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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

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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 Fo 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.


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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 Fo 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.

30 review for Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

  1. 4 out of 5

    Kemper

    Super-heroes have gotten darker and more violent over the years, but compared to some of the people in charge of Marvel during that time Wolverine and the Punisher seem about as threatening as a glass of non-fat milk. Killers with razor sharp unbreakable claws and large guns are no match for the carnage a corporate executive worried about the stock price can create. Sean Howe gives a comprehensive history of how the pulp publishing company founded by a Depression-era hobo named Martin Goodman eve Super-heroes have gotten darker and more violent over the years, but compared to some of the people in charge of Marvel during that time Wolverine and the Punisher seem about as threatening as a glass of non-fat milk. Killers with razor sharp unbreakable claws and large guns are no match for the carnage a corporate executive worried about the stock price can create. Sean Howe gives a comprehensive history of how the pulp publishing company founded by a Depression-era hobo named Martin Goodman eventually became a comic book empire that was bought by Disney for $4 billion in 2009. The book tells the familiar story of how Goodman’s nephew Stan Lee working with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko saved the struggling company in 1961 by coming up with a line of new characters like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, and others that you can see at your local movie theater on a regular basis today. Then it details the many trials, tribulations and triumphs the company would have as its characters became iconic parts of pop culture. As a perpetually cheerful and energetic editor and spokesman, Stan Lee built a myth via the Bullpen Bulletin and Stan’s Soapbox column that appeared in the comics that Marvel was a wacky wonderful place where the writers and artists worked in a happy state of constant brainstorming about their stories. In reality during these early years, Lee worked with a small staff in cramped offices while Jack Kirby drew in the basement of his home, and things were never as merry as Stan portrayed them to the fans. After Goodman sold the company Marvel would be bought and sold to various corporations and business people most of who had no interest in doing anything other than squeezing every dime possible out of the characters while denying any kind of ownership or royalties to the people who created them. The stories of how creators were screwed out of rights have become legendary, and the constant law suits and bickering over who actually created the characters have become so common place as to not even be newsworthy any more. (A fun fact that I learned in this is that at one time Marvel put a boilerplate waiver on the backs of paychecks so that signing it to get the money became a forfeiture of potential royalties.) The battles over the rights between the company and the creative people would pale in comparison to the many financial and legal fiascos Marvel would get into over the years due to the many buy-outs and chronic mismanagement. Howe does a nice job of showing how all the behind the scenes turmoil impacted the stories being churned out. The Secret Wars mini-series started out as a promotional tie-in for a new line of toys, but became the prototype for the crossovers that are all too frequent events today. The surprise success of rolling out a specialty cover on Todd McFarlane’s new Spider-Man book had the corporate execs and Wall Street demanding sales increases every year and forced the editors to come up with a parade of gimmick covers and new #1 issues constantly to hit those numbers. This led to the speculator bubble of the early ‘90s that nearly destroyed the industry when disgruntled fans stopped buying. With the sale to Disney and huge success of movies like The Avengers, you might think this story has a happy ending, but Marvel still faces challenges today. In the digital age, the idea of buying pricey paper comics that can be read in minutes is a tough sell, and many question whether the money made in movies and merchandising has made the comic book obsolete. Aging fan boys grumble over the constant character deaths and crossovers, yet those remain the top selling books. Balancing the continuity demanded by long-time fans while still being accessible to new readers has become a nearly impossible task. (Dan and I have some great ideas on how to resolve this issue if anyone from DC or Marvel reads this and would like to pay us a consulting fee.) Many of these individual stories have been told before, but Howe gives not only a history, but a detailed picture of the ways that all the creative, business and legal issues have had a profound impact on the characters and the industry. That’s what really makes it an informative and interesting read. Excelsior!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is the story of Marvel Comics, from its beginnings in the late thirties until fairly recently, with all the highs and lows in between. Confession Time: For most of my life, I've been a comic book fan. I've got around 2000 of them in boxes in my nerd cave and have numerous super hero shirts. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was a very gripping read for me. I read the sanitized version of some of the events in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comi Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is the story of Marvel Comics, from its beginnings in the late thirties until fairly recently, with all the highs and lows in between. Confession Time: For most of my life, I've been a comic book fan. I've got around 2000 of them in boxes in my nerd cave and have numerous super hero shirts. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was a very gripping read for me. I read the sanitized version of some of the events in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comics but I wasn't completely prepared for some of the things I learned. The story starts with Martin Goodman cashing in on the comic book craze but really gets interesting when he hires his nephew, a kid named Stan Lee, to do some editing. Once Joe Simon and Jack Kirby create Captain America, things kick into high gear until the 50's, when Seduction of the Innocent nearly kills the industry. Things circle the drain until a fateful golf game with the head of DC comics prompts Goodman to order Lee to create a team of superheroes. The Fantastic Four is created and the Marvel Age of comics kicks into full swing. The book covers a lot of behind the scenes info, like creators getting fucked out of royalties and original art. Anyone who's into comics has probably heard about that. The things I didn't know about, like a bunch of guys being into drugs, DC and Marvel negotiating for Marvel to license some DC characters, and what a tyrant Jim Shooter was, were much more interesting. It must have been maddening to work with Shooter after Secret Wars. While it might be boring for some, I found the inner workings of Marvel when it was being bought and sold several times in rapid succession to be fascinating. In a lot of ways, it reminded me of The Death of WCW. How could people be handed the golden ticket only to wipe their asses with it? Jim Shooter seemed like a dictator but I think Tom DeFalco's throw everything against the wall and see what sticks strategy played a bigger part to the near death experience the comics industry suffered in the 90's. Also, Stan Lee seems even more like a hack and a tool than he did before I read the book. Speaking of the 1990s, Todd McFarlane and Rob Liefield come of as huge pieces of crap. I think we're all quite lucky Marvel survived the black hole of the 1990's comic market. It's crazy to think how many half-brain dead tyrants Marvel had at the helm before Quesada and Palmiotti finally turned things around. For a lifelong comic nerd, this book was one hell of a read. 4 out of 5 stars.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sam Quixote

