The Marvel Universe
The shared storytelling palette known as the Marvel universe was unveiled in 1961, when Goodman responded to the growing interest in superhero books by commissioning writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby to create the Fantastic Four. With the release of Fantastic Four no. 1 (November 1961), readers were introduced to a superheroic setting that was, nevertheless, rooted in the real world. Lee and Kirby attempted to make their comic book characters more original by allowing them to interact with each other in a realistic fashion, including heroes often fighting or arguing with each other. This trend continued with a flood of other superhero characters introduced by Marvel Comics during the early 1960s, including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men. Lee wrote the majority of Marvel’s books during that time, and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko were the most important and influential artists.
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This more realistic approach to characterizations built up Marvel’s reputation and began to attract university-age readers. Stories also began to deal with social issues such as pollution, race relations, and drug abuse. A Spider-Man story arc from 1971 dealing with drug abuse had to be published without the approval of the Comic Code Authority—the self-regulatory body that had policed comic content since 1954—despite the fact that it was portraying drug use in a negative light. This caused the Comic Code Authority to revise its policy in such matters.
The late 1960s and early 1970s saw a new generation of creative talent emerge at Marvel. In 1967 Jim Steranko began to write and draw stories featuring secret agent Nick Fury in the anthology book Strange Tales. Steranko was influenced in his work by James Bond films and the psychedelic and Op art movements, and the resulting stories melded groundbreaking visuals with equally innovative storytelling techniques. Writer Chris Claremont and artist John Byrne began a long collaboration on The Uncanny X-Men in 1975. The pair revitalized the flagging series with characters such as Wolverine and complex story arcs that soon made the X-Men franchise one of Marvel’s best sellers.
In 1985 Mark Gruenwald started a critically acclaimed 10-year run as the writer of Captain America. That same year he also began the miniseries Squadron Supreme (1985–86), a deconstructionist take on superheroes that preceded Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen, published by DC Comics. The 1980s also saw Frank Miller’s stint on Daredevil, which took that book in a darker and grittier direction, reviving sagging sales and making it one of Marvel’s best sellers. In 1988 Todd MacFarlane began a popular run as artist on The Amazing Spider-Man. Four years later MacFarlane and a number of other popular artists, including Jim Lee, Erik Larsen, and Rob Liefeld, left Marvel to found rival Image Comics, a company that allowed creators to retain the copyrights of their characters.
During the 1990s and early 2000s a new wave of writers, including Brian Michael Bendis (Daredevil, The Avengers), Jonathan Hickman (Fantastic Four), and Ed Brubaker (Captain America), became well known for their mature and sometimes controversial takes on Marvel’s characters. The 2010s saw the emergence of another new wave of talent, with writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja turning in a visually arresting run on Hawkeye, longtime Spider-Man writer Dan Slott teaming with artist Mike Allred for a bold take on a classic character in Silver Surfer, and writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona breaking new ground with their critically acclaimed Ms. Marvel.