Today's announced acquisition of Marvel Entertainment by Disney is just the latest chapter on the company's more than 70 year history. John Jackson Miller from The Comics Chronicles timelines the most important chapters...1932: Martin Goodman starts the magazine publishing business that will later become Marvel.
August 1939: Marvel Comics #1 is published under Martin Goodman's Timely Comics umbrella. Other logos would be used, including Atlas in the 1950s.
1961: A renaissance begins at perennial also-ran comics publisher Marvel with the publication of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's Fantastic Four #1, the first of a new wave of super-heroes that would include Spider-Man, The Hulk, Iron Man, The X-Men, and The Avengers. Marvel's market share would grow, regularly becoming the #1 publisher by the 1980s.
1968: Martin Goodman sells Marvel to a firm whose products range from magazines to vitamins; the firm would later be known as Cadence Industries.
1986: Cadence sells Marvel to New World Entertainment, a television and film production company.
January 1989: Ronald Perelman's MacAndrews and Forbes buys Marvel Entertainment group from failing New World Entertainment for $82.5 million.
Summer 1991: Perelman and company sell 40% of Marvel in a public offering.
That sale created a stock that sparkled throughout the speculator bubble in comics, with Marvel buying additional assets along the way in financier Ronald Perelman's attempt, in his words, to form a "mini-Disney." Dan Raviv quotes Perelman in Comic Wars: Marvel's Battle for Survival:
"It is a mini-Disney in terms of intellectual property. Disney's got much more highly recognized characters and softer characters, whereas out characters are termed action heroes. But at Marvel we are now in the business of the creation and marketing of characters."
Dec. 27, 1996: Burdened by a large debt following many expensive acquisitions in trading-card and other tangentially related fields -- and shaken by the mid-1990s decline in comics publishing fortunes -- Marvel Entertainment files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
1997-98: A long legal battle between holders of Marvel's bonds results in temporary control of the company by Carl Icahn and his associates. Later, control is regained by the owner of one of Marvel's subsidiaries, Toy Biz.
Marvel emerges from bankruptcy with a much-reduced publishing slate.
May 2002: The first Spider-Man feature film is released. Increased attention to comics benefits Marvel and a comics industry on the rebound, thanks to a business model that also includes bound collected editions of comics, allowing Marvel and other publishers to capitalize on their long publishing histories through bookstore sales.
August 31, 2009: The Walt Disney Company announces the purchase of Marvel Entertainment Group for $4 billion in stocks and cash.