No less than 30% of the top twenty highest grossing movies of all time are from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) owned by Disney. All were released between 2012 and 2021. The history of the journey from origin to top grossing films is proceeded by nearly a century of winding roads and divergent paths in print publishing.
It all started with Martin Goodman. Goodman’s first publication Western Supernovel Magazine premiering May 1933.
Goodman’s pulp magazine business expanded to include numerous titles, such as All Star Adventure Fiction, Complete Western Book, Mystery Tales, Real Sports, Star Detective and, giving a us a peek at the future, the science fiction magazine titled Marvel Science Stories.
By 1939 a new upstart medium grabbed Goodman’s attention. Sometimes called “funny books,” these comic books had fewer pages than a pulp, and those pages were filled with panels of artwork and a few text balloons had replaced the short stories. Many featured “mystery men” superheroes that were “taking off” with the public. Seizing on the opportunity, Goodman formed Timely Publications and contracted with newly organized comic-book packager Funnies, Inc. to supply material for a test comic titled Marvel Comics #1. The rest, as they say, is history.
Later that same year Goodman hired a wet behind the ears kid (and cousin of his wife) straight out of high school named Stanley Martin Liebe (aka Stan Lee) as an assistant at Timely. By the next year, Goodman put the then-19 year in charge as the new Editor-in-Chief. Goodman also brought on Joe Simon and Jack Kirby where they created the superhero Captain America (only to leave for D.C. Comics over a salary dispute after issue #10).
Yet another division of Martin Goodman’s growing Magazine Management Co., Inc publishing empire, Humorama, started in October 1941 and was run by another family member, Abe Goodman. It published a line of digest-sized magazines featuring “cheesecake” cartoon jokes. Titles included names like Breezy, Gaze, Joker, Romp, Stare, Snappy and Zip. Many of the risque gags inside were drawn by freelancing comic artists such as Torchy’s Bill Ward, Archie’s Dan DeCarlo and Plastic Man’s Jack Cole. Some covers were done by well known pin-up artists like Peter Driben on Joker #3 (Humorama). Many of the covers also have corresponding comic knock off versions, like Joker #17 (Humorama) and “A Marvel Magazine” Tessie the Typist Comics #9 (Timely).
The Joker (Humorama) series ran until April 1958. The like named Joker Comics (Timely) series ran to August 1950. By 1951 superheros popularity had waned, readership was down from ceding eyeballs to the new television media and Goodman’s comic book publishing empire Timely had become known as Atlas. The “Marvel era” began a decade later in 1961, the year former 1940’s Timely artist/writer Jack Kirby returned to again pair up with Stan Lee to launch The Fantastic Four. That was followed by many more Stan Lee/Jack Kirby creative collaborations and a rebirth in the superhero genre popularity.
In fall 1968, Goodman sold to the Perfect Film & Chemical Corporation but remained as publisher until 1972. Perfect Film & Chemical renamed itself Cadence Industries in 1973 and sold to New World Pictures in 1986. Purchased by Ronald Perelman in 1989, Marvel Entertainment Group was eventually formed out of bankruptcy in June 1998 with the help of Carl Icahn. The Walt Disney Company subsequently acquired Marvel Entertainment Group in August 2009. Excelsior!