Something a little bit different for you. Anyone who knows me (even a little) will know about my life-long love of Marvel (the superheroes, not the powdered milk).
From reading the comics as a child, falling in love with The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man) to the TV shows of the 70s and 80s (I’m looking at you Nicholas Hammond and Bill Bixby) to the modern-day movies that have dominated cinemas for the last 10 years or so, I’m, a life-long member of the Merry Marvel Marching Society.
Whilst the movies, under the stewardship of producer Kevin Fiege, are the epitome of the modern Marvel universe (let’s gloss over the ones that came before or from other studios) and I love them all dearly (maybe not equally, but dearly), there’s an aspect of them that often gets overlooked and that’s the graphic design that went into their logo’s.
Here I want to take a look at some of my favourite logos from the MCU and what I think is so great about them from a design point of view. It gives me a chance to geek out a little, tell you what I love about them (the logo, not the film) and hopefully, you will come across some details you haven’t seen before that will make you appreciate the design work that goes into something people gloss over.
There aren’t many sequels in the list (just adding a ‘2’ to it doesn’t make it any better) but there are a couple of notable inclusions.
Bear in mind this is just my list (in chronological order of release) and my own preferences, so it isn’t meant to be anything other than my own musings!
I’ve also tried to track down the person/agency who designed the logo to give them the credit. Apologies if the details are wrong or missing. Once Marvel was bought up by Disney, I imagine they were all designed ‘in-house’ from that point. I haven’t included any of the Marvel TV shows or the Netflix ones either. Not that there’s anything wrong with them (the Luke Cage one is great), but I just preferred to concentrate on the movies within the MCU.
So, let’s start with the movie that kick-started the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe, starting with ….
1 - IRON MAN (RELEASED 2008)
It’s easy to forget that Iron Man was the first movie that was released by the then independent film studio Marvel had created.
Marvel Studios, before it was bought up by Disney, was a newcomer to the world of cinema, and with the more widely-recognised of their characters owned by other studios (X-Men, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, etc.), they had to go with what was deemed to be their ‘B’ List characters.
Fast-forward to today and it’s hard to think of Iron Man being anything other than the cornerstone of the MCU, but back in 2008, releasing a movie, their first movie at that, based on a lesser known character was a huge risk. We needn’t have worried. The Iron Man logo, at least the one that accompanied the movie (the logo was slightly different when the initial teaser was released) was created by designer Fede Ponce. As the studios first film, it had to convey not just the title of the film, but confidence in both the new studio and the film itself.
I think what I love the most about the logo is how it manages to combine the aesthetics of the original comic book logo whilst giving it a modern twist. The metallic (he IS Iron Man after all), photo-realistic texture, works perfectly, uniting the past and the present together in a relatively simple design.
Ponce, after reading the script, described the movie as being one of redemption, and he’s right. Tony Stark goes from being the money-focused weapons dealer and businessman who cares for little except himself but, (SPOILER ALERT) after being captured and coming to see how his weapons are being abused, becomes the eponymous hero we all now know and love.
This redemption is reflected in the logo too, literally. Thanks to the metallic textures and use of sunlight reflecting and breaking through from the bottom of the text, it signifies this rebirth for Tony Stark at the dawn of a new era.
2 - THE AVENGERS (RELEASED 2012)
Here in the UK, we had to contend with it being called ‘Marvel’s Avenger’s Assemble’ because of perceived complications with an earlier movie based on an old TV series called The Avengers. Eugh!
For the sake of this blog post, let’s just pretend it was called what everyone else was calling in. Without their ‘heavy hitters’ to call upon, The Avengers brought together Iron Man, Captain America, Hulk, Black Widow, Hawkeye and Thor in a movie that would change what a superhero movie looked like forever, not to mention the culmination of the first real cinematic universe that continues to grow to this day.
The logo for Marvel’s first ‘team-up’ movie is probably the one that most closely resembles the original comic book logo, but that’s not a criticism. If it’s not broken, etc. It’s more of a dynamic refresh, rather than a full reboot of the original comic book design, with the classic Avengers ‘A’ leading the charge. Within Marvel, this design cue was known as the ‘Big A’, not least because of its larger type and the arrow thrusting forward.
It was designed way back in the 1970s by designer and Marvel letterer (what a great job title) Gaspar Saladino. Gaspar, who also contributed a lot for rival DC Comics, worked most of his life in the comic book industry. This piece of artistry from Saladino debuted in the Avenger’s comic in 1972.
The logo for the movie built on Saladino’s work by placing the ‘Big A’ inside a ring to give it more dynamism. Even the word ‘The’ was italicised to further portray forward momentum, something the studio was also experiencing following the success of Phase 1 movies they had released to great critical and audience response.
