Marvel Comics has, for decades, been one of the definitive comics publishers around the globe. The home of classic characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man, Captain Marvel and countless others, Marvel Comics celebrates their 80th anniversary in 2019, To mark the occasion, creators and figures from across the history Marvel Comics were on hand at the D23 Expo in Anaheim to look back at the history of Marvel and the impact it's had across eight decades of superheroic storytelling.
The panel opened with a video outlining the history of Marvel Comics across the decades, set to music by the hip-hop group Run2Jewels. Covers and panels from many of the most iconic series and storylines across decades appearing. Following the video, Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief C.B. Cebulski and Tom Brevoort took the stage. Describing the event as a "fireside chat", the pair took their seats and began exploring the history of Marvel Comics.
The pair began by expanding the history of Timely Comics, the original name for the publisher that would become Marvel Comics. "For the most part, those characters have existed in some form across eighty years of stories," Cebulski pointed out. Brevoort recalled the story where the original print of Marvel Comics had printing problems, but the title still sold out. Brevoort revealed that there are currently only a hundred copies of the original issue left in existence today. "The first inklings of the Marvel Universe," Brevoort explained, "[can be traced] to
Moving into the 1940s, the pair addressed Captain America Comics #1 by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby and how impactful it was to feature Captain America punching a major political figure (Adolf Hitler) who at the time was not at war with the United States. By two years later, however, multiple superheroes were featured in the second World War. Breveroot cites the art style of Jack Kirby as being crucial to the success and longevity of Captain America. Brevoort explained, "there wasn't anything that quite had the same impact at the time as Captain America."
Moving into the 1950s, Cebulski and Brevroot spoke about the many non-superhero characters like Black Knight, Groot and Patsy Walker. But when the universe transformed into a superhero continuity, Cebulski pointed out how they could come back. Breveroot explained that "it's one of the beautiful things about Marvel... if we try something and it doesn't work, there may be a time years later where a little twist on it can make it into a huge success."
Moving into the 1960s, the pair pointed out the importance and impact of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and John Romita on Marvel. Specifically, Breveroot pointed out how those four helped define Marvel, and how the characters were more important than the superheroes. "You're reading Peter Parker, not Spider-Man," Brevoort explained. "That soap-opera element... it seems so obvious now, but it's what defined the comics." Cebulski added, "The name on the comics and movies might be Spider-Man or Captain America or Hulk, but we're writing stories about Peter Parker, Steve Rogers, Bruce Banner."
Breveroot shared the story of how Stan Lee was approached by publisher Martin Goodman, who wanted a comic to replicate the newfound success of DC's Justice League. This led to Stan Lee and Jack Kirby collaborating on Fantastic Four, approaching it by starting with human characters first before they focused on the superheroics. Brevoort said that "the fact that they didn't get along, the fact that there was tragedy baked into them, the fact that Ben Grimm had powers but couldn't live a normal life because of them and was cursed by it, that made it stand out." Cebulski revealed that a long-standing idea that was considered for Marvel Comics #1000 but they never cracked was the question of who tied up Mister Fantastic on the cover of Fantastic Four #1.
The pair next shifted to the creation of Spider-Man in Amazing Fantasy #15. Breveroot recounted the origins and message of the original Spider-Man comic. The character was intended to be the main focus of Amazing Fantasy, but the lackluster sales of the previous fourteen issues led to the cancelation of Amazing Fantasy. But when the success of Spider-Man was discovered by Goodman, he asked Lee and Ditko to bring the character back. Although they couldn't address every character, Cebulski brought up the Hulk as the next step of the universe. After a fan yelled out that Hulk being grey was a printing error, Breveroot corrected him and joked that the pair will return to D23 next year for "urban legends in Marvel Comics" panel.
Cebluski addressed the importance of Stan Lee's edict that the Marvel Universe was "the world outside your window." The importance of New York City became a major factor of the Marvel Universe, "and gave it a greater sense of realism to it" Breveroot explained. Cebulski and Breveroot then explored the idea of the "Marvel Method", and how the collaborative process of the early Marvel books was due in part to the artists. "Marvel Comics were more visual [as a result]. The artists got to draw what they wanted to draw... it was a weird cockeyed way of making the books, but it worked really well," Breveroot explained. Cebulski pointed out how important it was for Lee and the other creators to add diversity to the universe. This is what led to Black Panther joining the Marvel Universe in the pages of Fantastic Four #52. The pair then celebrated the announcement of Black Panther 2 earlier in the D23 Expo.
Moving to Amazing Spider-Man #96, Breveroot brought up how the comic didn't feature the approval of the Comics Code. Approached by the United States government to make an anti-drug story, Marvel published the issue without the approval "despite the potential controversy," Breveroot added. Cebulski pointed out how "Stan Lee was kind of the precursor of social media," showcasing pages from the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins, the No-Prize. "It was just something other comic publishers at the time didn't do," Breveroot explained. "It really made Marvel feel like your friends, a group of buddies sharing good times." Breveroot and Cebulski then explained the origins of the No-Prize for people who caught continuity problems. "Now people just go on Twitter and call us useless idiots," Cebulski joked.
