Since the theatrical release of Captain America in 1944, Marvel has been producing more films based on their characters over the years. Releasing this week, The Winter Soldier stars another version of Captain America, and will mark 70 years of Marvel characters appearing on the silver screen. Normally, we would be concerned with a character in their 90s trying to be a spry Super Soldier and still appeal to today’s mainstream audience, but thankfully Stan Lee is only making a cameo appearance in this one. (Editor’s note: Dear Stan, don’t hate us.) But that made us realize Marvel Studios as we know it today is only a baby compared to the Marvel Comics company in its entirety.
Through an intimate collaboration with two growing websites, we will be presenting a 3 Part History of Marvel Studios event narrated by ComicUI and illustrated by Pickled Comics. We wanted to honor the 70th anniversary of Marvel’s film presence, as well as the release of their new movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
It is hard to imagine watching superhero movies as they are without the large influence Marvel Studios has had on popular culture and other film productions around the world. However, we will be presenting the history of Marvel characters in film and television at the dawn of the motion picture medium, through the 1990s Marvel bankruptcy, and ultimately ending on the modern emergence of superhero films and the creation of Marvel Studios. Come back each day to follow the story and see how we got to this week’s newest release, The Winter Soldier.
History of Marvel Studios – Part 1 (1944-1979)
To view the complete Visual History of Marvel Studios, please visit PickledComics.com or click on ANY image below.
Marvel Studios has not always gone by its memorable name. In fact, it started off as a humble company called Timely Comics. Founded in 1939, Timely was created by Martin Goodman, who held the positions of Editor, Managing Editor, and Business Manager all at the same time. The lesson learned here is that if you want to be editor and managing editor and effectively be your own boss, create a company. Acting as an umbrella (ella ella eh) company, it first published Marvel Comics in October of 1939, which featured the first appearance of the Human Torch (android version, of course, which makes an appearance in Captain America: The First Avenger ). The second issue was retitled Marvel Mystery Comics, and this lead to other heroes appearing soon after, such as Namor the Submariner and ultimately, Captain America in 1941.
It is these Captain America Comics that bring us to the main meat of our story, when, three years later, Republic Pictures obtained a license to create the first silver screen representation of America’s Favorite Superhero. In that time, Republic was known for making serials, the early equivalent of television shows, and it was putting all its money behind Captain America’s popularity. This would turn out to be fatal for the company, as it was the most expensive serial ever produced at the time and would be the last for Republic Pictures.
Republic’s version of Captain America strayed from the source material enough to make any comic book reader lash out in rage fueled fanboyism. Instead of Steve Rogers powered by a Super Soldier serum and armed with a shield, we got Grant Gardner, district attorney. He wasn’t a super soldier, just a regular guy with a gun.
And forget about the Red Skull and Nazis being the main villains; Republic saw fit to create a new threat, the Scarab. He was, in fact, the museum curator in the film, which makes the film feel more like a Scooby Doo adventure than a real superhero film. The real antagonist of the film? Bad health. Dick Purcell, the actor who would be Captain America, died merely weeks after filming had concluded. Doctors and film industrialites alike state that the stress of the film took a toll on the average-looking, overweight actor’s heart. It was a bittersweet role though, as the serial that made Dick famous also claimed his life.
It would be 22 more years before we’d see Marvel characters appear in film and television again. This time, they would return as actual Marvel Comics characters but with a catch: they appeared only in animation.
Marvel Super Heroes was a television show that premiered in 1966 and focused on the strong collection of Marvel’s super hero characters. You could tune in each day to view a seven minute episode of a specific super hero. The schedule was as follows: Monday for Captain America, Tuesday you could see the Hulk, Wednesday was for Iron Man, Thor Thursday , and Friday was Namor. This rotation wasn’t feasible to have new episodes created daily, so Marvel took what they know – comics – and converted them to video. This included taking exact panels from already-published comics and crudely animating them to give the appearance of a cartoon show. This led to low-quality episodes, but also allowed Marvel to adapt stories into multi-part serial episodes. Even though Marvel Super Heroes only ran for three months, it will always be remembered for its low-quality production and use of actual comic book art .
There would be another drought of Marvel in the video medium until 1977, when it struck the proverbial gold with The Incredible Hulk TV show. Despite some questionable changes, such as changing the main character’s name from Bruce to David due to masculinity questions, the show was regarded as hugely successful. Lou Ferrigno, who portrayed the live action version of the Hulk, has shown up in the more recent Hulk films and even voiced Hulk in the most recent Marvel Studios film. The show would go on to have some made-for-TV movies, which introduced other Marvel characters to viewers, including what appear to be hyper-real versions of Thor and Daredevil.
That same year, your friendly neighborhood wall crawler got his own show in The Amazing Spider-Man. This was a live-action television series which, surprisingly to us, lasted for 2 seasons. These episodes were then re-edited to movie-length to increase viewership, but Stan Lee, Spider-Man’s rightful creator at Marvel, publicly declared his disdain for the series, even though he was the script supervisor for all of the episodes. Apparently Spider-Man wasn’t always thought to be so amazing.
The year was 1978 and Marvel started feeling ballsy after the Incredible Hulk show’s success. If the Hulk can work, then by Odin they felt they were going to attempt some other Marvel characters . This time, they started working on a Doctor Strange show. Say what? Yes sir, they attempted to get a television series based on the Sorcerer Supreme and actually got a pilot episode made. CBS had so much faith in the show, they even hired Jessica Walter (Lucille Bluth in Arrested Development) to play the villain, Morgan Le Fey. Much like Arrested Development, the life of the series ended much too soon.
The network didn’t pick up the series for two reasons. First, CBS didn’t want to become the Super Hero Channel and second, the pilot aired opposite of the original airing of the infamous film, Roots, which had the highest number of viewers that night. Not standing a chance, Doctor Strange became a television film instead. Unlike The Amazing Spider-Man from the year before, Stan Lee enjoyed the hell out of Doctor Strange. Despite not picking up steam that year, Marvel Studios may be revisiting Doctor Strange in a few years from today.
Finally, after 35 years, Marvel would once again return to the first character it brought to the audience on a silver screen. Captain America had been benched for far too long, and Marvel decided he was ready to return to the big screen. Although not released theatrically, Captain America would arrive on television sets across the nation. Thankfully, the second time was more faithful to the actual character in the comic books and was actually named Steve Rogers (an artist, who later designs his own costume) and was given his powers from a serum, named FLAG. However, not directly involved with the comic character’s origins, CBS again tried their damndest to adapt it for the times. Steve’s father was a WWII veteran who was dubbed Captain America due to his unhealthy patriotism during the war, and Steve took it upon himself to use that name after his transformation.
We all know that Steve Rogers was the only hope to end the great war, but could his appearance in films be enough to spark a revolution? Come back later this week as we continue with part two of three detailing the history of Marvel Studios.
Now that you’ve read about the History of Marvel Studios, head over to PickledComics.com and visualize it!