Do you know how big the Marvel Comics universe is? How many Marvel comics are there? Most of us have a very vague idea of it. If you’re like me, check out the MCU movies and occasionally enjoy the comic book story of certain characters. But I wonder: how many Marvel comics are there? How many characters are there? What was the first Marvel comic book? I want to know how big the Marvel Comics universe is.
I admit I don’t know the answer to any of these questions. But don’t worry if you don’t know either; even hardcore Marvel fans would be hard pressed to give you definitive answers on how many comics there are (luckily the other questions are a little easier to answer). So let’s dive into the Marvel Comics universe and see how big it is.
The first Marvel comic
I’ll go into the number of characters and heroes, but to know how big the Marvel Comics universe is, we need to look at the history of Marvel. That means going back to the first Marvel comic book ever published.
In 1939, Timely Comics published Marvel Comics No.1, which featured well-known characters such as The Human Torch, the Angel, the Masked Raider, Ka-Za, and Namor the Sub-Mariner. The company wouldn’t be known as Marvel Comics until much later, but we can safely say that this is the beginning of the Marvel Universe. They weren’t the only heroes featured by Timely Comics, however. It was you who published the first issue of Captain America in 1941. This was the golden age of comics.
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The company went through a few changes when interest in superheroes waned. Timely Comics became Atlas Magazine. Then fast forward to the early 1960s after DC Comics ushered in what was known as the silver age of comics. Atlas Magazines eventually became Marvel Comics. They hired Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, and the Fantastic Four joined the roster – which we can agree with is the beginning of a decade-long journey that has brought us many beloved characters and eventually the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
But the first comic that really started it all was Marvel Comics # 1.
Now we have a vague idea how big the Marvel Comics universe is. With the next few questions, let me remind you that Marvel has been publishing superhero comics for about 82 years. So believe me when I tell you there are a lot of comics and characters out there.
How many Marvel characters are there?
This is the first and perhaps the most difficult question because there is no definitive answer. It depends on what you count as a “character”. There are villains and heroes, humans and mutants, among many other. Besides, it also depends on what you want to count as “Marvel”. Marvel Comics also owns and publishes series such as Star Wars or classic monster series such as Frankenstein. But for this exercise, we’re going to be talking about the superhero side of Marvel (you know, the Avengers and so on).
Which still leaves a lot to be done.
When you consider that there are infinitely many earths and multiple reboots of the same characters in the multiverse, the numbers keep growing. To make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be any agreement on an approximate number either. In a 2017 interview, former Disney CEO Bob Iger said that Marvel Studios had the rights to 7,000 characters. That means the number of characters that appear in the comics has to be higher.
Then there is the official Marvel Character Index. While this one is official, it isn’t overly trustworthy as it features some non-superhero characters and has entries for large organizations like SHIELD or Hydra. And the numbers really aren’t true, even if they include the Lego versions of the characters. What is interesting is that they count different iterations of their beloved heroes. In this index, the Hulk has 8 different entries and Spider-Man has 13. The total number of characters in this index is approximately 1,502 (believe me, I counted).
But that seems like too small a number for the Marvel Universe. Given the Bob Iger interview, if they have the rights to 7,000 characters, the source material couldn’t possibly be lower.
While this is unofficial, I think the Marvel fandom database could be the closest thing to the real number. They list a total of 72,659 Marvel characters, including a number of supporting characters and around 146 different versions of Luke Cage (yes, I counted again). So with who knows how many earths in the multiverse (enough for +100 versions of Luke Cage), I think their number is closest to reality.
How many Marvel comics are there?
Finally the big question. For this one I count everything. From superheroes to classic horror monsters to Star Wars. We’re trying to know how many Marvel comics have been published since 1939. It is important to note that there is no official record of all Marvel releases, so the best we can get is an estimate.
Again, the Marvel series official index isn’t very useful here either. But that’s because she runs series, not individual issues or volumes. They list a total of around 4,903 Marvel series in the index, including characters like Darth Vader or Conan the Barbarian. If we assume that all of the series have around six issues (which is not true as some may have three and others 50 depending on the run) it would be 29,418 comics. About 358 comics a year. Which honestly doesn’t seem like enough for the 82 years that Marvel has published comics.
The closest I got to an answer from a blog called Retrogeekery. Author Ali states that in 2009 Marvel Comics published an official index listing a total of 32,000 publications. While they don’t explain what index it is, I am assuming it is referring to the 2009 edition of The Official Index to the Marvel Universe, which stated in its introduction that they have this number of problems .
So let’s do some math. If Marvel had 32,000 comics in 2009, that would be about 457 comics a year for 70 years. The problem is, we’re not in 2009 anymore, so obviously that number has grown since then. Assuming they don’t have exponential growth, if we take those 457 issues per year and multiply by the 82 years that Marvel has existed, we would have published a total of about 37,400 Marvel comics since 1939.
But as Ali of Retrogeekery says, it’s probably best to round that number up to 40,000 thanks to variations in comic book publishing.
And that’s how big the Marvel Comics universe is.
Want to learn more about Marvel? Check out our list of the 15 most powerful characters or have a laugh with this Marvel superhero kit from the 60s. Maybe even take a look at our Marvel Archives: we have a range of trivia questions and lists!