"Even the failures can become successful if you wait long enough," Breveroot pointed out. He specifically mentioned Hulk, X-Men and Ant-Man were all canceled during the early years of Marvel Comics. But they would eventually be brought back in some shape or form. "Sometimes failures become the greatest of successes," Cebulski said about Giant-Size X-Men, which brought the X-Men back to Marvel Comics. Making an international team to try and sell the title more around the world, the team was composed of characters from multiple different nations. "X-Men [became] the most popular franchise in comics," Breveroot explained. Breveroot then revealed two little-known facts about X-Men: the Comics-Code said that when Wolverine was in costume in the original comics, he wasn't allowed to have hair on his arms. Meanwhile, it was apparently a Marvel decision to have Colossus' pants disappear whenever he revealed his metal form.
Cebulski moved to "The Night Gwen Stacy Died", the highly controversial death of Peter's romantic interest in Amazing Spider-Man #121. "During this time," Breveroot said, "Stan L:ee was the publisher and would go to panels and discussions... fans were upset and would throw things at him. He came back to the office afterward and told [Spider-Man] writer Gerry Conway needed to bring her back. This is actually the origins of the whole Spider-Man Clone Saga." Cebulski then moved to the introduction of Luke Cage, specifically mentioning how great the character was but also how "fashion and costumes never really age well... some people still love the tiara. They referenced it in the Luke Cage series." They moved to Blade, and Breveroot joked that "I hope Blade looks like [his original costume] in the upcoming movie."
The two creators moved over to the early attempts to bring Marvel to other series. Cebulski revealed he still loves Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends and Breveroot will always defend The Incredible Hulk. Breveroot revealed that the Japanese Spider-Man series helped lead to the growth of "Super Sentai" series. This accidentally helped lead to the creation of the Power Rangers franchise. Cebulski pointed out how Secret Wars still has an influence on Marvel Comics today, but how it actually began life as a tie-in for a new line of Marvel action figures. "It was the Endgame of its day, and it all originally came back to promoting this line of toys," Broovert explained. But Cebulski added that "it doesn't matter where they come from, great creators can turn any character into great stories."
Broovert revealed that the black Spider-Man suit was initially meant to only last until the end of Secret Wars because manufacturers didn't want Spider-Man to change his appearance. But the immediate positive fan reception to the costume led to the continuation of the look. Cebulski then moved over to the origins of the GI Joe, Transformers, Star Wars and Conan the Barbarian comics. The Star Wars comics quickly became the most successful comics Marvel was publishing in the 1970s. Broovert revealed that "the Star Wars comics actually saved Marvel at a time when not a lot of comics were selling very well."
Broovert then spoke about the comics of the 1990s, which early in the decade were selling terrifically. Spider-Man #1 sold 2.5 million copies, followed by the success of X-Force selling 5 million copies. This was then followed by X-Men #1, which became the best selling single issue of any American comic. The publisher wanted more comics of a similar vein, leading to the birth of the 2099 comics line and the unexpected success of Carnage. With time running out, the pair quickly moved into the 1990s X-Men animated series, which Cebulski pointed out "helped bring so many fans into the comics." The pair then celebrated the anniversary of Blade. When a fan pointed out the cinematic Howard the Duck was the first live-action Marvel movie. Cebulski recalled visiting Skywalker Ranch and not only playing with Star Wars memorabilia, "and I saw, on a far off shelf, the original Howard the Duck."
Cebulski brought up how after the success of Blade, Sony and Fox began producing their own Marvel movies. At the mention of Sony, the crowd booed. "You said the S word," Breveroot joked. The pair then celebrated the birth of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Kevin Feige. "Because they don't build it up from the ground up like the Marvel Studios team did," Broovert explained, "those things haven't worked out for anyone else." Cebulski then joked about how Iron Man became an unexpected success. Broovert said that "if you have the right story and the right talent, you can tell great stories." Cebulski pointed out how the different genres that are explored throughout the MCU have contributed to the success of the line.
Cebulski said that "Marvel is like a body. The movies are the face, what brings people going. The arms are the animation and games, keeping things going. The legs are the merchandising, keeping us moving. But the comics are the heart of Marvel. It's what keeps the creative blood circulating and keeping things alive... it's this great symbiotic relationship we have with all of our divisions." The pair then moved onto the creation of Miles Morales in 2011, leading to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Cebulski then brought up the various versions of the Marvel Universe that have appeared in other nations, such as Spider-Man India and the new Chinese comics Aero and Sword Master. This same sentiment led to the creation of Ironheart and Ms. Marvel, with Cebulski specifically mentioning how Ms. Marvel has become one of their biggest successes both domestically and internationally.
Cebulski then revealed that, as part of the D23 celebration and in honor of Marvel being a part of Disney for almost ten years, an exclusive edition of Marvel Comics #1000 will be given out that features the first Marvel Comics appearance of Mickey Mouse in a special variant cover. A new teaser for a new-96 page issue will be released at the end of the year, The comic will be a preview of a new event that begins next year, titled Incoming. "This really sets the course of what you'll see in the Marvel Universe in the years to come," Cebulski hinted.