As with the Iron Man logo mentioned above, this also features an embossed metallic texture to signify their strength. The sharp edges and corners on the ‘G’ and the tie of the ‘Es’ (notice how the middle outcrop of the ‘E’ differs from the top and bottom) also help to define this.
As of writing, we’re now four Avenger’s movies deep and the logo hasn’t really changed that much over the course of those films, other than the addition of a subtitle. A sure sign that they were onto a winner as far back as the 1970s.
3 - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
This might seem like a strange addition to the list; a fairly plain logo for a movie based on a team most people won’t have even heard of at the time, but there’s actually a lot going on here. Allow me to explain. This was another logo that was redesigned following its initial announcement in 2012 (thankfully), like the Avengers, the Guardians were going to be another Marvel team-up movie, but one for a group of ‘heroes’ (or maybe space pirates) based on a relatively recent comic book run (from 2008).
Whilst the name had been around in the comics since 1969, this was (mostly) based on the modern iteration by writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning.
The movie and its characters were out of left-field for a studio that had, until now, played safe with its choices (albeit limited by rights issues). Guardians of the Galaxy most certainly didn’t.
That meant most people, even those relatively familiar with Marvel, didn’t know what to expect, which is why the logo utilises the fundamental style of the logos that came before it, albeit with some fun subtle twists.
The metallic texture isn’t as polished and ‘new’ as the Iron Man or the Avengers logos were; it’s worn, almost beaten down and looks a little tatty, just like the team themselves.
Also, look at how ‘of the’ is positioned. It’s clunky and off-kilter, placed far left of centre, just like the team in the movie. It also beautifully symbolises the relationships within the team of Star-Lord, Gamora, Rocket, Groot and Drax. We might not have known what to expect when it was announced, but we so fell in love with them when we saw the movie.
4 - DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
Doctor Strange was the movie that took the MCU into the realms of magic, alternative dimensions and the seeded the multi-verse. In design terms, it was also the movie that moved away from the metallic, block capitals that were starting to look a bit ‘samey’, but not eschewed it completely. Doctor Strange isn’t just the character name or character trait, it’s literally the name of the protagonist. He IS Dr Stephen Strange, a gifted surgeon who, following an accident, leaves him incapable of practising.
As he searches the world for a remedy, he comes across The Ancient One who opens his eyes to a whole new world of magic, mysticism and martial arts (in the comics at least).
Dr. Strange isn’t your typical muscle-bound hero like we’ve been used to seeing, and the logo reflects this. The narrow, elegant font (it’s called 'Baker Signet' if you’re interested) helps the logo stand out from those that came before, just as the hero does.
It’s still reflective, but it’s also reflecting itself thanks to the ridged letters, just as the character reflects on himself to find his place in this new world he finds himself.
5 - SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING (2017)
For me at least, when I think of Marvel, I think of Spider-Man. As I mentioned right at the beginning, together with the Fantastic Four, he was my ‘go-to’ character when I first started reading the comics as a child.
I think part of the appeal of any superhero character is that, when you see them, you can see yourself being them. OK, even at that young age I knew I couldn’t BE Spider-Man, but I COULD be Peter Parker quite easily.
I loved the comics, I even loved the TV show in the 70s with Nicholas Hammond and I also loved the Tobey Maguire iteration. They were all great, but for me at least still lacked a certain ‘something’; that one factor that would elicit those beloved memories of childhood.
When it was announced that Spider-Man was going to be part of the MCU, I was giddy with excitement. When I first saw Spider-Man: Homecoming in the cinema, it was, I think, the first time that the character I loved as a kid in those comic books was truly brought to life on the screen. I loved the film and I loved the logo for it. Spider-Man’s introduction brought with it new youthful energy into the MCU. Peter Parker wasn’t a middle-aged white guy with muscles on his muscles, he was a teenager struggling to balance life, school and everything that the teenage years bring with it.
He brought that sense of wonder and fun with his wide-eyed, some-would-say naive outlook on the world and the logo illustrates that brilliantly.
Logos that came before certainly tipped their hat to their comic counterparts but were still very much ‘movie’ logos. This one, I think, was the first to fully embrace its comic book roots and not be ashamed of it.
The youth of the character is reflected in the curved title and the graffiti-esque uses of the Spider-Man symbol forming the ‘o’ of Homecoming further establish its younger aesthetic. You could see this logo grace any comic book, now or then. Welcome home Spider-Man.
6 - THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
After the much-derided Thor : The Dark World (which isn’t actually as bad as people lead you to believe), the Thor franchise took a much-needed twist with the recruitment of the brilliant Taika Waititi to direct the third movie.
The logo for Thor: Ragnarok wasn’t excluded from this shake-up, but Taika’s influence is clear. The logo, when the film was first announced, was a much more sombre affair (see below) and owed much to the two films that came before it.
