by Nathan Ellis
If it wasn't for the Justice League, Marvel probably wouldn't even exist today. At least not as the superhero comics titan we know it as now. If you've watched any comics documentaries or looked into the historical significance of the silver age, you probably know that things were looking grim for Atlas comics in the late 50's (the publishing company founded out of the ashes of Timely Comics). Told by Stan Lee himself, the story goes that Atlas was doing so poorly adjusting to the shifting interests of America's youth that the offices were even being emptied out. After publisher Martin Goodman told Stan of their competitor DC comics' successful superhero team book Justice League of America, Stan was ordered to write a similar comic for the company's new imprint Marvel. Lee famously states, tired of the industry, that he wanted to give it one last shot and do the kind of book he himself would want to read. Thus, with the help of visionary artist and comics legend Jack Kirby, The Fantastic Four was born, ushering in the Marvel Age of Comics. The line in the sand was drawn, ruthless fanboy battle cries would echo through the halls of pop culture for an eternity. An unparalleled rivalry had begun.
The new kids on the block had a legacy to compete with. DC was the wise old grandfather that could overpower Marvel's frail little posterior with it's experience ridden, oaken hands ofdeath and all that mythical old man strength that came with. They were the pioneers of the Golden Age and the Silver Age of superhero serials. Creating an enduring formula that the industry owes most of it's greatest successes and failures to. It can't be overstated how important DC was and still is to the genre, inarguably responsible for creating the entire archetype of the modern day super hero. So how then, did the whipper snappers over at Marvel offices manage to build an empire in the midst of giants?
I wish I could come up with something singular and punchy to explain it, some grand catalyst that one could trace to the company's continued opulence. Alas, there seemed to be a favorable tapestry of ideas at work instead. For one, writers and artists were drawing inspiration from the real world. A simple peek out of the ol' office windows in New York and there it was; The Marvel Universe staring right back at them. Not only were these characters more human than the competition, they seemingly lived and breathed in the big apple with the people who created them. Cunningly taking advantage of being able to start a crossover realm of paper people from scratch, the Marvel bullpen createdthe most impressive and cohesive comic universe in the business. With a focus on atomic era worries and promises, coupled with a relatable roster of new heroes and villains, Marvel has prospered as a company for over 5 decades.
Don't get me wrong, with a talent pool consisting of creators like Bernie Wrightson, Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman, DC has proven it can constantly rise back to the top as an incredibly relevant company. It would be a lie to say that they didn't cast a mountainous shadow as a publisher. Eclipsing their rivals every so often to remind them who they're messing with. All those brilliant minds and arguably superior stories over the years still can't mask the underlying issue that their universe just doesn't seem to flow as well. The self titled "house of ideas" also appears to be doing similarly well in Hollywood with it's borrowed method.
Thanks to the folks over at Disney/Marvel Studios, general audiences world wide are being treated to an annual tease that comics fans know all too well. Carrying the same frustrating allure of crossovers and events the source material found itself guilty of years before. People continuously pack the house for each new chapter in the series, regardless of how many turn out to be padded fluff and promises of bigger things. While straining to justify a two hour runtime, these movies do ultimately thrill and charm even the cynics in the crowd. I could sing praises all day about how impressive it is that a studio managed to make almost 100 million dollars opening night on an obscure property like Guardians of the Galaxy, on reputation and curiosity alone no less. However, my slow clap for them comes from my admiration to their forward planning. If Marvel's ability to skillfully repackage DC's format and genre with a modern swagger didn't impress you, just think about how insanely clever this is; Marvel has been plastering Thanos' big purple mug on screen for two phases now. Meaning DC has no choice but to witness a rip off of the Justice League's biggest villain make their competitors truckloads of money, all the while doing it on screen first. That my friends, is the kind of plan Lex Luthor would be jealous of.