A crash course in Marvel comics: Empire seems to have superpowers all of its own

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The Wolverine hits UK screens this weekend – it's the latest in a long line of successful superhero films based on Marvel comic books...

TIMELINE

1939

Timely Comics, renamed Atlas Comics in the 50s, is founded in New York. Its first publication, Marvel Comics #1, features the Human Torch

1961

Atlas Comics becomes Marvel Comics, and in the space of a few years Stan Lee creates Spider-Man, Hulk, Thor and the Fantastic Four

1966

Black Panther, the mysterious leader of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, becomes the first black superhero. He has superhuman senses

1986

Howard the Duck, the first film adaptation of a Marvel comic to reach the big screen, is a critical and box- office flop

2000

Hugh Jackman makes his first appearance as Wolverine in X-Men. The film's success rejuvenates industry interest in comic-book films

2008

Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow

2009

Spotting the potential for movies and franchises, Disney buys Marvel Entertainment for £2.5bn – it now owns 5,000 comic-book characters

2012

Director Joss Whedon's The Avengers earns £1bn at the global box office to become the third-biggest film in history – behind Avatar and Titanic

2013

The Marvel movie machine continues at full pelt. Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine arrive in cinemas, to be followed by Thor 2 later this year

Profile: The wolf man

By Tim Walker

Thanks to the increasing power of the Asian box office, Hollywood is suddenly keen on setting its biggest blockbusters there. But when 20th Century Fox wanted Japanese flavours for The Wolverine, it found them in a classic comic written three decades ago.

Wolverine initially appeared on the page in 1974, but the character's first solo outing was a four-issue 1982 run by artist Frank Miller and British-born writer Chris Claremont, in which the flawed, clawed hero travelled to Japan to tackle ninjas, yakuza and samurai.

During his X-Men tenure, from 1975 to 1991, Claremont, aged 62, who grew up reading Dan Dare, made it the defining comic of its era. His first issue of a 1991 re-boot, X-Men #1, was the bestselling single comic book ever. Claremont created characters including Rogue and Mystique, and wrote the graphic novel on which X-Men 2 was based – not to mention the series Days of Future Past, which is the basis for the next X-Men movie instalment, due out next year.

How to: Gain superpowers

By Liam O'Brien

Superman and the X-Men were born with supernatural powers. But others had to work for it. Here's how they acquired their incredible gifts...

Daredevil, Spider-Man and the Hulk all gained superpowers as a result of exposure to radiation. We don't recommend bathing in your local nuclear plant's designated waste disposal, but you could get lucky and be bitten by a radioactive spider.

Bruce Wayne is worth $6.9bn, meaning there are never any financial constraints for alter ego Batman's pursuit of justice. Once you have a similar fortune, you too could chase down criminals with the latest gadgets.

Arrogant he may be, but Iron Man's Tony Stark has the brains to back it up. The CEO of Stark Industries was clever enough to make a powerful suit of armour for himself when he needed to escape a super-villain. So use your head.

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