Who Founded Marvel Comics – The History of an Empire

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BY June 23, 2019

Marvel Comics is arguably the most well-known comic book company in the world. Many people can list off movies, books, and characters that Marvel has given to the world. But it’s likely that very few people actually know anything about who founded Marvel Comics.

Stan Lee is often the name that pops into most people’s head when they’re asked who founded Marvel Comics. But he is actually not the one who founded Marvel Comics at all!

In fact, it was Martin Goodman who founded Marvel Comics. We’re going to explore Goodman’s upbringing and background. As well as the growth and development of the empire now known as Marvel Comics.

Martin Goodman – the Man Who Founded Marvel Comics

Martin Goodman, born with the name Moe Goodman on January 18, 1908 is the man who founded Marvel Comics. Prior to founding the world’s most well-known and beloved superhero brand, Goodman published pulp magazines, paperback books, men’s adventure magazines, and comic books.

Goodman was one of 17 children born to Jewish immigrants Isaac Goodman and Anna Gleichenhaus. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York. But also traveled around the country, especially during the Great Depression where he even lived as a hobo for a while.

Goodman received his start in the literary comic world thanks to Louis Silberkleit. Silberkleit would go on to found his own comics company, Archie Comics. While working under Silberkleit, Goodman proceeded to become a circulation manager before the company went bankrupt in 1932. From there, Goodman joined Mutual Magazine Distributors which published Newsstand Publications Inc.

In 1933, his first published work under Newsstand Publications was titled Western Supernovel Magazine. This featured stories like All Star Adventure Fiction, Complete Western Book, Mystery Tales, Real Sports, Star Detective, and a series of stories called Marvel Science Stories.

Early Popularity

In 1939, comic books were incredibly popular. Goodman decided to write a test comic book for a publishing company called Funnies, Inc. He titled the comic book Marvel Comics #1, which released in October 1939.

The very first Marvel comic book featured characters like the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. Marvel Comics #1 exploded. From there, Goodman hired Joe Simon as an editor. And thus, Timely Comics, Inc. began This was the very beginning of what would become the founding of Marvel Comics.

Captain America joined the Marvel family in 1941. Simon and another artist by the name of Jack Kirby created the classic character. Captain America brought so much success to the Marvel brand that Goodman hired new staff, namely Syd Shores and Stan Lee. These two would eventually go on to create nearly every other famous Marvel character.

Timely Comics, Inc. to Marvel Comics

Stan Lee was Goodman’s wife’s cousin and became Timely’s editor, a role that he remained in for nearly three decades. Goodman began having Lee follow the trends of different genres. The goal was to help keep Timely’s comics relevant to the culture at the time.

This gave the comics a cutting edge and competitive hold on the comic market. In the 1950s, Timely Comics Inc, became known as Atlas Comics. Atlas was a newsstand-distribution company that Goodman owned. He had begun using its logo on his comic magazines and books.

In 1961, DC Comics which was Atlas Comics greatest competition was releasing stories featuring multiple superheroes, known as the Justice League of America. Goodman, wanting to maintain Atlas’ ability to follow and set trends told Lee to follow suit, saying, “Stan, we gotta put out a bunch of heroes. You know, there’s a market for it.”

Lee, along with Jack Kirby, created The Fantastic Four, which included Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, Thing, and Human Torch. The Fantastic Four were wildly successful. What made The Fantastic Four stand out from other superheroes was their starkly human traits like fighting with one another and stressing about finances.

Early Success

Suddenly, there were superheroes that were both super and relatable at the same time. The Fantastic Four became the first success for what would soon become known as Marvel Comics. The superheroes even involved themselves in politics in the comics, which was unheard of before.  

From there, Lee and other artists created the iconic cannon of Marvel heroes like Spider-Man, Iron Man, and the Hulk. In 1973, Martin Goodman officially founded the Marvel Entertainment Group. The Amazing Spider-Man was Marvel’s most successful book at the time.

