within the west was acceptable. The majority of the company had to be laid off. In 1955, the remaining comic book companies responded by creating the Comics Code Authority (CCA). The CCA was tasked with censoring all comic books to be published. After review, superhero comic books could be published and companies began to produce them once again. Censorship policies were strict, and some might even say a bit ridiculous and unnecessary. For example, it was suggested that a panel of a hand shooting a gun was objectionable, deemed so because the puff of smoke coming from the barrel of the gun was too big. The seal of approval guaranteed inoffensiveness, but many readers also thought it brought a promise of blandness (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 93-94.)

Atlas was able to stay in business largely because it distributed its own material. By 1957, however, expenses were too high and circulation had drastically lowered. Distribution had become a liability and Goodman was forced to shut down that portion of the company. Arrangements for distribution were then made with the American News Company. This would prove to be a short sighted solution as the company soon failed, leaving Goodman without a means of getting his publications to readers. Resourceful and clever, Goodman made a deal with their top competitor National Comics, eventually renamed DC Comics, to distribute eight of Atlas' titles. This was enough to keep his company alive. Lee, the only remaining staff member, worked with freelancers like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, to produce titles like Strange Tales and Tales to Astonish. Each issue highlighted a gigantic, oddly named creature, such as, Fin Fang Foom or The Thing that Shouldn't Exist. It was these concepts that allowed the company to scrape by in difficult times (Daniels, 1991, p. 74-80).

By the time 1961 rolled around, Goodman's company was in need of new ideas. A National Comics publication called The Justice League of America was selling incredibly well. The new series was about a superhero team. Goodman asked Lee to come up with a new superhero team for Atlas and he went to work. The result was a quartet, The Fantastic Four, which included one member based on original Human Torch (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 116-117). Lee explains his characters as, "Heroes who were less than perfect. Heroes who didn't always get along with each other, but heroes who could be counted on when the chips where down" (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 118). The Fantastic Four comic was an instant hit. Fan mail came pouring in and on the cover of the third issue Lee added the slogan "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine." With the sensation of the Fantastic Four, Goodman instructed Lee to capitalize on the revived superhero trend. His next hero was a scientist who could turn into a superhero monster named Hulk. Kirby drew the artwork and the big green brute was born in his self titled comic The Incredible Hulk. This title also became an immediate success (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 119). It was clear that the baby boom had created a new generation of readers who loved this revolutionary style of writing. The development of thought bubbles enabled readers to access the mind of characters, helping to further develop both story and character. Adolescents where able to relate to the personal issues and troubles of the characters, as well as their hopes and dreams (Daniels, 1991, p. 89).

Comic book sales increased with the help of Lee, Kirby, and other talented writers and artists. More original characters were created following these guidelines, many of which remain popular in the 21st century. The characters and stories of The Mighty Thor, Daredevil, Sergeant Nick Fury, and Iron Man were all developed during this time that would soon be labeled The Marvel Age of comics. Spider-Man, a nerdy teenage boy turned into a superhero by a spider bite, was one of the most popular among younger readers. Thriving on this popularity, Marvel introduced the titles The Avengers, a team of superheroes led by the revived Captain America, and The X-Men, a group of mutant teenagers who fought to protect humans. With these titles came the need to extend the stories over multiple issues as plots could not be completed in one single issue (Ro, 2004, p. 80-83).

National Comic's distribution restrictions took its toll on the company's success. Due to such limitations, characters had to cross over into other titles in order to be featured. The Fantastic Four made appearances in Amazing Spider-Man, while the Hulk made appearances in Fantastic Four. Such crossovers and intertwined stories helped develop what would eventually be called The Marvel Universe. Characters also had to be featured in monster themed comics, like Tales of Suspense and Tales to Astonish, which featured two characters in completely different stories (Lee & Mair, 2002, p.129).

In 1963, after so much enthusiasm for its comics had surfaced, Goodman's company gave itself the name Marvel Comics. On each comic appeared the words "Marvel Comics Group." This new name was made to show people that they were a new, hip company with a new excitement for readers of all ages, not only children (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 141). Lee began a campaign for his comics, creating slogans like "Make Mine Marvel" and "Marvel Marches On." He even started The Merry Marvel March Society, the company’s first fan club. In addition, for the first time ever, anyone who worked on the comic book, including writers, artists, and letters, was given credit on the opening page. The fans wrote letters showing their appreciation to all those responsible for their favorite stories. Such credit seemed like a good decision as Marvel was using what they called "The Marvel Method" of writing comics, something that would soon be adopted by almost everyone in the industry. A writer would develop a synopsis for the story, usually Lee. Then the artist would draw the story and return it to the writer to create the script. More collaboration and teamwork was being implemented and all members deserved credit for their part (Daniels, 1991, p. 105-107). Lee, as lead writer and chief editor, also added a section to each comic called "The Bullpen Bulletins." Here he would answer and post fan mail. He worked to establish a good rapport with readers by speaking to them as friends. "I felt I wanted to be able to talk directly to the readers, just the way a fella would talk to a friend" (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 149). Such things all worked to promote reader loyalty.

