The Timely Comics Story


Although the end of the war played a large part in ending Timely's Golden Age, it was by no means the only cause of it. There were a few other reasons for The End.

The waning of popular enthusiasm for superheroes started sometime before the end of the war; it may be that the public's taste for superhero comics had just begun to diminish, and that the fad of superheroes was wearing away (this was not confined to Timely alone, of course; over at DC Dr. Fate and the Spectre, both major second-string heroes, appeared for the last time in 1944). Timely had already begun to drift away from superhero comics by the summer of 1945; only four straight superhero books had appeared from the start of 1944, and by mid-1945 all four had either been cancelled or had changed format. The waning sales of superhero books couldn't help but negatively affect Timely, though, as around half of their books were superhero comics. It even affected the plots of superhero comic books; Captain America's first crime-oriented cover appeared in 1944, a precursor of things and changes to come, not just to Captain America's own book, but to comic books in general.

The end of the war, of course, was the main reason for the end of Timely's Golden Age. The return of G.I.s from the war proved to be disastrous for Timely; they lost a significant portion of their audience, for they no longer could rely upon the government to ship their books to military bases. Worse, the veterans, once they returned, did not continue buying superhero books; the money they'd had to spend while in the service was directed to other things - houses, wives, children, etc. Too, the children and teenagers who had been working during the war and had had money to spend on comic books lost their jobs (as did all the women who had made the homefront work) to returning servicemen.

The war's end meant that the comics could no longer rely upon the Germans and Japanese as enemies, and while later generations may prefer costumed supervillains, the logical replacement for wartime villains, the tastes of post-war comic book buyers ran in different directions.

Finally, the tastes of the comic-buying audience changed. Superheroes simply weren't in vogue any more. There was an increased taste for "realism" - not just in comics, of course, but in books (as with writers like Nelson Algren) and in movies (as seen in the increase in films noir). Superheroes are almost constitutionally incapable of becoming that kind of "realistic." So while comics as a whole increased their sales after the war, with genres like true crime becoming very popular, the superhero genre suffered and eventually hit a historical low in the 1950s, although not without some bright moments before then.

Stan Lee was one of many comic talents who returned to the industry after the war. He became Timely's editor, and tried a number of things to increase Timely's circulation and sales. Millie the Model and the other "girls comics" were his creation. In 1946 he created Timely's largest supergroup, the All-Winners Squad, who consisted of Captain America and Bucky, the Human Torch and Toro, Sub-Mariner, Miss America, and the Whizzer. Although this was the logical response to DC's popular Justice Society of America, it came too late, and the All-Winners Squad only appeared twice, and were not enough to stop All-Winners Comics from being changed to All-Teen in 1947.

(Timely's first supergroup, of course, had been the 3Xs, who appeared in Mystic Comics #1. The 3Xs, though, were a mostly-blatant rip-off of the popular radio program "I Love A Mystery," and were poorly-written and drawn, to boot, and never appeared after Mystic #1.)

Lee, seeing that women were making up a large percentage of Timely's readers, started putting out new superhero comics, using female superheroes. In late 1946 All-Select Comics was renamed Blonde Phantom Comics, with the title character being a plucky blonde secretary who fought crime and often saved her boss, a male private eye. (Before the suspicious-minded in the audience howl, let it be noted that the Blonde Phantom appeared approximately six months before DC's Black Canary, a character with certain similarities to the Blonde Phantom.)

Blonde Phantom Comics enjoyed respectable sales, and so Timely, in 1948, put out three more superheroine books: Namora, Sun Girl, and Venus. None of those three were particularly well-done or popular, and only Venus managed to last more than three issues. (Blonde Phantom Comics lasted for 30 months and 22 issues, though)

But as far as Timely's superhero comics went, Lee's efforts were to no avail, and, one by one, they were cancelled or had their names and directions changed: USA Comics was cancelled in fall 1945 (despite having Captain America as its lead character), Miss Fury was cancelled in the beginning of 1946, Kid Komics became the non-hero Kid Movie Comics in the summer of 1946, Young Allies was cancelled in October 1946, All-Winners became All-Teen in January 1947.

Although Timely's superhero mainstays - Captain America Comics, Human Torch, and Sub-Mariner - lingered on for a while, their time was essentially over.

Timely, of course, didn't stop publishing comics once their superhero books stopped selling; they shifted the focus of their output to those things that were most popular: books aimed at teenage girls, funny animal books, true crime books, and Westerns. But those books didn't come from Timely, to my way of thinking. They came from Atlas, the next incarnation of Timely Publications and the predecessor to Marvel Comics. And since there's already a good web resource for Atlas (see the Links section, below), and I'm not as interested in them as I am in Timely, I'm not going to get address that era.

Resources heavily relied upon in putting this together:

All in Color for a Dime, by Dick Lupoff & Don Thompson
Comics Values Annual, 1995 Edition, by Alex G. Malloy
The Complete Jack Kirby: 1940-1941, by Greg Theakston
The Golden Age of Marvel Comics, edited by Tom Brevoort
Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics, by Les Daniels
Master of Imagination: The Comic Book Artists Hall of Fame, by Mike Benton
The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, 25th Anniversary Edition, by Robert Overstreet
The Steranko History of Comics, volumes 1 & 2, by James Steranko
Superhero Comics of the Golden Age, by Mike Benton

The Marvel Comics Title Chronology web page (see below, under links, for information on and a link to it)

The good people of the Jack Kirby mailing list.

Relevant Links:

The Atlas Comics Homepage The end of Timely's superhero comics did not mean that the company itself stopped. Goodman, canny publisher that he was, simply shifted production to meet the new demand, which did not include superheroes. What it included was a much wider variety of genres: adventure, crime, horror, fantasy, humor, romance, sf, war, and westerns. Goodman's company was no longer Timely, and not yet Marvel; what it became known as was Atlas Comics. This site is the best site on the Web for learning about Atlas Comics.

A Chronology of Marvel Comics Titles Scott Hollifield, who did the quite-good annotation to DC Comics' The Golden Age (an outstanding miniseries that you can find out more about here), did us all the service of listing every Timely, Atlas, and Marvel comic book, in the order in which they appeared. From Marvel Comics #1, in October 1939, to Spider-Man Magazine #1, in October 1994, they're all here - first appearances, name changes, and cancellations.

The History of Comic Art While this site only briefly touches on Timely, I'm including it here because it's a good introduction and overview to the history of the artform as a whole, with some good graphics.

The History of Superhero Comics Jamie Coville has put together a nice, general history and overview of the genre, along with some really good graphics (colour me jealous - I'd love to know where he got some of them from) He concentrates on the genre as a whole, but he does give Timely's efforts some of the attention they deserve.

The Unofficial Marvel Hall of Fame My pal Owen did us, and the Web, the great service of putting together the biographies of 15 of the most influential people in the history of Marvel Comics. While many of them are modern, some notable names from the Golden Age are there, as well: Bill Everett, Joe Simon, Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby.

And that's all, folks. If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for improving the page, let me know by writing me at

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