Article by: Owen Vaughan
To celebrate 70 years of Marvel Comics we have dug up 70 nuggets about the comic company – one, however, is an outright fib. Try to guess which one. The answer appears at the end of the piece.
1 Marvel was first known as Timely Comics. It was set up in 1939 by New York magazine publisher Martin Goodman. From 1951 the company’s comics were printed under the name Atlas but this was changed to Marvel in 1961. The first comic to appear under the Marvel Comics brand was Amazing Adventures No 3.
2 X-Men No 1, published in 1991, is the world’s biggest-selling comic book. It sold close to 8 million copies.
3 Goodman thought that Spider-man was a rotten idea for a superhero. He told Stan Lee that the character would fail because readers hated spiders. He changed his mind when the sales figures came in.
4 Stan Lee became Editor-in-Chief of Timely aged 18 in 1941. He stayed in the role until 1972. Timely’s first Editor-in-Chief was Joe Simon.
5 Michael Jackson once came close to owning Marvel. According to Stan Lee’s former business partner, Peter Paul – who was jailed in 2005 for stock fraud – Jackson agreed to buy Marvel on Lee’s behalf. Paul had met Lee in 1989 and had brought him onboard the American Spirit Foundation, a charitable organisation he ran with the actor James Stewart. Spotting the worth of Marvel’s superhero properties, Paul hatched a plan to bring in investors to buy Marvel and install Lee as company’s head. In 1991-92, he put together a Japanese/American investment group and approached Marvel’s Ron Perelman. with an offer to buy the company for about $28 million. Perelman decided instead to take Marvel public. Paul tried again several years later, this time lining up Jackson as an investor. Jim Salicrup, a former Marvel editor who was present at the meetings Jackson had with Lee and Paul, remembers Jackson saying to Lee: “If I buy Marvel, you’ll help me run it, won’t you?” Paul said that Marvel’s owner at the time, Ike Perlmutter, was unwilling to take less than $1 billion for the company and Jackson eventually lost interest.
Lee has a different take on Jackson’s interest in Marvel. “I had been to his place in Neverland … and he wanted to do Spider-Man,” he told MTV News in July. “I’m not sure whether he just wanted to produce it or wanted to play the role, you know? Our conversation never got that far along.” Lee said that the singer had hoped to buy the rights to Spider-man. “He thought I’d be the one who could get him the rights and I told him I couldn’t, he would have to go to the Marvel company.”
6 The Seventies Fantastic Four cartoon series was missing the Human Torch, not because NBC executives feared he would inspire children to douse themselves in petrol, strike a match and shout “flame on”, but because the rights to the character belonged to Universal Studios. Universal would not allow NBC to use the Torch so he was replaced by a cute talking robot named H.E.R.B.I.E
7 Casablanca Records helped to create the X-Men hero Dazzler. The record label, which produced hits for Cher, Donna Summer and the Village People, had approached Marvel with the idea of a Disco super-hero that they could cross promote. According to Marvel editor Louise Simonson, Casablanca said, “Hey, you make a singer and we’ll create someone to take on the persona.” However, the collaboration proved fraught and ended with both parties walking away from the deal.
8 Marvel went bankrupt in 1996. The financier Ron Perelman bought Marvel for $82.5 million in 1989, putting up $10.5 million of his own money and borrowing the rest. After taking the company public he went on a buying spree, hovering up trading card companies and taking a controlling interest in a toy company. It was a bad move – the trading card and collectible market tanked – and Marvel became swollen with debt. In 1996 Marvel missed an interest payment, putting it technically in default. Perelman offered to rescue Marvel by injecting $350 million but only if Marvel creates more shares and gives them to him. Carl Icahn, a bondholder and corporate raider, buys Marvel’s bonds and vows to block Perelman. Marvel then filed for Chapter 11 protection in the bankruptcy court.
9 Pet Shop Boys singer Neil Tennant once worked for Marvel. Between 1975 and 1977, Tennant was an editor at Marvel’s UK division, a job that required him to anglicise American spellings and indicate when the more scantily dressed superheroines needed to be redrawn decently.
10 Disney agreed to buy Marvel Entertainment for $4 billion in August. Fans have expressed concern that Spider-man would soon be fighting crime wearing Mickey Mouse ears.
