New York City-based pulp magazine publisher Martin Goodman created Timely Publications in 1939, the company that would eventually evolve into the iconic and cherished Marvel Comics by the 1960s. Comic books were just beginning to emerge as a popular entertainment medium, and Goodman was eager to ride the wave into the Golden Age. Timely released Marvel Comics #1 in October 1939, which featured the debut appearances of artist Carl Burgos’ android superhero the Human Torch and writer-artist Bill Everett’s mutant prince of Atlantis Namor the Sub-Mariner. It was a spectacular success at the time, selling a combined 900,000 copies from the first and second printing.

marvel timeline

Credit: Marvel

In March 1941, Timely’s editor Joe Simon united with artist Jack Kirby to create the iconic American superhero Captain America. Captain America Comics #1 proved to be a massive hit, selling nearly $1 million, fueled by patriotic sentiment during World War II. There are 74 issues of the original 1941-1949 Captain America Comics, 390 issues of the 1954-2011 Captain America series, and many more. Altogether there are over 900 Captain America comic books including limited series, one-shots, alternate universes, and team-ups.

Marvel timeline

Credit: Marvel

Goodman hired his wife’s cousin, Stanley Lieber, to provide general office management help. After Joe Simon left Timely Publications in late 1941, Lieber assumed the role of editor and became the legendary Marvel mastermind “Stan Lee”. He reveled in this position for decades, stopping only to serve for three years during World War II. He found immense joy in his work, channeling that energy and creativity into his characters.  Eventually, Marvel Comics became the name for the whole business, and reading comic books became a cherished and sophisticated pastime.

The first official comic published by Marvel was Journey Into Mystery #69, part of a science fiction anthology. By 1961, Lee revolutionized comics by creating heroes and villains that resonated with adult readers. The Fantastic Four became Marvel’s first superhero team. They shattered goody-goody superhero stereotypes by being imperfect individuals who bickered, held grudges, and sought celebrity. Stan Lee said: “Just because you have superpowers, that doesn’t mean your love life would be perfect. I don’t think superpowers automatically means there won’t be any personality problems, family problems or even money problems. I just tried to write characters who are human beings who also have superpowers.”


In 2008, the Marvel Cinematic Universe was born with the release of Iron Man. It was a smashing success, earning $585.2 million USD with a score of 7.9/10 on IMDb and 93% on the notoriously finicky Rotten Tomatoes (the highest rated film so far according to Rotten Tomatoes is Black Panther with 97%). Each of the MCU’s films has made over $100 million domestically, and six films have made over $1 billion worldwide. One of the most captivating things about the MCU is that beyond the explosions, fights, and chases are dynamic characters with quirks, flaws, and weaknesses.

This infographic traces the comic book origins of 101 Marvel characters, revealing the patterns of society along the way. It provides some insight into their alignment, species, and origin or source of each character’s powers.

About the author:

Kimberly Hart is a content developer for AAAStateofPlay. She is a passionate advocate for the power of play, fun, and laughter in the lives of both children and adults. After a long day of outdoor adventures with her children and dogs, she loves to settle in and write, read, watch movies, and play games. She would be happy to connect with you on Twitter!

Featured image credit: AAAstatKeofPlay

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