Marvel Milestones (part 2): The “Atlas Era”

Soon after the end of World War II, Timely Publications had already begun to shift its focus to cAtlaslogoomics featuring “funny animals”, romance, western action, and several new “adolescent antics” titles (Patsy Walker, Millie the Model, Nellie the Nurse), aimed primarily at girls. The early 50s saw new emphasis on horror and crime stories, science-fiction fantasies, war stories, weird monsters, and humanity in an atomic age. These comics were distributed by Goodman’s new Atlas News Company, and the Atlas icon on their covers gave this era its name.

Related Events: Cold War (begins c. 1947), Senate Hearings on Delinquency (1954)

Important Terms: communism, morality tales, stigma, retrocontinuity

Discussion Points:

  • How did fear of communism influence comics?
  • Is your behavior influenced by what you read?
  • Is government responsible for protecting us from harmful influences?

View “Comicbook Superheroes Unmasked” segment 2 (@26:00-37:00).  You can also find a narrative “Brief History of the Marvel Universe” with more cover art online at


1948-51 The primary Western Heroes of the MU get their start (later stories in the “Modern Marvel” era establish these gunslingers are part of MU history):


Marvel’s three main Western Heroes together on the cover of 1968 reprint series, art by Dick Ayers


  • Two-Gun Kid and Kid Colt (both start in 1948); Rawhide Kid (1955)
  • Apache Kid (1951; renamed Western Gunfighters in 1956)








1950 The only Atlas-era “superhero,” Marvel Boy, (who had grown up on Uranus!) first appeared in his own comic (title changed to Astonishing with issue #3). H After a year as something of a romance comic, stories of Greek goddess-turned-heroine Venus shift to horror themes.


1951-52 The first issues of Strange Tales and Journey into Mystery published.  These titles and others from the Atlas Era will serve as launch publications for many of Marvel’s classic heroes of the 60s.

Strange_Tales_Vol_1_3    Journey_into_Mystery_Vol_1_1

1953-55 Timely’s Golden Age “Big 3” briefly returned in Young Men #24-28, Men’s Adventures #27-28, Human Torch #36-38, Sub-Mariner # 33-43, and Captain America #76-78.

Young_Men_Vol_1_24   Men's_Adventures_Vol_1_28

1954  Dr. Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent published; Comics Code Authority formed after the U. S. Senate’s Hearings on Juvenile Delinquency (see details in the video).

Adventurer Ken Hale is cursed to become the Gorilla Man in a story in Men’s Adventures #26. M-11, the Human Robot, first appeared in Menace #11.

Agents of Atlas

1956  F.B.I.Agent Jimmy Woo first appears in Yellow Claw #1. Two years later, Woo would become the leaders of a group of Atlas Era characters (Venus, Marvel Boy, Gorilla Man, M-11) as the Agents of Atlas.* A cousin of the Sub-Mariner, Namora, who appeared in many Golden Age stories and three issues of her own title in 1949, also was a member of the team.

1959  The first issues of Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense published (also important “launch” titles for Marvel’s 60s superhero revival).

Tales_of_Suspense_Vol_1_1    Tales_to_Astonish_Vol_1_3

Avengers1959WWII hero Nick Fury  assembled a group of individuals to investigate resurgent Nazi activities around the world. Calling themselves the “Avengers,” the group consisted of Golden Age heroines Blond Phantom and Namora along with “modern” characters Ulysses Bloodstone, Dominic Fortune, Kraven, Sabertooth, and the original Silver Sable.*




*Denotes “retrocontinuity” stories published after Marvel’s Silver-Age super-hero revival, but set prior to the events in Fantastic Four #1 (below). Marvel has made great use over the years of the art of character “retconning,” a device used to make creative changes to past stories (or in entirely new stories) to “retroactively” place them into established Marvel Universe “continuity.”  Agents of Atlas first first appeared in their own series in 2006.  Fury’s “1959 Avengers” appeared in New Avengers vol. 2 #10 and in Avengers 1959 (both 2011).

Up Next:  The “Modern Marvel Universe” is born!

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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