Research topic: Marvel Comics and the history of comic books

The history of comic books now spans several generations. As Marvel Comics celebrates its 75th anniversary and unveils a new slate of comic book movies to come in the next five years, the genre is rich with research paper topics.

Marvel Comics celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Credit: Comic Vine)

Marvel Comics celebrates its 75th anniversary. (Credit: Comic Vine)

Start from looking at the issues of crime and justice in comics to the way comic books have handled gender and race issues.

Celebrating Marvel Comic’s 75th Anniversary

ABC recognized the longevity of Marvel Comics with their television special Marvel: 75 Years, From Pulp to Pop! The history of comic books, or at least Marvel Comics, can be traced back to 1939, when Timely Comics was first established. During the 1940s, Martin Goodman and Stan Lee helped take Marvel to the next level. The next 60 years were a roller coaster, with comic books declining in the 1950s, reemerging and shifting characters in the 1960s and 1970s. By the last half of the 1990s, comics were again experiencing troubling times, before gaining new life again after the start of the 21st century. One interesting research paper topic would be to look at how cultural shifts over the history of comic books have affected their popularity.

In “Marvel: 75 Years, From Pulp To Pop!” on November 4, 2014, on, Jamie Lovett shared that the hour-long special would feature new footage from Avengers: Age of Ultron, the latest of the comic book movies the Marvel juggernaut has created. 

The power of comic book movies

With such a tumultuous past, how did Marvel Comics come back, yet again, to achieve such media domination? A big reason is the way they have handled the unveiling of their films based on their comic books.

In 2008, Marvel Comics offered the first Iron Man movie. In How Marvel won Hollywood, and made comic books cool again” by Mike Foss, on October 30, 2014, on USA Today’s For the Win blog, Foss explained that while Iron Man was popular, he wasn’t on the level of other Marvel heroes, like the Hulk or Captain America. Foss wrote, “That’s exactly why he was the perfect place to start the Marvel movie universe. Fans could like Iron Man, and still have plenty of room for other heroes as well.” Heroes Marvel Comics quickly rolled out in other movies.

What’s next for Marvel Comics? Upcoming comic book movies based on their works will feature an African-American lead and a female lead. The shift in race and gender are both interesting research paper topics to explore. Meanwhile DC Comics, whose Batman series hasn’t had the same far-reaching franchise effect, is hoping to jump start their film efforts in 2016.

Crime and punishment in comic books

One simple reason comic book movies and comic books remain popular is the sense of justice they provide. Nickie D. Phillips and Staci Strobl took an in-depth look at how comic books have shaped our sense of right and wrong in Comic Book Crime: Truth, Justice, and the American Way published in 2013 by New York University Press.

They argued, “We can learn much about American society by interrogating the ways in which cultural meanings about crime and justice are negotiated and contested within them.” Additionally, their book offers many research paper topics including an exploration of heroes and villains and how comic books reflect the social times, both changing with them and influencing the shifting attitudes of their readers.

Want to learn more about comic books and comic strips? Check out Questia—particularly the section on pop culture

Do you think Marvel Comics can continue their streak? Are comic book movies and their inspiration-areas rich enough to explore in more depth with research papers? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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