In 1968, Marvel was selling 50,000,000 comic books per year. The company was able to revise its distribution agreements with DC and publish as many titles as deemed necessary. Titles like The Invincible Iron Man, Captain America, Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, and The Sub-Mariner, featuring the original character from the forties, were launched. So confident about its success, Marvel even experimented by publishing a 42 page issue of The Silver Surfer and sold it for 25 cents, 13 cents more than the average comic book. Unfortunately, the sales were poor and it was cancelled after two issues (Daniels, 1991, p. 138-139).

Goodman sold his company to Cadence Industries Corporation in the fall of 1968. With ownership changes, Goodman continued working for the company and company's structure stayed intact. This business decision came at an opportune time because the comic industry was in an evident slump by 1969. Sales were down and the comic book boom had come to an end. Marvel ended arrangements with DC and made a deal with Curtis Circulation Company to distribute its titles. Unfortunately, Marvel was still forced to cancel many of its titles. Another hit came to the company when famed artist Kirby left to work exclusively for DC. An artist that had helped most of Marvels new superheroes come to life, left because of differences with Lee. Known as one of the greatest teams in the comic industry, it was a shock to both the company and its readers (Daniels, 1991, p. 144-145).

In November of 1971, inflation forced Goodman to raise comic book prices to 25 cents an issue, each with 52 pages. In efforts to match the competition, rival DC Comics mirrored the change. A shrewd businessman, Goodman brought prices down to 20 cents an issue with only 36 pages just one month later. Such a marketing decision created the appearance of a bargain, giving Marvel the biggest sales in the slumping industry (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p.174).

The sweeping cultural changes of the seventies brought a different breed of comic books into publication. The youths of America were involved with issues like civil rights, drugs, and feminism. They were an angry group determined to rebel against social norms and transform society. It was during this time that Lee wrote a very influential three part story inside the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man. Marvel comic books had a big influence among readers and The United States office of Health, Education and Welfare asked Lee to place an anti-drug message in one of his stories. In the issue, Spider-Man's friend goes crazy because of a drug overdose. Thinking he can fly, he tries to jump off a roof and Spider-Man saves him at the last second. When the book was submitted to the CCA, it was rejected for mentioning drugs, as such topics were strictly prohibited. With Goodman's approval, Lee sent the issues to the printers without the CCA's seal of approval. The issues became best-sellers and Marvel received commendations from schools, parents, and even the New York Times. As a result, the CCA also eased its strict policies, enabling a larger variety of writing and artwork to develop (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 97-98).

As a result of difference of interest within Cadence Industries Corporation, Goodman left the company in September of 1972. From this point on, various leadership roles changed in the company. One of the biggest was Lee stepping into the shoes of publisher. Marvel experimented with many more new characters and concepts in response to the changing society and the liberalization of the CCA. Numerous new titles came out, some more successful than others. Horror became a popular genre and titles like Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula, and Ghost Rider were published. Marvel's comic books stayed away from stories about the Vietnam War as such issues were extremely controversial. Although some readers were disappointed at the decision, they were able to relate to stories about The Punisher. He was a man on a crusade to kill criminals, motivated by the gangland murder of his wife and child. The issues of affirmative action brought minorities and women into the pages of comic books. Luke Cage, Hero for Hire was released in 1972 and was Marvel's first comic to take its title from a black character (Daniels, 1991, p. 155-159). In attempts to attract female readers, female artists and writers worked to make The Cat and Night Nurse. Even though the characters were developed around Marvel's proven superhero formula, sales were poor and the titles were soon cancelled (Wright, 2001, p. 250-251)

Marvel had many successful titles during this era, but profits where low. James Galton became company president in 1975 and used his business expertise to make changes that benefited the company greatly. Too many books that were not profitable and marketable were being published. Galton reduced production and forced more consideration to be taken before a title was produced. He also required that books be delivered on schedule so that credibility and reliability could be appropriately established with readers. No longer would old titles be reprinted if a book was not ready on schedule. Instead, an original fill-in story about the major character would be released in its place. Such a move helped to keep artists and writers on schedule, as a fill-in comic for their book would mean a missed payday. In 1980, in an attempt to better acknowledge the talents of the company, Marvel increased its rates per page and provided incentives for employees working with a series for an extended time. Two years later, an incentive program was started that allowed the talent to receive a share of the revenue if sales past 100,000 copies. Such a move was a great expense, but it enabled Marvel to keep some of the best talent in the business on its staff.

