Marvel Milestones (part 1): Timely’s Golden Age (1940s)

Comic books as we know them got their start in the early 1930s, first as published collections of daily newspaper comic strips. Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded National Allied Publications (later named DC) in 1934 and began publishing original material (but not yet superheroes) in Adventure Comics (1935) and Detective Comics (1936).

TimelylogoMartin Goodman was a publisher of a wide variety of pulp magazines (including titles such as “Marvel Tales” and Marvel Science Stories”!) since the early 30s, started Timely Publications (later named Marvel) in 1939 when he first entered the comic book market with Marvel Comics.

Related Events: Depression (1930s), WW II (1938-45), Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941)

Important Terms: archetypes, propaganda, holocaust, fascism, stereotypes

Discussion Points:

  • Why did superheroes become so popular?
  • How did the War influence comics?
  • Who should “own” the characters created for comics?

View “Comicbook Superheroes Unmasked” segment 1 (to @26:00).  You can also find a narrative “Brief History of the Marvel Universe” with more cover art online at


1938  National’s Superman first appears in Action Comics #1 (June)

1939 National’s Batman first appears in Detective Comics #27 (May)

Timely’s Human Torch (a synthetic flaming man) and Namor, the Sub-Mariner (a human/Atlantean hybrid) first appear (Marvel Comics #1, Oct.)


1940 Fawcett’s Captain Marvel first appears in Whiz Comics #2

Timely changes the name of their original title to Marvel Mystery Comics and starts two new titles — Daring Mystery Comics and Mystic Comics. The Human Torch gets a new title under his own name. Torch and Namor meet for the first time in MMC #8, the first “crossover” in the Marvel Universe.


1941 Timely’s Captain America first receives the Super Soldier Serum, his original shield, and his teen sidekick, Bucky (Captain America Comics #1, March). It was the beginning of a big year for Timely:


  • Cap will also regularly appear, along with other new heroes, in two new titles created later that year: All Winners Comics and USA Comics.


  • Cap’s sidekick Bucky began appearing with Torch’s partner Toro with an odd group of boys in Young Allies Comics #1 (Torch and Cap, coming to the boys’ rescue, meet for the first time).


  • Sub-Mariner also gets a new title under his own name.

1942  National’s Wonder Woman first appears in Sensation Comics #1

1943 Timely launches All-Select Comics, which features more stories of its “Big 3” (Torch, Namor, Cap) and other heroes. In MMC #49, Timely introduces its first major female character, Miss America (she got her own title in 1944)


1946 Timely’s All-Winners Squad, a team comprised of Captain America, Bucky, Human Torch, Toro, Sub-Mariner, Whizzer (Marvel’s “speedster”), and Miss America first appears in All-Winners Comics #19, further establishing that all of Timely’s characters inhabit the same “universe.” A new female crime-fighter, the Blonde Phantom, first appeared in All-Select Comics #11 (which was renamed for her with issue #12).


1949  Timely’s “Golden Age” ends with these final issues: Blonde Phantom #22 (March), Human Torch #35 (March), Sub-Mariner #32 (June), MMC #92 (June), and Captain America #74 (October, now billed as Captain America’s Weird Tales, which gives you an idea where comics are headed as we move into the 1950s!).


Up Next:  The Atlas Era

About Rick D. Williams

Teaching and writing have been my life's work for over two decades as a journalist and educator. My degrees in History were earned at Illinois State University, and I've done additional graduate work at Lincoln Christian Seminary and Urbana Theological Seminary. Over the years I’ve led conference workshops and authored articles and book chapters on topics ranging from religious education and international student ministry to state and local history.
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