According to Sean Howe's excellent book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, in 1961 the company that would become Marvel Comics was in need of a hit to boost flagging comic book sales. The answer to the company's quandary came to them unexpectedly when founder Martin Goodman played a fateful game of golf with the head of DC Comics, Jack Liebowitz. During the game, Liebowitz allegedly bragged to Goodman about how DC's biggest surprise hit came from combining their most popular characters like Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman into a team-up title.
After finishing the back nine, Goodman went back to his editorial ace in the hole, Stan Lee, and ordered him to steal the idea and make the Marvel version. But Stan Lee, who by this point had been working in comics for 20 years, didn't want to make a bland team of superheroes. So, at his wife's encouragement, Lee injected his own ideas into a brand new team of characters and passed the concept along to his most trusted artist, Jack Kirby, to bring to life.
The result wasn't anything like what Goodman had asked for. In fact, it was unlike anything in superhero comics at the time. These superheroes argued, they had emotional crises, and they felt like real living, breathing people. They were the Fantastic Four, and their comic sold like gangbusters. Issues flew off the shelves, fan mail poured in, and thus began the Marvel Universe as we know it today.
Over the next two years, Marvel found themselves with hit after hit as the dynamic duo of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created memorable heroes like Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man, Hulk, and the Wasp—all of whom had fantastical powers and complicated personal lives. When they finally paired them up in 1963, Earth's Mightiest Heroes, the Avengers were born. But little do many fans know that this auspicious beginning owes a major debt of gratitude to Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, and the rest of the Justice League, especially if the tales are to be believed. Oh, and golf. Gotta give it up for golf.
Image: Warner Bros; Marvel Comics; DC Comics
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