After The Hulk became a hit television series in 1977, Galton began looking into other media. Made for television movies of Spider-Man and Captain America and an animated version of The Fantastic Four comic were produced. Lee even moved to Los Angeles to run Marvel Production, which focused on television animation and later assisted with the films Captain America and The Punisher. Each brought Marvel's characters to a larger audience. Marvel began adopting concepts from movies and television, developing comic books for Star Wars, G. I. Joe, and Star Trek. Marvel Comics soon changed its name to the Marvel Entertainment Group, Inc., as it provided entertainment through more than just comic books (Daniels, 1991, p. 176-177).

Traditional comic book newsstand retailers were disappearing throughout the seventies, contributing to lacking sales. What came to develop in its place were small shops primarily devoted to selling comic books. Marvel and other companies in the industry began selling directly to these specialty shops. In 1979, Marvel made profits of $3,500,000 through this direct marketing. Soon these stores became the dominate venue for comic books to be purchased. Commonly, the shops would order and stock all issues by the publishers. Also, unsold issues were kept and marketed as back issues and collector's items, helping to further profits on both ends of the spectrum. Realizing that the shops directly served the individuals the company was trying to reach, Marvel got the idea to create custom comics for sale only at comic books stores. After the success of Dazzler, a mutant pop star, Marvel marketed a wide range of characters and formats to be sold exclusively at specialty stores (Wright, 2001, p. 260-262).

During this transition, auctions showed the country that original comic books could be sold for incredibly high prices. Newspapers and magazines began printing articles saying comic books would be wise money investments for the future. Such hype turned readers into avid collectors, buying multiple copies to both read and save. Marvel and the rest of the comic book industry capitalized on such events by increasing print orders. Specialty covers were also introduced and marketed as collector's items. Titles were even printed with multiple cover variations, knowing fans would strive to purchase the complete set (Lee & Mair, 2002, p. 217-219).

In this craze, Marvel had several note worthy books that utilized fresh concepts. The Uncanny X-Men became the comic book to watch as it unfolded the intense, emotional story of the Dark Phoenix in 1980. It became the bestselling comic of the time and still holds high ranks at Marvel to this day. The Spider-Woman and She-hulk were created to capitalize the popularity of Spider-Man and The Hulk. A deal with Mattel to market Marvel toys lead to the creation of the well received Marvel Superheroes Secret Wars that sold almost 750,000 copies. It featured almost all of Marvel's major superheroes (Daniels, 1991, p. 200-201).

In 1985, increased efforts were made to produce comics that would appeal to a younger audience. These books featured humorous stories, talking animals, and child protagonists. Titles like Power Pack and Wally the Wizard became good sellers. Such themes were published under the Marvel's Star Comics line, eventually incorporating other licensed properties like Heathcliff and Strawberry Shortcake (Daniels, 1991, p.197). A branch of Marvel called Epic Comics was created and offered nontraditional stories that appealed to older readers. Something new for Marvel, the creator retained the copyrights to their work. The books were printed on glossy paper, with costly photograph color separations and received the name graphic novels. Fewer copies needed to be sold for a profit to be made as the books sold for higher prices. New titles like Dreadstar and Groo the Wanderer made impressive figures, along with graphic novels about already existing characters. The Death of Captain Marvel made over $100,000.00 in sales and sold for a whooping $5.95. Marvel began creating such books of limited series and noteworthy reprints, continuing to do so presently. Products like action figures, video games, gold dipped chess sets, and a variety of other Marvel themed products were manufactured and sold in both mass merchandise and upscale stores (Daniels, 1991, p. 183-184).

In 1986, New World Pictures bought Marvel for $50 million, hoping to profit from its characters in the film industry. However, it was unable to put its plan into action and was forced to sell it in November of 1988. It was purchased by the Andrews Group Incorporated, a subsidiary of MacAndrews & Forbes Group, Incorporated, and run by financier Ron Perelman. He made Marvel a public company, selling stock to the world. The company's increased sales and the ability to sell comics at a higher price, made the stock seem like a wise investment. Marvel stock rose quickly, enabling Perelman to expand the company, aiming to build on its characters and concepts, similar to that of Walt Disney. With Perelman at the reins, Marvel bought the trading card company, Fleer Corporation, in 1992. In 1993, investments were made in the action figure company, Toy Biz. Two years later, Marvel bought the sports-card company, SkyBox International, and the Italian sticker maker, Panini Group (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 240).