Ragnarok didn’t take itself too seriously. It was equally full of ironic wit, self-parody and production design that harkened back to the days of Jack Kirby’s colourful artwork from the comics. The logo epitomises all of this. It was also part of the continuation of Marvel movie logos that veered away from the typical examples that came before it around this time. This, together with the afore-mentioned Spider-Man: Homecoming and even the Guardians of the Galaxy sequel when announced, all were much more playful in tone and styling.
It might look like a hodge-podge of retro elements, from its 80s typeset to the jumble of video game colours. In many ways, as a logo, it really shouldn’t work, but it does!
It perfectly represents Thor’s latest outing as something different from the masculine, all-too-serious muscle-fests we’d seen before.
7 - BLACK PANTHER (2018)
Not content with the first female-led movie coming over the hill (see below), Black Panther was the first Marvel movie with an almost entirely black cast. It proved to be a commercial and critical success and became the first Marvel movie to be nominated for the Best Picture Oscar at the Academy Awards.
Many other MCU films had been nominated for the technical categories before this, but not one of the ‘big’ awards. It didn’t win, but it was (and is) still one hell of an achievement for a ‘comic book movie’. The character of T’Challa was first introduced to the MCU in Captain America: Civil War. For his own solo movie, we got to look at the fictional nation of Wakanda, a mysterious but technologically advanced kingdom, hidden from the rest of the world. Black Panther is a logo fit for a king, it’s both regal and dynamic, just like it should be.
You might think it’s asking a lot for a logo to reflect all of these things, but I think this one manages it. The sleek lines matched with the precision of the lettering display the spirit of technological advances Wakanda is known for.
The uses of blue and gold, within the 3D letters, ooze majestic splendour. In addition, the first and last letters of Panther are larger than the rest and the elongated point of the ‘N’ gives a static logo a real sense of purpose and movement.
8 - CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
With 2019’s Captain Marvel, we got our first female-led superhero movie. I mean technically it was 2019, but the film itself was set in the 1990s. making full use of the de-ageing technology on Nick Fury, not to mention the logo itself.
It’s a nostalgic love letter to the period of Blockbuster video shops and painful computer loading times. As you would expect for a movie set 20+ years ago, the logo is reminiscent of the movies of that era. The red and gold colours with the retro (for now, futuristic for then) lettering place the movie in our minds perfectly. Imagine any Schwarzenegger or Stallone film of that time using that same font.
Little fact for you; the font is actually called “CaptainMarvel” and was designed by FontStudio LAB.
What I really like about it though is the space between the words. Normally this would be just negative space, but here they have added a glow, an explosion perhaps or a callback to her uniform, but either way it tells us that this is still a superhero movie, with all the crash bang boom you’d expect from it. It’s just subtle enough to let you make your own mind up.
9 - AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
Avengers: Endgame marked the culmination of 20+ movies spanning 10+ years in what came to be known as the Infinity Saga. The movie has to hit so many targets but it managed it (just) and the world seemed to agree, making it the highest-grossing movie in history (at thetime of writing).
For a movie so jam-packed with heroes, the logo has an almost wistful feel to it which, if you’ve seen the movie, you will understand. Marvel kept with the classic Avenger’s logo, but by using a more mature colour palette and the aged look of the texture signifies the passage of time (which, again, if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll get) and gives a more sombre feel. Of course, that’s only half the story. The ‘Endgame’ subtitle is also more muted, especially compared to the previous sequels Age of Ultron and Infinity War.
You get just a faint hint of a sunset at the top of the lettering. The kern is also wider, more separated, signalling that the heroes we know are closing the curtain on their adventures and finding their own way from now on. Bittersweet maybe, but we love it 3000.
10 - THOR: LOVE AND THUNDER (2022)
At the time of writing, we’re still waiting to see this movie (I don’t think it’s even been finished filming yet!) but we know it’s coming with Taika Waititi back at the helm of Thor’s 4th solo movie.
Fresh (well relatively speaking) from the success of Thor: Ragnarok and its fantastic logo, we have another retro-tastic entry for Thor: Love and Thunder. It’s almost too much logo for one film; its over-the-top use of bold colours tells us what we can expect from the movie. It’s going to be BIG!
Like many of the latter logos, it’s fun, it’s colourful and reminds me a lot of the Marvel cartoons from the 1980s and 90s in its pomp and splendour. I can't wait to see it when it’s released (if movies ever get released ever again - curse you COVID-19).
We hope you’ve enjoyed this little jaunt through the MCU with our graphic design glasses on. This obviously isn’t all of the logo’s or all of the movies so if there are any that I haven’t included that you like, let us know in the comments below. Remind us in 10 years and we’ll do it again. Nuff said.