11 The word ‘sex’ was concealed in the illustrations of New X-Men issue 118 at least 18 times – one almost every page. It surreptitiously appears in hair strands, bottles of whisky, a hedge, a puddle, tree branches, protest signs and, thanks to some conveniently placed garden tools, a lawn. The book’s artist, Ethan Van Sciver, has said that he scattered the word throughout the book because Marvel was annoying him at the time and he thought it would be fun to inject a little mischief into his work. Weirdly, this was the sort of activity that the psychologist Fredric Wertham railed hysterically against in the Fifties. He thought that comics were corrupting America’s youth, with their overt and covert depictions of sex and drugs, and his book on the subject, Seduction of the Innocent, led to Senate hearings and a strict moral code being imposed on the comic industry.
12 Jack Kirby, the artist who co-created the Fantastic Four with Stan Lee, was removed from the cover of the Fantastic Four’s 20th anniversary issue. The issue’s artist, John Byrne, had originally included both Kirby and Lee among the cast of characters squeezed onto the cover but at the behest of Marvel executives Kirby was erased from the final artwork. This may have had something to do with arguments Kirby was having with Marvel at the time over the ownership of his artwork.
13 The escape artist hero of Michael Chabon’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay is based on the Marvel artist Jim Steranko. Steranko, who memorably drew Doctor Strange and Nick Fury during the Sixties, was himself an accomplished escape artist before he joined Marvel. Chabon says that he was wrestling with how to get his Jewish hero Joe Kavalier out of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia when he started reading about Steranko’s feats during the Fifties and the solution came to him.
14 Spider-man co-creator Steve Ditko sometimes uses his original artwork as cutting boards. The comic historian Greg Theakston told the comic industry magazine Wizard that when he last visited Ditko’s studios he saw a piece of illustration board leaning against a wall that had been slashed to pieces. “He’d been using it as a cutting board. I looked a little bit closer and I detected a comics code stamp on it.” Not only was Ditko not displaying, preserving or prizing his artwork, he was using it as a cutting board. Theakston said that he quickly offered to go down to the nearest art supply store and buy Ditko “the finest cutting board on the block” but Ditko refused. Ditko then pointed to a curtain next to Theakston’s chair and asked him to lift it up. Behind it was a large stack of original artwork from Marvel. Theakston asked if he could look at them but Ditko replied no. Theakston believes the reason for Ditko’s odd behaviour lay in his bitter dispute with Marvel over who ownership of original artwork. Marvel believed that all artwork produced for its comics belonged to it but after years of fighting with its artists and the bad publicity that this was causing it decided to give the artists back their original work – but as gift. Ditko did not agree with this mock generosity.
15 The idea for Spider-man’s black costume came from a comics fan. In 1982 Marvel asked its readers for ideas for new Spider-man stories. Randy Schueller, a 22-year-old reader from Chicago, spent two weeks writing a story in which Spider-man ditches his red and blue threads for a sleek black costume. “It occurred to me that Spider-man is this character that creeps around in the shadows looking for bad guys, so why is he wearing this bright red and blue costume?” Schueller told the New York Post in 2007. “It seemed like he should have more of a stealth mode.” A few months after sending his idea to Marvel, he got a letter from Jim Shooter, Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief, offering to buy it for $220. The film Spider-man 3, which conspicuously features the black costume, made almost a billion dollars at the box office.
16 The Spider-man villain Venom was originally supposed to be a woman, not the Daily Bugle journalist Eddie Brock. Venom’s creator, David Michelinie, said that woman was heavily pregnant and on her way to hospital when a cab driver, distracted by a fight between Spider-man and some super goon in the sky above, accidentally runs over her husband in front of her, causing her to go into labour. She loses the baby and goes crazy as a result. The black alien costume that Spider-man had tried to destroy several issues before because it was taking control of his mind seeks her out and bonds with her. Although Spider-man editor Jim Salicrup liked the idea of an “evil Spider-man”, he did not think a woman could be a credible threat to the hero. Michelinie then came up with the idea of Eddie Brock.
The question of who created Venom, one of Spider-man’s most iconic foes, has been fiercely contested over the years. Michelinie has taken exception to claims that he co-created the villain with artist Todd McFarlane. McFarlane did the art for Michelinie’s Amazing Spider-man plots during the late Eighties, including Venom’s first appearance, issue 298, March 1988. In 1993 Michelinie wrote a letter to Wizard in response to an article that referred to him as the co-creator of Venom. He said that he was Venom’s sole creator, although he accepted that without McFarlane Venom would not have been the success that he was.
