The 10 Most Important Comics In Marvel History | CBR – CBR – Comic Book Resources

Now, over 80-years later, Timely is known the world over as Marvel Comics, the home of some of the biggest superheroes ever created.
By 1939, Martin Goodman had already created a number of pulp magazine companies that all worked under his Red Circle label, but with the appearance of Superman in Action Comics #1 and the rise of comic books, Goodman saw the writing on the wall and started his own line of superhero books under the name Timely Publications.
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Now, over 80-years later, Timely is known the world over as Marvel Comics, the home of some of the biggest superheroes ever created. From Goodman’s attempt to get in on the new thing, his creation now stands atop the pop culture mountain with box office blockbusters that bring in billions of dollars and TV shows that rule over social media for weeks at a time. And through it all, ten comics stand out as the ones that really set things in motion.
Every great story starts somewhere, and for Marvel, it all started in August 1939 with Marvel Comics #1. Best remembered today for introducing the android Human Torch and Namor the Sub-Mariner, Marvel Comics, which became Marvel Mystery Comics with the second issue, may not have had the same impact as some other superhero books when it was published, but its legacy continues to carry on today.
This first issue also included an appearance by Ka-Zar, who has been showing up in some of Martin Goodman’s pulp magazines before and still plays a role in the Marvel Universe today, and the Masked Raider, who made his return in 2019’s Marvel #1000.
Created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, and making his debut in his own book in 1941, Captain America showed up and shocked the world by punching Hitler right in the jaw on the cover. At this point, the United States was still months away from officially entering World War II, but Simon and Kirby had no interest in having their hero wait for the rest of the country to catch up.
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Captain America would quickly become Timely Comic’s biggest title, and in the third issue a young writer named Stanley Lieber would get his first professional credit. Lieber is better remembered today as Stan Lee.
As the superhero boom died out in the late 1940s, Timely switched to other genres, including romance, teen books, and comedy titles. In 1951, a year after Captain America was canceled, Timely became Atlas News Company and it seemed like the heroes would be gone for good.
But according to legend, a decade later Martin Goodman was playing golf with Jack Liebowitz, the then head of DC Comics when Liebowitz bragged about the company’s success with their new superhero titles, most notably the Justice League of America. Goodman turned to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby to give Atlas their own superhero team, and from that discussion, the Fantastic Four, and “The Marvel Age of Comics,” were born.
Fantastic Four was a hit, and soon enough Marvel was knee-deep in the superhero game again. Shortly after Fantastic Four #1 came Ant-Man‘s debut in Tales to Astonish #27 and Hulk in The Incredible Hulk #1, but Marvel’s biggest hit came in Amazing Fantasy #15 with the debut of Spider-Man.
Spider-Man wasn’t the first teenaged superhero, but he was the first one to have real teenager problems, which drew readers to him in numbers the company had never seen before. Almost overnight, Spider-Man became Marvel’s premier hero.
Just four months after Marvel brought together some of their biggest heroes in Avengers #1, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to reintroduce Timely Comics’ biggest character, Captain America. Between Fantastic Four #4 which saw the return of Namor and Avengers #4, Lee and Kirby directly connected the past books of Timely to the current run of Marvel, combining what had seemed to be two separate universes into one and giving the Marvel Universe a deeper backstory than anyone previously knew.
Where DC Comics had connected their past and present heroes through a multiverse two years earlier, Marvel chose to keep it all in a single timeline that continues to run to this day.
Thanks to a misguided notion that comic books were turning kids into delinquents, the Comics Code Authority was formed in 1954 to, in theory, make sure that no comics would do anything that may negatively impact a child. In truth, the CCA was a system that seemed to randomly decide what comics could and couldn’t do, but to get on the stands, Marvel, DC, and the other publishers had to play along.
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That began to change in 1971 when the Nixon administration requested that Marvel make a Spider-Man comic about the dangers of drugs. Instead of a random one-shot, Marvel chose to put the message into Amazing Spider-Man #96-98. When the CCA refused to allow the issues to carry their seal of approval, Marvel published them anyway. Those issues started the long decline of the power of the CCA.
In 1970, Marvel did something that seems insane today, they canceled X-Men with issue #66. The title, which had been running for seven years, never managed to find the audience the company had hoped for, and starting with issue #67, X-Men became a reprint book.
But five years later, in an attempt to both bring the mutants back and create a more diversified team of heroes, Len Wein and Dave Cockrum recreated the team in Giant-Size X-Men #1. The book, which introduced new members to the X-Men, including Wolverine, was a success, and starting with issue #94, X-Men began to tell new stories again.
While Giant-Sized X-Men #1 helped bring the X-Men back from the dead, the title wouldn’t become the monster success it is known for these days until Chris Claremont and John Byrne took over the title. And while sales started to inch up as the creative duo continued to turn the X-Men into a superhero soap opera, it wasn’t until the now-classic Dark Phoenix Saga that readers really took notice.
Jean Grey, a founding member of the X-Men, gaining the Phoenix Force and becoming evil caught the attention of comic readers, and with each issue, sales increased. When Jean grey died, something shockingly rare in comics at that time, the comics world was stunned. Suddenly, the heroes were mortal and nothing would be the same again.
By the late 1980s, Marvel’s mutants had become one of their biggest franchises right behind Spider-Man, but as the 1990s dawned, the writing was on the wall that these characters would soon become the biggest thing in comics. With talents like Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld, and Whilce Portacio bringing new energy to the series of X-Men titles, Marvel began a rebranding, making sure that every mutant title had an “X” on the name.
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New Mutants ended with issue #100 and was relaunched as X-Force and became the biggest selling comic of all time, but just a few months later a brand new X-Men #1 would unseat it. The rise of the mutants was complete, and for over a decade they would rule over the comics landscape.
Looking for a way to bring in new readers without erasing decades of stories, Marvel launched the Ultimate Universe with Ultimate Spider-Man #1 in 2000. Soon after came Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four, and The Ultimates, a reimagining of the Avengers.
The successes and failures of the Ultimate line will be discussed for decades to come, but one thing that is clear is just how important this line of titles was to the creation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While the Ultimate line of books ended in 2015, their legacy will live on forever not just because of the movies, but also with the introduction of Miles Morales, one of the most successful new heroes of the century.
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Born and raised in New York, Derek Faraci moved to Los Angeles in 2001 and joined Activision where he worked on many successful franchises including Spider-Man, Tony Hawk, and Guitar Hero. In October 2009, Derek left Activision to join Scientifically Proven Entertainment. Since joining SPE, Derek has worked on Man vs. Wild: The Game, Blood of the Werewolf, and the film Sucker directed by Michael Manasseri. Derek has written more than 500 articles for a number of sites and magazines, including Blumhouse, CBR, Birth.Movies.Death, and Solis. Given the option, Derek would spend all of his time watching movies and reading comics. More of Derek’s work can be found at DerekFaraci.com and you can find him on Twitter at @wh_woolhat.

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