The Progression and Success of the Marvel Franchise
Research Paper June 2018
What are Marvel Comics?
Marvel is an American-owned franchise that creates merchandise, films, and television shows based off of superheroes and characters originally created throughout the Marvel comic books. With its small beginnings and a couple hiccups in the road, the Marvel Franchise has become internationally popular. The company has evolved from just comic books to many other avenues of business. Comic books in general became popular during the World War II era. During this time, comic books gained their popularity because of their cheap price and portability. The stories portrayed in the superhero comics gave hope to many Americans. During WWII these stories about heroes were enticing distractions to the public. At this time Marvel found its greatest success with the Captain America comics. The superhero Captain America flaunted the stars and the stripes, and promoted the war effort. Some of the comics even featured Captain America fighting against Hitler (The Golden Age of Comics).
The Marvel comics were founded by Martin Goodman. Martin Goodman was a publisher that created Timely Comics, the original title for the Marvel company. The company began with the publication of Marvel Comics no. 1 in October of 1939. The first comics featured superheroes like the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner. This was soon followed by Captain America Comics no. 1. The introduction of the Captain America comics was during World War II, making these publications part of the war propaganda. Soon after this, DC Comics brought in the silver age of comics, giving them competition. The company’s name was changed from Timely Comics to Atlas, and eventually in the early 1960s to Marvel Comics. Marvel found itself subjected to bankruptcy in 1996. Eventually, to recover from bankruptcy, the company was forced to expand their demographic, and create Marvel Studios. Currently, Marvel is owned by the Walt Disney Company (DeForest).
The comic books featuring superheroes were mainly created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Stan Lee was born on December 28, 1922 in New York City, New York, with the name Stanley Martin Lieber. He was originally hired as an editorial assistant for Timely Comics. In 1942 he was promoted to editor, and began writing comic strips. In 1961, the first superheroes created by artist Kirby and Lee were The Fantastic Four. Quickly after Lee’s success with the creation of The Fantastic Four, Lee created characters like the Hulk, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, and the X-Men. “Lee was particularly known for his dynamism with copy and for imbuing his characters with a sense of humanity, tackling real-world issues like bigotry and drug use, which would influence comics for decades” (Stan Lee). All of these characters currently have successful films. Stan Lee was promoted to editorial director of Marvel Comics in 1972. Now at age 95, Stan Lee continues to be a very popular part of the Marvel Franchise. He is consulted while creating movies based off of the comics and always features in a small role (Britannica, Stan Lee).
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is the part of the Marvel franchise that creates movies that feature superheroes, mainly in the Avenger’s group. This was a daunting task for Marvel considering it is very easy for movies to fail. “Even though there were 5,000 characters to choose from, few of them seemed worthy at the time of sustaining interesting, let alone blockbuster, franchises. The biggest and the best of the bunch, Spider-Man and X-Men, had been licensed off to other studios, and were thus unavailable to the Marvel team” (Cain). The movies in the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) can be divided into three phases. The first phase consists of movies leading up to the film, Marvel’sThe Avengers. The MCU’s first film released was Iron Man. This was released in 2008, and was soon followed up by The Incredible Hulk. Both of these movies grossed around $200-$300 million. Two years later, Iron Man 2 was released. In 2011, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger were released. All of these movies in phase one led up to Marvel’s The Avengers, which was released in May of 2012. Both the Marvel franchise and Marvel’s The Avengers proved to be a huge success, grossing more than $1.5 billion worldwide (All Time).
Phase two begins with Iron Man 3 and Thor: The Dark World in 2013. In 2014 the MCU came out with Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy. Both of these movies introduce characters that continue to appear through MCU films. Captain America: The Winter Soldier introduces Captain America’s once best friend James Buchanan Barnes or “Bucky” in the form of the Winter Soldier. The Guardians of the Galaxy film introduces a gang consisting of people from all parts of the universe. These movies led up to Avengers: Age of Ultron where a couple more characters were introduced to the film world. Pietro and his sister Wanda Maximoff from Sokovia join the Avengers group and continue to appear in movies. Avengers: Age of Ultron grossed about $1.4 billion worldwide (All Time). Phase two is wrapped up by the movie Ant-Man in July of 2015.
Phase three, the most recent phase, began with Captain America: Civil War. This film introduced issues between the superheroes, dividing the characters and many of the fans. The next movie released in this phase introduced a new superhero, Doctor Strange. Doctor Strange was then followed by three movies in 2017, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, and Thor: Ragnarok. With the release of Spider-Man: Homecoming a new Spider-Man was introduced. Previously, the rights to use the Spider-Man character were licensed to Sony Pictures, and they had created movies themselves featuring Spider-Man. The recent Marvel Spider-Man movie was created as a result of an agreement made with Sony Pictures. This agreement allowed Marvel Studios to produce the film with creative influence, but was financed by Sony. In 2018, Marvel came out with its most recent and most successful two MCU movies, Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War. Black Panther was released in February of 2018, and made close to $1.3 billion in box offices, making it one of the highest grossing movies in history—and in the top five grossing movies domestically. Black Panther was then soon followed by Avengers: Infinity War released on April 27, 2018. This movie also produced overwhelming success with an earning close to $2 billion in about a month (Hughes, Avengers: Infinity War).
