To celebrate the history of Marvel Comics, we’ve put together some of our favorite vintage Marvel comic book covers.
Beautiful, boisterous and steeped in history, these classic covers are a treat for any lover of rare comic books, vintage comics design, or cover art. Which issue is your favorite?
The first issue of Marvel Comics introduced a pair of characters who would become two of Timely’s greatest stars of the Golden Age of Comics, the period from 1938 through the 1940s. The original Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner were like modern elementals: the Torch, who literally burst into flame, embodied fire, and the Sub-Mariner, the prince of an underwater kingdom, represented water.
With its second issue, Marvel Comics was renamed Marvel Mystery Comics. Issue #3, along with the new Timely comic Daring Mystery Comics #1 (February), bore the company’s first covers by artist Alex Schomburg. Born in Puerto Rico in 1905, Schomburg became the principal Timely cover artist of the 1940s. Stan Lee later said that, “Alex Schomburg was to comic books what Norman Rockwell was to The Saturday Evening Post.”
Schomburg had long been creating covers combining Captain America, the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner for All Selects Comics, but it wasn’t until All Winners Comics #19 that Stan Lee introduced Timely’s first proper Super Hero team. The members included not only Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, and the Sub-Mariner, but also the Whizzer and Miss America.
The final issue of Captain America Comics (recently retitled Captain America’s Weird Tales) carried a February date. Unlike the previous issues, this comic didn’t have a single appearance of its star-spangled namesake! Instead, behind its shock-promising cover, the book contained four generic mystery-horror stories. This was a short-lived attempt to jump on the bandwagon of horror comics, a growing segment of the marketplace. It was a seemingly permanent farewell to the character who had been Timely’s best-selling and most popular Super Hero (though we now know he returned…).
Timely’s first costumed character of the 1950s appeared in Marvel Boy #1, an attempt to marry the Super Hero genre with the growing interest in flying saucers. Its Russ Heath-illustrated origin story told how Professor Grayson was fearful that world war would soon engulf the planet, and built a rocket ship to carry himself and his infant son to Uranus. There, under the tutelage of the native population, the boy, Robert Grayson, achieved both mental and physical perfection.
Armed with a pair of wristbands that could project light bursts to blind his foes, Robert returned to Earth as Marvel Boy, charged with protecting both his natural and adopted homes from threats from outer space.
Billed as “The Strangest Man Of All Time,” the Hulk made his debut mid-way though the year. Based on their collaboration on The Fantastic Four, Stan Lee worked with Jack Kirby. Instead of a team that fought traditional Marvel monsters, however, Lee decided that this time he wanted to feature a monster as the hero. He and Jack Kirby mixed the legend of Frankenstein’s monster with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and added a dash of Cold War paranoia. The result was a scrawny weakling of a scientist who became a super-strong hulking brute. That description also provided Lee with the character’s name – the Hulk!
The introduction of Dr. Doom signalled a slight shift in direction for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. At last they were moving away from their monster-book formulas to embrace the Super Hero genre. Dr. Doom was their first real attempt to create an enduring Super Villain.
This issue also featured an early unofficial crossover between Marvel Super Heroes, when Johnny Storm was shown reading a copy of the recently published The Incredible Hulk #1.
Shortly after he started work on Spider-Man, Stan Lee began on his next idea. He wanted to create someone who was stronger than the Hulk and more powerful than the entire Fantastic Four. Lee had always been fascinated by the legends of the Norse Gods and realized that he could use those tales as the basis for his new series centered on the mighty Thor.
The Marvel Super Heroes were growing in popularity and so were their sales. And, as soon as Marvel began to produce solo Super Heroes, the readers demanded to see these heroes team up with each other. Stan Lee realized he could give readers what they wanted by creating a Super Hero team, and The Avengers were born.
In the early 1970s there was a wave of movies about African-American adventure heroes. Marvel responded to this with Luke Cage, Hero For Hire by writer Archie Goodwin and artist John Romita Sr. Sent to Seagate Prison for a crime he did not commit, Carl Lucas participated in an experiment that gave him super-strength and bulletproof skin. Fleeing Seagate, Lucas renamed himself “Luke Cage,” set up an office, and offered his services as a “Hero for Hire.”
The most comprehensive history of Marvel Comics ever published, Marvel Year by Year is a fan-favorite title that offers a chronological account not only of Marvel Super Heroes such as the Avengers, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and Wolverine, but also the company that created them. The book highlights the debuts of Super Heroes and Villains, the geniuses who invented them, and the real-life events that shaped the times. It also details Marvel Comics' beginnings and landmarks in publishing, movies, and television.
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