What was Marvel Comics originally called? Exploring history of iconic publishing giant

Stan "The Man" Lee (Image via Zohar Lazar)
Stan "The Man" Lee (Image via Zohar Lazar)

When it comes to comic books, there are two names every fan knows: DC Comics and Marvel Comics. What they don't know is that the latter existed for some time before it was ever known as Marvel Comics.

Stan Lee wasn't even the one in charge. In fact, he began work in the industry erasing pencils off of inked pages.

Some mainstay heroes existed when Lee began working for his uncle Martin Goodman and Timely Comics. It wasn't until 1941 that fans saw the name Stan Lee on a title.

Captain America Foils the Traitor's Revenge was the first story to have the name Stan Lee on it. This led to Timely Comics evolving into a name people would know the world over for decades to come.

Why Marvel Comics changed its name from Timely

In 1957, Timely Comics made a deal with DC, their competitor, and became their sole distributor and were confined to eight titles a month. This brought in limited business for the company.

Comics were only allowed to print romances, westerns, and science fiction stories thanks to the 1954 Comics Code. This required Lee and his uncle to be creative, so they began experimenting.

Timely focused less on quantity and more on quality, creating a hook that readers would be interested in. 1961 saw the Fantastic Four introduced to the world, with Spider-Man and Thor to follow in 1962.

Eventually, Timely's comic line earned a new name: Marvel Comics.

The Invaders: Namor and Captain America (Image via Marvel Comics)
The Invaders: Namor and Captain America (Image via Marvel Comics)

These stories came when Goodman noticed an upswing in the popularity of superheroes. DC created the Justice League, but Stan Lee took it further by giving his first team (The Fantastic Four) more layers beyond simply fighting bad guys like the superheroes before them.

There was a family dynamic, drama, and depth to each character on the team.

Their popularity reinvigorated Stan Lee, prompting him to return previous Timely characters to the pages, like Namor, the Sub-Mariner, and Captain America. The latter's depth came in the form of him being a man displaced by time and how he coped with that.

Eventually, Lee became the publisher of Marvel Comics. He always felt like comics were seen as a lower art form, so he visited many colleges in the '70s to create some respectability for the medium. He wanted to nurture a community and developed the column "Stan's Soapbox" in every issue of Marvel.

In 1965, a published an article about Marvel Comics wrote:

"College students interpret Marvel Comics. . . . Beatniks read them. I myself was deeply in love with a Marvel hero-villain for two whole weeks. The fact is that Marvel Comics are the first comic books in history in which a post-adolescent escapist can get personally involved."

The stories published by the comic book goliath connected with everyone. People could see themselves in everything Marvel put out, and it changed the way comics were written.

When the X-Men emerged, it really spoke to the younger generations. Better yet, Lee and Marvel created a "massive latticework of stories" that saw Marvel characters interact with each other.

Their shared universe would eventually spill over to its cinematic adventures. Comics were never enough for Lee, so he strived to expand these characters beyond their printed medium.

Live-action series like The Incredible Hulk and TV movies such as Captain America would be the extent of his success. That is until the '90s saw Marvel's characters come to life in animated shows.

The cast of Marvel characters (Image via Marvel Entertainment)
The cast of Marvel characters (Image via Marvel Entertainment)

Crossing over was no struggle from there as Spider-Man met the X-Men and the Punisher. Now, Marvel is arguably the largest superhero enterprise, and they show no sign of slowing down.

It all started with Stanley Martin Lieber getting hired by his uncle's firm, where he erased pencils from inked pages. The evolution is impressive, and the struggle was real. What are some of your favorite Marvel comics?

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Edited by Ravi Iyer
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