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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

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F May 11, 2016
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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story


Sean Howe
An unvarnished, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes account of one of the most dominant pop cultural forces in contemporary America

Operating out of a tiny office on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, Daredevil—these superheroes quickly won children's hearts and sparked the imaginations of pop artists, public intellectuals, and campus radicals. Over the course of a half century, Marvel's epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.

Throughout this decades-long journey to becoming a multibillion-dollar enterprise, Marvel's identity has continually shifted, careening between scrappy underdog and corporate behemoth. As the company has weathered Wall Street machinations, Hollywood failures, and the collapse of the comic book market, its characters have been passed along among generations of editors, artists, and writers—also known as the celebrated Marvel "Bullpen." Entrusted to carry on tradition, Marvel's contributors—impoverished child prodigies, hallucinating peaceniks, and mercenary careerists among them—struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and, over matters of credit and control, one another.

For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, the self-made publisher who forayed into comics after a get-rich-quick tip in 1939; Stan Lee, the energetic editor who would shepherd the company through thick and thin for decades; and Jack Kirby, the World War II veteran who'd co-created Captain America in 1940 and, twenty years later, developed with Lee the bulk of the company's marquee characters in a three-year frenzy of creativity that would be the grounds for future legal battles and endless debates.

Drawing on more than one hundred original interviews with Marvel insiders then and now, Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, reformed criminals, unlikely alliances, and third-act betrayals— a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop cultural entities in America's history.

Editor review

1 reviews

Mr. Howe does a great job of researching and objectively describing the evolution of Marvel Comics

If you have any interest in the history of Marvel comics this book, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe is perfect for you.  I won't leave you in suspense and will tell you I rate this book 5 stars.  Mr. Howe does a great job of researching and objectively describing the evolution of Marvel comics and the people that work there.

I will admit my review will not be as objective as his book though.  I experienced much of the history of Marvel as a fan and collector for the last 30 years.  The history on Marvel comics starts in the 1930s with publisher Martin Goodman starting Newsstand Publications which later became Timely.  Legendary comic artist Jack Kirby (Jacob Kurtzberg) teamed with Joe Simon to create Captain America #1 in 1940 which sold one million copies.  The 1940s would come to be known as the golden age of comics due to the explosion of titles, publishers, and large print runs.

I will skip forward to 1961 when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created Fantastic Four #1.  Marvel Comics was on a role with "The Marvel Way" of drawing and writing comics in the great hands of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

Reading this book brought back lots of good memories for me as a collector.  The superstars such as Chris Claremont, Frank Miller, and John Byrne were able to create some classic comics in the late 1970 and 1980s.  Then in the 1990s the whole industry went crazy with multiple covers and other marketing gimmicks.  This period of the 1990s was painful for me to see.  At the time we collectors all thought these new comics would be fantastic investments but looking back at this era you can see that this short term, profit-driven thinking almost destroyed the whole comic book industry.  In 1991 X-Men Vol. 2 #1 sold over 8 million copies with it's multiple covers but now top titles are lucky to sell 100,000 copies.

What I had not realized was all the internal turmoil that Marvel staff went through with the various owners of the company, the bankruptcy, and multiple layoffs.  Yes, there were times when top creators were earning over $80,000 a month but most creators had no ownership of the characters that they created.  Many even died young of heart attacks or other illnesses that likely were based on insane deadlines and stressful work situations.

I wonder myself if the comic book industry can continue to survive long term.  Yes, the characters will live on based on the success of the toys and movies but will the comics?  Personally, I am looking for new titles since my old favorites have been recycled so many times and prices raised so much that I find many other better options for my entertainment dollar.  Nothing can beat the comic book format for the creative freedom and combination of great writing and artwork that can be achieved.

I warned you that this would be a subjective review but I enjoyed the book a lot and recommend any comic book fans check it out and enjoy the journey down memory lane.

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