Eventually Marvel’s tactic of creating relatable and real superheroes became known as the “superheroes in the real world” approach. According to a comics historian by the name of Mike Benton, “In the world of Superman comic books, communism did not exist. Superman rarely crossed national borders or involved himself in political disputes.” Essentially, Marvel Comics revolutionized the idea of what made a superhero.

What made Spider-Man the most successful Marvel superhero of all at the time? It was the fact that high schooler Peter Parker (who was Spider-Man) struggled with things like insecurities, crushes and regular high school things while also going out and saving the world.

Stan Lee

Although technically speaking Goodman was the founder of Marvel Comics, the company would never have become the supernatural heroic force that it is today if it wasn’t for Stan Lee. Lee is responsible for creating essentially every single one of Marvel Comics’ hit superheroes.

Lee created Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Daredevil, Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man (to name a few!)1. While Goodman was the founder of Marvel Comics, Lee was like a father to all of the superheroes. Once movies started being made that followed the Marvel heroes, Lee frequently made guest appearances in the films. Lee truly was the artistic face of Marvel.

Lee passed away on November 12, 2018 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, California. Bob Iger, the Disney chairman and CEO, said of Lee, “Stan Lee was as extraordinary as the characters he created…a superhero in his own right to Marvel fans around the world. Stan had the power to inspire, to entertain, and to connect. The scale of his imagination was only exceeded by the size of his heart.”

Cameos

Lee’s final cameo in a Marvel film was in Endgame which came out earlier this year. It moving to be the highest grossing film of all time. Lee’s legend will live on, however, in Stan Lee’s Alliances: A Trick of Light. Alliances is an audio series releasing on June 27th.

It is an audio drama that will take place in a universe of its own following a main character, Cameron, who wants to be a YouTube star. Stan Lee’s Alliances: A Trick of Light will bring the superhero world into a new realm – that of the internet and the digital age.

Bringing Marvel to Hollywood

Following the success of the Marvel superheroes as comics, came the opportunity to bring the characters to life on the big screen. In 1944, Timely Comics released Captain America the film. In 1990, a film by the same name was produced.

Finally in the 2000s is where Marvel began releasing incredibly cinematic films. In 2000, X-Men was released followed by Spider-Man, X-Men 2, Hulk, Spider-Man 2, Blade: Trinity, Fantastic Four, X-Men: The Last Stand, Spider-Man 3, Iron Man, and Thor to name just a few. Following the success of those films, began the Guardians of the Galaxy era along with the Avengers era.

Marvel has released, on average, three to five new movies per year since 2011. This has made them over $21 billion from their blockbuster films since 2008, making Marvel one of the biggest names in entertainment in the world.

Marvel and Disney

In 2009, Marvel was official purchased by another top dog in the world of entertainment: Disney. Disney bought Marvel for $4 billion and according to Robert Iger, the conglomeration provided Disney with a “trove of over 5,000 characters that gives Disney the ability to do what we do best.”

About the buyout, Marvel CEO Ike Perimutter said, “This is an unparalleled opportunity for Marvel to build upon its vibrant brand and character properties by accessing Disney’s tremendous global organization and infrastructure around the world.”

The pairing between Disney and Marvel Comics is one that provides an opportunity for both brands to expand which could result in total entertainment world domination.

A Legacy of Joy

Marvel is a name that is known throughout the entire world and offers entertainment, hope, and joy for billions around the globe. The original founder of Marvel Comics, Martin Goodman died of natural causes at his home in Palm Beach, Florida at 84 years old on June 6, 1992. Goodman had previously sold Marvel Comics to Cadence Industries in 1968 before retiring that same year.  

When Goodman wrote Marvel Science Stories in 1933, he likely had no idea that story would be the first stepping stone in creating a superhero empire that has lasted for nearly 100 years and isn’t looking like it’s going to slow down any time soon. From comic books, to action figures, to trading cards, to blockbuster films, Marvel Comics is here to stay.

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