However, not long after McFarlane’s successor on Amazing Spider-man, Erik Larsen, disputed Michelinie’s version of events in a letter to Wizard. He said that Michelinie had swiped the alien costume and its powers and simply placed them on a poorly conceived and one-dimensional character. It took an artist of McFarlane’s calibre to make Venom commercial. (Larsen himself added several characteristics to Venom, including the monstrous tongue and drool.)
In 2004 McFarlane admitted that Michelinie had indeed come up with the idea of Venom and the character’s basic design – “a big guy in the black costume” – but that it was he who gave Venom his monster-like features: “I just wanted to make him kooky and creepy, and not just some guy in a black suit.”
17 The Hulk that appeared in the classic TV series starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno was almost made red in colour. In an interview with film website IGN, the show’s executive producer, Kenneth Johnson, said: “I asked Stan Lee, ‘Man, what’s the logic of green? Is he the envious Hulk? Is he green with envy or jealousy?’ The colour of rage is red, which I was pushing for because it’s a real human colour – you know, when people get flushed with anger.” Lee told him that the Hulk had in fact started out grey but due to problems with colour separation, grey would simply not print the same way each time. “Our printer came to us and said we can do a pretty consistent green, so we decided to go with green,” Lee said. Thus the Hulk was coloured green from issue two of the Incredible Hulk onwards, although without any explanation. On hearing this, Johnson remembers telling Lee: “That’s not really very organic! But that was a battle I could not win. I couldn’t make the Hulk red because he was just too iconic already in the comic books.”
18 One change Johnson did get to make was to the name of the Hulk’s alter ego, Bruce Banner. He switched it to David Banner because of his antipathy towards alliterative names, not because, as some fans had claimed, he thought the name Bruce sounded too gay. “I don’t recall feeling that way at the time, because Bruce Wayne was a pretty straight guy. But it was more the alliteration that bothered me, the Lois Lane, Clark Kent, that sort of thing. I was trying to get as far away from the comic book origins as I possibly could. Virtually the only thing I kept from the comic book were gamma rays, the green Hulk and the metamorphosis. When you put somebody into a story whose name is Bruce Banner, it just immediately starts to sound comic booky, and I was very anxious to attract an adult audience because I knew that we could not have a hit show if we just had kids watching us.”
19 This was not the first time Banner’s name was changed. For a short period Lee himself accidentally started calling him Bob Banner. At the time Lee was juggling dozens of titles and often had difficulty keeping track of all the characters he was writing. He said that alliterative names made them easier to remember. However, he did slip up from time to time, most noticeably in Fantastic Four 25, where he introduced the Hulk as Bob Banner. Marvel’s ever-vigilant fans did not shy away from pointing out his mistake and in the letters page three issues later, Lee responded in true showman style: “There’s only one thing to do – we’re not going to take the cowardly way out. From now on his name is Robert Bruce Banner – so we can’t go wrong no matter WHAT we call him!”
20 ‘She Hulk’ was Stan Lee’s last major creation for Marvel. The female version of Marvel’s grumpy green giant first appeared in Savage She Hulk No 1 in February 1980. By that time Lee had retired as Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief and was the company’s frontman in Hollywood but he returned to the bullpen one last time and, with artist John Buscema, produced another winning hero. But the origins of the character more to do with trademark issues than Lee’s need to get behind the typewriter. Because the Incredible Hulk TV series airing at the time was a hit, Marvel knew that it wouldn’t be long before the show’s executives started pitching a female Hulk, after the manner of the Bionic Woman TV show. To make sure it owned the rights to any such character, it had to act fast and publish a She Hulk comic straight away. As Buscema said: “They were protecting themselves.”
21 Captain America’s shield changed shape because of legal fears. When the sentinel of liberty first appeared in March 1941 in Captain America Comics No 1, his shield was not the familiar disc shape it is now but a heraldic edged shield, of the sort knights would carry. However, this shield was similar to the one that appeared on the chest of a patriotic superhero produced by rival comic publisher MLJ. The Shield, by Harry Shorten and Irv Novick, had been entertaining readers for a year before Joe Simon and Jack Kirby came up with the idea of Captain America so when MLJ’s bosses saw the new hero they made their objections plain. Timely, as Marvel was known then, did not put up a fight and ordered Simon and Kirby to change the shield.
