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The first modern comic books under the Marvel Comics brand were the science-fiction anthology Journey into Mystery #69 and the teen-humor title Patsy Walker #95 (both cover dated June 1961), which each displayed an “MC” box on its cover. Then, in the wake of DC Comics’ success in reviving superheroes in the late 1950s and early 1960s, particularly with the Flash, Green Lantern, and other members of the team the Justice League of America, Marvel followed suit.
In 1961, writer-editor Stan Lee revolutionized superhero comics by introducing superheroes designed to appeal to older readers than the predominantly child audiences of the medium. Modern Marvel’s first superhero team, the titular stars of The Fantastic Four #1 (Nov. 1961), broke convention with other comic book archetypes of the time by squabbling, holding grudges both deep and petty, and eschewing anonymity or secret identities in favor of celebrity status. Subsequently, Marvel comics developed a reputation for focusing on characterization and adult issues to a greater extent than most superhero comics before them, a quality which the new generation of older readers appreciated. This applied to The Amazing Spider-Man title in particular, which turned out to be Marvel’s most successful book. Its young hero suffered from self-doubt and mundane problems like any other teenager, something with which many readers could identify.
Lee and freelance artist and eventual co-plotter Jack Kirby’s Fantastic Four originated in a Cold War culture that led their creators to revise the superhero conventions of previous eras to better reflect the psychological spirit of their age. Eschewing such comic-book tropes as secret identities and even costumes at first, having a monster as one of the heroes, and having its characters bicker and complain in what was later called a “superheroes in the real world” approach, the series represented a change that proved to be a great success.
Marvel often presented flawed superheroes, freaks, and misfits—unlike the perfect, handsome, athletic heroes found in previous traditional comic books. Some Marvel heroes looked like villains and monsters such as the Hulk and the Thing. This naturalistic approach even extended into topical politics.
All of these elements struck a chord with the older readers, such as college-aged adults. In 1965, Spider-Man and the Hulk were both featured in Esquire magazine’s list of 28 college campus heroes, alongside John F. Kennedy and Bob Dylan. In 2009, writer Geoff Boucher reflected that, “Superman and DC Comics instantly seemed like boring old Pat Boone; Marvel felt like The Beatles and the British Invasion. It was Kirby’s artwork with its tension and psychedelia that made it perfect for the times—or was it Lee’s bravado and melodrama, which was somehow insecure and brash at the same time?”
In addition to Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, Marvel began publishing further superhero titles featuring such heroes and antiheroes as the Hulk, Thor, Ant-Man, Iron Man, the X-Men, Daredevil, the Inhumans, Black Panther, Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel and the Silver Surfer, and such memorable antagonists as Doctor Doom, Magneto, Galactus, Loki, the Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus, all existing in a shared reality known as the Marvel Universe, with locations that mirror real-life cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
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MARVEL COMICS SPIDER-MAN RETRO SERIES Action Figure by Hasbro$19.95
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