A history of comic books

You’ve seen the famous characters, but do you know how they all began? The fantastic creations of Marvel and DC Comics have been shaped by history, and we’re taking you through some of the key moments.

Golden Age (1938-50)

1938 – Superman (DC Comics) debuts in Action Comics #1 and superhero comics take America by storm

1939 – Marvel Comics’ predecessor, Timely Comics, is formed by Martin Goodman. A teenaged Stan Lee joins as an assistant

1941 – Batman and Wonder Woman make their DC Comics debut, while Marvel’s Captain America (created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby) fights America’s enemies – including Adolf Hitler – throughout World War II

1954 – The Comics Code Authority (CCA) is formed following concerns about young people’s morality. It required that ‘in every instance, good shall triumph over evil’. Depictions of ‘excessive violence’ were forbidden, along with ‘lurid, unsavoury, gruesome illustrations’ – including vampires, werewolves, ghouls, and zombies

Silver Age (1956-70)

1956 – The return of The Flash (DC Comics) after a 5-year absence sparks a superhero revival, which includes Golden Age characters like Green Lantern

1961 – Marvel Comics is officially established, with the Fantastic Four later introduced. DC Comics’ Justice League of America also makes its first appearance

1962 – Spider-Man, Thor and the Hulk make their debut

1963 – Iron Man and the X-Men join Marvel Comics

1966 – Black Panther is created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, appearing in Fantastic Four #52. He is the first superhero of African descent in mainstream American comics

Bronze Age (1970-85)

During this time, the Comics Code Authority’s influence declines as mainstream titles start to tackle societal issues. Black and female protagonists have larger roles, including Luke Cage (1972) and Blade (1973).

1971 – Supernatural themes and horror stories make a comeback following the relaxation of rules

1973 – Plots grow darker as superheroes face higher stakes. Spider-Man’s girlfriend, Gwen Stacey, is killed in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man

1976 – As Star Wars and Jaws herald the era of the blockbuster, Hollywood studios turn to comic books for inspiration. The 1978 Superman adaptation is a financial and critical success

1979 onwards – Frank Miller’s work on Daredevil: Born Again, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns defines the ‘grim and gritty’ aesthetic of mainstream comics

Modern Age (1985-present)

Early 1990s – A speculator boom sees comic collectors actively encouraged to purchase comics as collectibles. In 1993, X-Men #1 sells over 7 million copies. This bubble bursts by the mid-90s, causing a steep decline in sales

1992 – 97 – The X-Men animated series debuts on the Fox Kids Network to critical acclaim

1993-98 – Marvel almost collapses due to corporate decisions, fall in comic book revenue and a power struggle between investors

1997 onwards – Big-budget comic book adaptations become an important part of the movie industry. Marvel sells the film rights for Men in Black, X-Men (including Wolverine and Deadpool), the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man

2008 – Marvel launches the Marvel Cinematic Universe

2009 – Disney purchases Marvel for $4.3 billion

2011 – In a push to win new readers, DC Comics restarts all titles at issue #1, resetting the DC universe’s continuity

2015 – Disney, Sony and Marvel Studios agree to share Spider-Man film rights

2018 – Stan Lee passes away in Los Angeles at the age of 95

2019 Avengers: Endgame becomes the highest-grossing film of all time

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