22 The mayor of New York personally promised to protect Simon and Kirby from death threats after Captain America Comics appeared, although this had nothing to do with legal threats from MLJ. The first issue showed Cap punching Hitler on the kisser, the second had him smacking the Fuhrer with his trusty shield. The books were a hit, but not with America’s isolationists and Nazi sympathisers, and America was not yet at war with Germany. Simon, who was like Kirby Jewish, says in his autobiography: “Hitler was a marvellous foil; a ranting maniac … [but] no matter how hard we tried to make him a threatening force, Adolf invariably wound up as a buffoon – a clown. Evidently, this infuriated a lot of Nazi sympathisers. There was a substantial population of anti-war activists in the country. ‘American Firsters’ and other non-interventionist groups were well-organised. Then there was the German American Bund. They were all over the place, heavily financed and effective in spewing their propaganda of hate; a fifth column of Americans following the Third Reich party line. We were inundated with a torrent of raging hate mail and vicious, obscene telephone calls. The theme was ‘death to the Jews’. At first we were inclined to laugh off their threats but people in the office reported seeing menacing-looking groups of strange men in front of the building and some of the employees were fearful of leaving the office for lunch. We reported the threats to the police department and the result was a police guard on regular shifts patrolling the halls and office. No sooner than the men in blue arrived than the woman at the telephone switchboard signalled me excitedly. ‘There’s a man on the phone says he’s Mayor La Guardia. He wants to speak to the editor of Captain America Comics.’ I was incredulous as I picked up the phone but there was no mistaking the shrill voice. ‘You boys over there are doing a good job,’ the voice squeaked, ‘The City of New York will see that no harm will come to you.’ I thanked him.”
23 Marvel came up with the Transformer names Optimus Prime and Megatron. In the early Eighties the toy manufacturer Hasbro asked Marvel for help with its new action figure line, Transformers. The robots that disguised themselves as cars and planes were Japanese in origin and needed new names and backgrounds. Marvel Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter and writers Denny O’Neil and Bob Budiansky were given the task. In an interview in 2004 Budiansky said: “Shooter and O’Neil came up with the backstory. Shooter brought me in when most of the initial names and at least some of the character profiles were rejected by Hasbro. For whatever reason, Denny declined to revise them. So, facing an imminent deadline, Shooter scoured the Marvel editorial offices looking for someone who could write at least basic English. The first few Marvel editors Shooter approached, all with more writing experience than me, wanted nothing to do with Transformers. I was probably Shooter’s third or fourth choice. I turned around the revisions over a couple of days – right before Thanksgiving of 1983 – and Hasbro was very pleased with what I wrote. I renamed most of the characters – Optimus Prime was Denny’s, Megatron was mine – and revised some character profiles.”
24 Marvel once owned the rights to the word zombie. As improbable as it sounds, Marvel attempted to trademark the word zombie in comic book titles after publishing Tale of the Zombie in 1973. By the time the trademark was approved two years later, the series was coming to an end. Marvel lost the trademark in 1996 but it wasn’t long before it was once again trademarking the armies of the undead, registering the words Marvel Zombies to protect its comic series of the same name. With DC, Marvel also trademarked the phrase ‘Super Hero’.
25 Marvel has attracted some of the hottest writers in Hollywood. Among those who have penned its superhero adventures are: the indie director Kevin Smith, who had Stan Lee appear in his film Mallrats; OC and Sex and the City script writer Allan Heinberg; Lost writers and producers Brian K Vaughan and Damon Lindelof; Heroes producer and Teenwolf creator Jeph Loeb; and Babylon Five creator and Changeling writer J Michael Stracynski.
26 The writer Tom Wolfe once appeared in the pages of the Incredible Hulk. The author of Bonfire of the Vanities was a great admirer of Marvel and had even made reference to its hero magician Dr Strange in his 1968 book The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Three years later Marvel returned the favour by adapting his short story Those Radical Chic Evenings for the Hulk. In Radical Chic Wolfe tears into New York’s white liberal elite for espousing radical causes they didn’t actually believe in. In issue 142 of the Hulk, titled They Shoot Hulks, Don’t They?, the writer Roy Thomas took the premise and, with his tongue firmly in his cheek, ran with it. He has a rich couple from New York host a fund-raising party for the Hulk so he can buy a place of his own. In doing so they upset their feminist daughter who had wanted them to host a party for women’s rights. One of the Hulk’s villains appears and gives the girl superpowers so she can beat up the Hulk in the name of feminism (the book’s cover shows the girl holding a defeated Hulk above her head and shouting to the world: “Every male chauvinist pig will tremble when he sees the Hulk thrown to his death – by a woman!”). Wolfe himself appears at the fundraising party in his trademark white suit.
