The Marvel Universe, home of such beloved characters as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men and the Hulk, has died at age 54. The Universe passed peacefully at a news conference, which, now that we live in the day and age of perpetual “branding,” is the way we’re all going to have to die, hopefully sponsored by AT&T. The cause of death was Secret Wars.
The Marvel Universe was born in 1961, parented by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. The birth went largely unnoticed at the time, as the cover to inaugural issue Fantastic Four #1 lacked even a single reference to the word “Marvel.” The universe was born of Stan Lee’s desire to write a comic book “his way,” and imbue characters with a real-world grounding and deeper human emotions.
Lee’s concept caught on. Fantastic Four quickly became a hit, and by #14, its cover and others of those in a burgeoning Marvel Universe all carried the legend “Marvel Comics Group” prominently displayed.
The Marvel Universe matured quickly, and by the late 1960s, it had overtaken its main rival, DC Comics, as the premier comics publisher. By the early 1970s, the Marvel Universe expanded greatly, adding a raft of horror (Werewolf by Night, Tomb of Dracula), occult (Ghost Rider, Son of Satan) and cleverly disguised 45-year time-bomb comics (seriously, who saw Guardians of the Galaxy coming?) to its ranks.
The Marvel Universe’s middle age saw a series of health problems brought on by management and ownership. The ownership reigns of Cadence Industries and Ron Perelman ended in disaster, and by 1996, Marvel Comics filed for Chapter 11 (protection) bankruptcy. Many Friends of the Universe went on deathwatch in 1996, as they saw that year’s “Heroes Reborn” as an “outsourcing” of the Marvel universe to former freelancers Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld.
Fortunately, the Marvel Universe soldiered on. The “Reborn” heroes “Returned” by 1998, and by 2000, a combination of wonder drugs marketed under the brand names Arad, Jemas, Quesada, Perlmutter, Bendis, and/or Feige (you can pick which ones you think worked) restored the Universe to full health.
By 2008, the Marvel Universe spawned a child, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which found a broad-based mainstream audience, and then made them wait in their seats until the credits were done. In 2009, the Marvel Universe, along with a very large cache of paper clips and repurposed stationery, was bought by Disney for a staggering $4 billion.
The universe is survived by its Uncle Walt, eight upcoming issues of Secret Wars (collect ’em all!), a smart comic store or three that will actually do clever funeral and/or Irish Wake promotions, and a bunch of inveterate nerds who are going to scream, “You killed my childhood!” at no one in particular.