The success of these movies could not have come about without the increase of use and ability of the visual effects brought to the audience with every new film. The visual effects have evolved throughout the years, making each new Marvel movie more captivating. With the creation of Iron Man in 2008, the creation of Iron Man’s suit was just the beginning. To create the suit, the VFX team used a little bit of both real-life armor and digitally created armor. The next hurdle for Marvel’s VFX team to overcome was with the creation of Captain America: The First Avenger. To create the realistic pre-super soldier Steve Rogers, the team used 2-D manipulation and a frame-by-frame approach. In The Avengers the VFX team was able to create a very realistic Hulk, right down to the facial expressions and facial hair matching the actor Mark Ruffalo. The next visual effects feat that Marvel accomplished was Guardians of the Galaxy. This intergalactic movie featured two CGI characters, Rocket the Raccoon and Groot.
“The team spent more than six months developing the character, which required extremely complex modeling, rigging, and animation. All of his branches were modeled and rigged individually, in fact, to allow his body to keep its rigid, wooden feel. And since he only said, 'I am Groot,' a lot of attention was given to humanizing his facial expressions and eyes”(Desowitz).
In Captain America: Civil War new characters including Spider-Man, Black Pantherand Ant-Man were featured. The VFX team was challenged with developing the real-life special effects to accompany their powers. Doctor Strange brought a whole new level of visual effects to the Marvel scene. With the movie involving different realms and moving buildings, the movie proved to be a success on the visual effects stage. With the creation of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, the issue of CGI characters arose again. In addition to the CGI Rocket and Baby Groot, a new character, Ego, required intense visual effects. Ego had many digitally created transformations throughout the film. In both Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 fractals, which are geometric shapes used mainly for natural landscapes or living things, were used to create the complex images (Desowitz).
Many directors have been called upon throughout the years to create Marvel’s successful films. A few of the Directors responsible for multiple movies are Jon Favreau (Iron Man and Iron Man 2), Joss Whedon(The Avengers and Avengers: Age of Ultron), James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2) and Peyton Reed (Ant-Man and Ant-Man and the Wasp). The directors that have the most MCU films under their belt are the Russo Brothers, Anthony and Joe. The Brothers have directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Captain America: Civil War, and the most recent MCU film, Avengers: Infinity War. This new film called upon not only Anthony and Joe Russo, but many other directors for their creative inspiration. Anthony Russo admitted,
"I would say collectively, everyone in the Marvel universe has been involved in this movie. We're very close with all the directors, we love them all… In respect to hearing... where people are taking their characters. [Ant-Man and the Wasp] is just about to start shooting, so we need to keep in communication with Peyton constantly about story elements in that, that may affect this. Coogler. Sorry, we didn't mention him. Ryan was in the middle of shooting Black Panther, and he was here and we had several conversations” (How Avengers 3 & 4).
One of the primary reasons for the director’s collaboration was that there were multiple movies, either in the process of filming, or preparing to film. These movie included, Black Panther, directed by Ryan Coogler, Thor: Ragnarok, directed by Taika Waititi, and Ant-Man and the Wasp directed by Peyton Reed. Also, since the film incorporated so many different superheroes, Anthony and Joe Russo spoke with directors from individual movies to maintain their creative vision (How Avengers 3 & 4, Marvel Studios).
What else is there?
Not only has Marvel made a name for itself in the movie industry, the company also has its hands in multiple television shows. Just a few of their most recently released, and most successful TV shows being, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Luke Cage, and Jessica Jones. All three of these shows have achieved higher than a 90 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has been airing on ABC since 2013 with six seasons. The plot follows agents employed at the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement, and Logistics Division, led by Agent Coulson, following the plot of the movie, Marvel’s The Avengers. The show Luke Cage first came out on Netflix in 2016, but has yet to feature a second season. The premiere of the second season is set to be on June 22, 2018. Jessica Jones also was premiered on Netflix. The first season came out in 2015 and featured many female roles, which is not typical of Marvel films. Another Marvel show coming out on Netflix and Freeform is slated to come out in June of 2018, Cloak and Dagger (Bruce, Brockington).
Marvel is known to have a multitude of enthusiastic and loyal fans. Marvel has appeared at Comic-Con for many years. With panels, exclusive merchandise, interviews, and new trailers, fans come to get a taste of their favorite characters in real life. The fan base has only been growing along with the company. In 2016 Marvel introduced a loyalty program. This loyalty program both attracts new fans and retains old ones.
Marvel has progressed immensely since Martin Goodman’s small beginning in 1939. The company has involved itself in much more than just comic books. As the comic books gained popularity, Marvel branched out into television shows, movies, and many products for sale. “Comics became toys, which became TV shows, which became novels, which became video games, which became movies, apps, websites, social media, etc.” (Why Marvel). Their success has recently caused them to earn over $12 billion gross since 2005 (Cain). Some of the things that have made Marvel and its movies so successful over the years are their ability to not exceed your suspension of disbelief much, having characters with flaws, and really drawing their plot lines from the original comics. Many of the Marvel superheroes, mutants, villains from not only the MCU have relatable features. They are not perfect, and that may be the reason why the characters’ movies and comics come across perfectly to the public.
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