27 Daredevil/Matt Murdock once pretended to his own twin brother to get out of a tight spot. The introduction of Mike Murdock, the swinging hipster who was guaranteed never miss a party – or your money back!, injected an element of cornball comedy into the pages of Daredevil. When Matt’s legal partner and secretary, Foggy Nelson and Karen Page, accuse him of being Daredevil, Matt is forced to come up with a plausible excuse. He can’t so he makes up a story about a twin brother no one has ever heard of. Foggy and Karen then demand to see this mystery brother… Uh oh! Matt does a quick change several panels later and Mike Murdock’s makes his big debut at the office. “What’s Matt doing with those loud clothes – and sun-glasses?” gasps Karen. “Say! Wait a minute! Foggy! That … that isn’t Matt Murdock!”
The lounge lizard replies: “You can say that again, doll! Ol’ Matt’s the one with the brains – but I’m the family pussycat! The name’s Mike, gang – and try not to applaud – I’m almost as shy as I am glamorous! Say! No wonder Matthew likes working here! Any more at home like you, baby?”
Mike hangs around for a few issues – wearing pork pie hats, laying cheesy lines on Karen and living it up in ways the square Matt Murdock couldn’t possibly imagine – but the strain of living two secret lives takes a toll on Matt and the character is quietly brushed aside.
28 One of the heroes in the Eighties cartoon series Spider-man and his Amazing Friends was created from scratch because of licensing issues. The original plan was for Spider-man to have Iceman and the Human Torch as teammates but because the Human Torch was still wrapped up with Universal, the producers created Firestar instead. Marvel soon made her a part of its comic universe and gave her a starring role in its New Warriors book.
29 Paul Simon wrote the lyrics and theme song to the Sixties Spider-man cartoon as a favour to head of the ABC network. Because he didn’t want to be associated with kiddie material, he asked that the music be credited to his old stage name, Jerry Landis. Spider-man’s pop pedigree is set to continue next year in the Broadway musical Spider-man: Turn Out the Dark, with Bono and The Edge providing the music and lyrics.
30 Tobey Maguire wasn’t the first actor to play Spider-man on screen. Between 1977 and 1979 CBS aired a live-action Spider-man TV series with Nicholas Hammond in the title role.
31 The line most associated with the Hulk TV series, “Don’t make me angry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry”, appears in both the 2003 and 2008 Hulk films, although in the latter it is played for laughs. When Edward Norton, as Bruce Banner, is surrounded by a group of Brazilian thugs, he tries to warn them off with some very ropey Portugese: “Don’t make me hungry, you wouldn’t like me when I’m hungry.”
32 Samuel L Jackson makes a surprise appearance in Iron Man after the end credits have rolled. He plays the one-eyed, Government super-spook Nick Fury and tells the newly outed Iron Man that he’s putting together a team. Fans drool in anticipation at the hinted Avengers movie.
33 The strip Stan Lee is most proud of is the one he wrote for the Incredible Hulk/Spider-man toilet paper.
34 Artist John Romita Jr based the Daredevil villain Typhoid Mary on his ex-wife.
35 Artist Dave Cockrum’s resignation letter to Marvel surreptitiously appeared in Iron Man No 127. In the issue, Tony Stark’s butler, Jarvis, resigns after a drunk and out of control Stark verbally abuses. The letter reads:
I am leaving because this is no longer the team-spirited “one big happy family” I once loved working for. Over the past year or so I have watched Avengers’ morale disintegrate to the point that, rather than being a team or a family, it is now a large collection of unhappy individuals simmering in their own personal stew of repressed anger, resentment and frustration. I have seen a lot of my friends silently enduring unfair, malicious or vindictive treatment.
My personal grievances are relatively slight by comparison to some, but I don’t intend to silently endure. I’ve watched the Avengers be disbanded, uprooted and shuffled around. I’ve become firmly convinced that this was done with the idea of “showing the hired help who’s Boss”.
I don’t intend to wait around to see what’s next.
Three issues later Iron Man‘s writer, David Michelinie, explained to readers that this was the not the letter Jarvis had intended to write and that due to a production error the wrong text had been published. The letter that appeared was none other than Cockrum’s own resignation letter, only someone had swapped “Marvel” for “Avengers”.
36 One of the X-Men was killed off because Marvel’s Editor-In-Chief at the time didn’t think she should get away with eating a planet. Jean Grey was never supposed to die at the end of the Dark Phoenix Saga but when Jim Shooter saw that she had annihilated a planet in one of the issues he ordered the writer Chris Claremont to change the ending.