Marvel continued to capitalize on its popular characters by creating multiple titles for each character or team. For example, one title called Punisher Armory, was comprised of illustrations of the weapons and equipment the character utilized. Another, called The Punisher, told the story of his fights against criminals. In addition, numerous crossover issues where published, each having continuing stories in separate titles. Such a strategy was imposed to help compel readers to buy multiple titles. In the race to make profits, Marvel lost many of its top writers and artist as the company was blind to their value. Many inexperienced staff was hired in their place. Quantity of comics became the most important thing, while quality decreased. In 1995, Marvel made the mistake of distributing their own comic books through their recently purchased company, Heroes World. Rumors of Marvel opening its own stores began to develop. Many retailers could not meet minimum requirements to order from multiple distributors, while other stores were left with an overstock of comics. In the end, Marvel abandoned its own distributions and Diamond Distribution was the only one left standing. The damage had been done. Thousands of specialty stores were forced to close, the number of stores decreasing from over 10,000 in 1993, to about 3,500 in 2001. Readers dwindled, due to frustrations of the multiple titles and the realization of their low resale value (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 241-244).

In 1993, industry sales had peaked at $1 billion and had now fallen to $450 million by 1996. The comic book industry as a whole was suffering. On a corporate level, Marvel suffered not only from lacking comic book sales, but from poor revenue generating from its trading card companies because of labor disputes in professional hockey and baseball. The Panini Group also brought in low sales. Toy Biz was the only piece of the company that managed to bring in steady sales. Marvel's stock dropped drastically and by December of 1996, the company filed for bankruptcy (Wright, 2001, p. 283). In 1997 and 1998, the bankrupt company pared its titles and reduced it presence in the market. Toy Biz executives, Ike Perlmutter and Avi Arad developed a plan to merge the two companies, using Toy Biz's value and bank loans to pay off Marvel's debt. Most importantly, their vision included increasing the awareness of Marvel’s characters, with goals for high-end movies and television deals. After much dispute and controversy, this plan was put into action in July of 1998 (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 244).

Arad led Marvel in the direction of the film industry. In the years to follow many movies where made from Marvel's vast house of characters. Breaking into the twenty-first century, the movie X-Men generated an amazing $54 million in its opening weekend. In 2002, Marvel seems to have found gold with the motion picture Spider-Man (Raphael & Spurgeon, 2003, p. 245). The movie was the final straw that helped Marvel bounce back from bankruptcy. Though the company only received 5% of the $400 million the box office generated, it made millions in licensing the Spider-Man brand. The company continues to increase revenue through licensing of Marvel brand products like video games and clothing and through other Marvel movies. In 2006, Marvel secured a credit of $525 million from Merrill Lunch to personally make ten films by 2012. In such a venture, Marvel would create and retain the complete revenues from the films (Kingsbury, 2006).

With revenue from movies and products, Marvel has been able to grow and expand its publishing industry. In 2001, Marvel broke away from the CCA, claiming it needed to free itself from the third party approval of its works. Instead, the company developed a new rating system that included ratings for children, teens and adults. Clear explanations for each level of rating were made available for readers, something the CCA had not done (Dean, 2001).

Marvel continued to further develop the comic book genre by creating imprints with specific focuses. These new imprints included Max which published materials for adult readers, while Ultimate Marvel reintroduced Marvel's most popular characters to a new generation of readers. Marvel has even dabbled in prose novels, publishing books such as Mary Jane and Mary Jane 2. Both targeted to the female audience, in efforts to take advantage of the Spider-Man movies (Wolk, 2003). Special events books World War Hulk and Civil War were each series that spawned crossover stories throughout the Marvel universe. Stephen King's popular Dark Tower series brought the novel to life in the pages of a graphic novel. Such comic books and trade paperback collections have been highly successful and have generated excellent sales. By the end of 2007, Marvel proved itself the industry leader by encompassing 40% of the year’s sales, 17% of which were from mass market sales, reflecting success in bookstores and other non-specialty store venues (Annual Report, 2007). In 2007, Marvel also made the move into cyberspace with Marvel Digital Comics Unlimited. The service offers a high resolution format of many older comics for a monthly or yearly rate (Colton, 2007). With the click of button, fans can access their favorite older comics.

Marvel has come a long way since its origins as Timely Comics. Having to adapt to society's norms, Marvel has evolved with the times and finds itself shaping society in its own way. It has made its way through wealth and bankruptcy, and today is on top of the industry. With marketing plans to include big screen movies, internet availability of its comic books, and special event series, Marvel appears to have a promising future. As graphic novels become more accepted into society and their popularity grows in the younger generation, the comic book industry has every chance to prosper. If Marvel maintains its innovative creativity, it will find an audience of readers for years to come.


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