37 Stan Lee came up with the idea of a superhero version of Thor while wrestling with problem of how to create a character that was stronger than the Hulk. He decided that the only solution was to make his new hero a god so he went delving into Norse mythology to find a suitable candidate.
38 Wolverine was created as a punching bag for the Hulk. He was introduced in issue 180 of the Incredible Hulk as a pint-sized Canadian superhero charged with bringing the Hulk down. The book’s writer Len Wein created Wolverine with artist John Romita and although Wolvie is different from the lone brawler he is now, many of his trademark characteristics appear in the issue: the claws, the rough temperament, the yellow and blue costume and the strange mask with pointy ears. Although he was a secondary character, Wein thought he would be able to use him again in the revived X-Men book he was planning.
39 Captain America made a brief return to comics 1953 as a “Commie Smasher”. The hero was retired in 1950 but he was brought back to purge America of Reds and traitors in the pages of Young Men Comics, just as the country was coming to terms with the horrors of McCarthyism. The Red-bashing adventures did not last long and when Marvel revived Captain America again in 1964, it forgot the embarrassing Fifties, and created a story that he had lain frozen in ice since the end of the Second World War.
40 Sylvester Stallone’s ex-wife Brigitte Nielsen was to appear in a movie version of She Hulk. Although the film never got off the ground, Marvel did get as far as taking pictures of Nielsen dressed as She Hulk.
41 Marvel was the first comic company to give a black superhero his own comic book. Created by Archie Goodwin and John Romita, Luke Cage was a streetwise hero whose skin was as hard as steel. He made his first appearance in Luke Cage: Hero for Hire No 1 in June 1972 and was clearly an attempt by Marvel to cash in on the popular Blaxpoitation genre.
42 He was not, however, Marvel’s first black superhero – that title belongs to the Black Panther, who first appeared in 1966 in Fantastic Four No 52. Although born in the same year, the Black Panther has no connection to the militant Black Panther Party. However, it what seems like a clumsy attempt to distance the character from the party, Marvel briefly changed his name to the Black Leopard in the early Seventies. The first African-American superhero was the Falcon, who first appeared in Captain America No 117 in 1969.
43 Stan Lee sued Marvel. Lee filed a $10 million lawsuit against his employer in 2002, saying it had cheated him out of millions of dollars. He claimed that Marvel had signed a deal giving him 10 per cent of any profits made from films and TV shows that used his characters. Marvel settled the suit. Last month the children of the late Jack Kirby, who created the Fantastic Four and scores of other superhero titles with Lee, began a legal fight with Marvel and Disney to recapture the copyright to Kirby’s creations.
44 A Fantastic Four film exists that is so terrible it will never reach a screen. In 1992 the production company Constantin Film was in danger of losing the film rights to the Fantastic Four unless it started production on the movie by the end of the year. Lacking the $40 million it needed to make a full-budget film, it turned to low-budget movie supremo Roger Corman for help. He spent just $1.98 million to crank a quickie Fantastic Four movie. Constantin never intended to release the film but it never told the director or the actors this. “Oh, that was a tragic event. I feel so sorry for the people involved,” Stan Lee remembered years later. “The director really tried his best, and so did the actors. They all thought that this was their big chance. But the movie was never supposed to be seen. Most people thought, “Jesus, what a terrible job that is! How corny! How cheap!” They didn’t realize that it wasn’t meant to be any better than that. Unfortunately, the people working on the project didn’t know that, and they tried their best. Really, I feel so bad for all of them.” Other low-budget Marvel misfires include the 1989 Punisher film starring Dolph Lundgren and the 1990 Captain America film – starring no one you’ve ever heard of.
45 Death in the Marvel Universe has to be by the rules. In the preface to the Marvel Universe Book of the Dead, editor Mark Grunewald touches on the phenomenon of dead heroes and villains miraculously coming back to life. “Characters such as Doctor Doom have made it their stock in trade to escape one seeming death after another,” he writes. He handily draws up a rough guide to sorting out the fake deaths from the real ones. For a death to be real it has to take place in the comic panel, and not simply referred to in dialogue. The remains must be seen by two qualified witnesses and must be destroyed – burial is not enough in a universe where zombies and vampires exist. Of course all these rules have been wilfully ignored by writers at some time or another. The other abiding rule of the Marvel Universe was that Captain America’s sidekick, Bucky, and Spider-man’s uncle, Ben, had to stay dead. This rule has also been broken.
46 Marvel is home to the first openly gay superhero. Northstar, a French-Canadian mutant, came out in Alpha Flight No 106 in 1992.
47 Daredevil artist Wally Wood once corrupted the morals of Mickey Mouse. Wood, who came up with Daredevil’s signature red costume, also drew the Disneyland Memorial Orgy, which shows Disney favourites engaged in some very unDisney activities. Dumbo has never looked so shocked.
48 Stan Lee officiated at Spider-man’s wedding. In 1987 Marvel decided to let Peter Parker get hitched to his model girlfriend, Mary Jane Watson. The event took place in Amazing Spider-man Annual No 21 and, bizarrely, in real life at the Shea Stadium in New York with Lee presiding. You can see footage of the ceremony here. Although the marriage generated the publicity Marvel hoped it would, later writers and editors rued the event, believing a married Peter Parker limited them creatively. They eventually got round the marriage in 2007 by having the devil Mephisto erase it from everyone’s memory – the ctrl alt delete approach to storytelling.
49 Steve Ditko was sharing a studio with the fetish artist Eric Stanton when he came up with the designs for Spider-man’s costume and webbing. Before fetish fans get excited and moralists over flow with outrage, Stanton has said that his influence on Ditko’s designs was “almost nil”. Still, there’s something kinky about that mask.
50 Barack Obama appeared on the cover of Amazing Spider-man No 583 in celebration of his inauguration but he is not the first US president to feature in a Marvel comic. His predecessor, George W. Bush, turned up to congratulate Captain America in The Ultimates while Jimmy Carter appealed to the Avengers for help in Uncanny X-Men No 135 after a super-villain destroyed a swanky part of down-town New York. The most controversial presidential appearance was one made by Richard Nixon. In Captain America No 175, published a month before Nixon resigned the presidency, the Cap uncovers the identity of a high-ranking government official who has been directing an evil plot to enslave America. On being exposed, the villain kills himself infront of the Cap. We never see his face, nor is he explicitly named but it is clear that the villain is Nixon. The comic’s writer, Steve Englehart, recalled: “America was moving from the Vietnam War toward the specific crimes of Watergate. I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide.”
51 Spider-man once went on a double date with Superman. Marvel and DC decided to put their flagship characters together for the first time in the 1976 special Superman v Amazing Spider-man. Although the two heroes joined forces to battle the combined villainy of their nemeses, they did spent a fair amount of the comic knocking each other about. Both won a round each but this being comics, friendship was declared the eventual winner. The two defeated their foes and celebrated by going on a double date with Lois Lane and Mary-Jane. Superman and Spider-man crossed paths again in 1981, when Superman was clobbered by the Hulk, but the ultimate cross-universe slug-fest was the 1996 series DC v Marvel Comics, in which reader votes determined the outcome of the fights.
52 The Comics Code Authority forbade the use of werewolves in comics so Marvel writers had to come up with ingenious ways of including the classic villain archetype. For X-Men No 60 (1969) Roy Thomas and Neal Adams created Sauron, a were–pterodactyl to get round the code.
53 The final issue of Captain America Comics didn’t feature even feature Captain America. By 1950 the title was known as Captain America’s Weird Tales and bore little resemblance to the sentinel of liberty’s first adventures. The final issue, No 75, contained four horror stories: Hoof Prints of Doom, A Cigarette Stamped Death, The Thing in the Chest and The Bat!
54 Spider-man got his very own car, the Spider-Mobile, as a result of merchandising deal between Marvel and Corona Motors. The ludicrous beach buggy, which was eventually modified to imitate Spidey’s powers, made its debut in Amazing Spider-man No 130 in 1974. Shamelessly, the issue features Corona Motors offering Spidey a lot of loot to endorse a new non-polluting car it has developed. A few issues later he ditched the buggy into the river.
55 Mario Puzo, the author of The Godfather, found writing comics too difficult. Before he found fame as a novelist, Puzo eked a living writing for men’s adventure magazines for Marvel’s publisher. Short of cash one month he asked Stan Lee if he could try his hand writing a comic script. Lee readily agreed but Puzo couldn’t deliver the goods. “He said it was too difficult,” Lee recounts in his autobiography. Puzo told him: “I could write a novel in the time it would take me to figure this damn thing out.” Puzo did eventually crack the superhero nut, writing the screenplays for the first two Superman movies.
56 The X-Men comic was originally going to be titled The Mutants but Marvel publisher Martin Goodman hated the name, telling Lee that readers would be clueless as to what a mutant was. Lee says that the new name came from the fact that the heroes had extra powers.
57 Stan Lee was prepared to cancel Daredevil if there was any hint the book caused offence to blind people.
58 Terminator director James Cameron tried to make a Spider-man film in the Nineties but was frustrated by a complicated rights battle between studios over who owned the character. However, his idea to have Spidey’s webs shoot out of him organically was kept in the 2002 film made by Sam Raimi.
59 In Nick Fury Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., S.H.I.E.L.D. stands for Supreme Headquarters International Espionage Law-Enforcement Division. In the Iron Man movie the awkward acronym is changed to the similarly preposterous Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division.
60 Readers who alerted Marvel to mistakes in their comics were awarded a No-Prize. This would be empty envelope sent back to the reader on which would be written: “Congratulations! This envelope contains a genuine Marvel Comics No-Prize, which you have just won!” The No-Prize has become a much sought-after item for fans.
61 Spider-man revealed his identity to the world in 2006. As part of the huge Marvel crossover series Civil War in which secret identities are banned Spidey is forced to unmask himself in front of TV cameras. Everything goes back to normal a year later after The Devil magically erases everyone’s memories.
62 One of the first superhero graphic novels was The Silver Surfer (1978), by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
63 Stan Lee and Jack Kirby often appeared as themselves in the Fantastic Four. They first did so in issue No 10 in 1963, which established that they were producing the comic as a newsletter to recount the heroes’ ‘real’ adventures. Artist and writer John Byrne revived the conceit 20 years later by inserting himself into his own story, The Trial of Galactus.
64 The Fantastic Four is never short of surreal moments. The second issue of the comic set the tone when the team hypnotises an invading army of shape-shifting aliens into beginning life anew as cows.
65 Britain got its own team of Marvel superheroes with Excalibur. The comic made its debut in 1987 and featured Captain Britain alongside former X-Men Nightcrawler and Shadowcat. Marvel’s presence in Britain stretched back to 1972, when it set up Marvel UK to reprint its American stories for the weekly British comic market. Captain Britain was created in 1976 by Chris Claremont and Herbe Trimpe specifically for British readers.
66 Fantasy author Neil Gaiman transported the Marvel Universe to the Elizabethan Age in his acclaimed series Marvel 1602. The Fantastic Four were reimagined as a group of sea-faring explorers and the X-Men’s arch-enemy Magneto was depicted as a leading member of the Spanish Inquisition.
67 Luke Skywalker saved Spider-man. Marvel’s comic book adaptation of Star Wars in 1977 was a runaway success and the only highlight of very dismal sales year for Marvel. Roy Thomas, who wrote the adaptation, has said that Marvel almost lost the chance to do the comic series because Stan Lee, Marvel’s then publisher, wasn’t interested in the idea of doing adaptations of other people’s work. “Stan whose memory about such matters is generally just this side of amnesiac, has since said since that he was sold on the idea the second time around because Alec Guinness was starring in it,” Thomas said. “Still, adapting a movie into a comic because Alec Guinness was in it would hardly have been a logical move. His name had no marquee value to Marvel’s readers.”
68 Stan Lee wanted to play Jonah J Jameson in Canon Films’s abortive late Eighties Spider-man movie project but did not get his wish. He has, however, appeared in almost all of Marvel’s movies since 2000. His last cameo role, in Iron Man, saw him surrounded by Penthouse pets.
69 Wolverine’s origin story was kept a mystery for 26 years. Most superhero comics deal with origin stories in the first few issues but Wolverine was different. His writers fed readers only snippets of his past – he fought in the Second World War, sinister government scientists erased his memories and covered his bones with an indestructible metal alloy, he may have been the first mutant, his real name is not Logan but James – but these served only to make him mysterious. Marvel eventually relented to fan pressure in 2001 and published Wolverine Origin. The series is set in late 19th century and tells the story of a servant girl who befriends a frail, pampered boy from a rich family. After a series of Bronte-like tragedies, the boy eventually turns into the rough, beer-swilling clawed killer fans know and love.
70 Stan Lee has trademarked his catchphrase “Excelsior!”
Answer: * The theme to the Spider-man cartoon was in fact written by Bob Harris and the Academy Award-winning lyricist Paul Francis Webster. Unfortunately Webster didn’t win any awards for “Spider-man, Spider-man, does whatever a spider can”.