    I’m gonna do something a little different here: I’ll review the book properly first, then talk generally about what I read. These post-review comments are peripheral to the review, so I’ll keep them separate. They’re just things that interested me and might be interesting to others who haven’t read this, might not read this, but are into Marvel comics. I’ll tell you when I switch. * The review: Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a comprehensive look at the company that was founded as I’m gonna do something a little different here: I’ll review the book properly first, then talk generally about what I read. These post-review comments are peripheral to the review, so I’ll keep them separate. They’re just things that interested me and might be interesting to others who haven’t read this, might not read this, but are into Marvel comics. I’ll tell you when I switch. * The review: Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a comprehensive look at the company that was founded as Timely Comics in 1939, became Atlas Comics, and then eventually settled on Marvel Comics. It’s the company that gave us Captain America, Namor the Submariner, and The Human Torch in the Golden Age, and then, as Marvel Comics, the iconic characters: the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Thor, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, and Spider-Man. The best nonfiction books compel readers whether they’re interested in the subject matter or not; Howe’s book is not that. You definitely have to be deeply invested in the subject of Marvel Comics to enjoy this book because, wow, is there a ton of detail here! Most of it is pretty boring too. So and so didn’t get on with so and so, they created this character in an afternoon, made this comic in a weekend, nobody gave a shit, blah blah blah. It's very dull stuff and the minutiae of who worked on what book when has very esoteric appeal. Once you get to the modern age, the 2000s, there’s almost no detail here whatsoever, which makes sense because of course the detail is all from the 50s and 60s - everyone from that time is dead or nearly there themselves, so who gives a shit? People today? They still have careers and we won’t get the gossipy stories behind this time for another few decades. Though that said, gossipy stories in comics, as this book proves, are pretty dry in themselves. People not getting along, cheap product being pushed, etc. As you would expect, Howe’s book is a sad story of creators who made art, sold them to the corporation for a pittance, and the corporation made billions while the creator lived in poverty. What comes across most strongly is how little the people at Marvel gave a shit about the comics themselves. Almost from day 1 the plan seemed to be to make the comics as a stepping stone to what the true goal was: movies and merchandise and money money money! Well, they got there, and the book ends with the success of the first Avengers movie conquering the box office. There is a lot of detail here which, if you’re a huge fan, you’ll definitely enjoy. I’m a casual fan and I felt it to be a bit too much, especially as I’m not a fan of the Golden or Silver Ages lines of comics of which the bulk of the book is about. But you’ll learn a lot and though it’s slow and ponderous, it’s very edifying. That warning again: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is ONLY for comics fans; everyone else will be bored stupid! * That was the review - here are some thoughts on the subject matter. My take on the self-mythologizing egotist Stan Lee: I didn’t care for Lee before I read this book but, afterwards, now I definitely dislike him. He got the job at Timely because he was the boss’s nephew. He didn’t see comics as an art form, just a means to make some cash before he launched his career as a novelist/playwright/Hollywood screenwriter/actor/director. Ha! Have you read any of Stan Lee’s drivel? Here’s something he wrote to Marvel readers when the company was briefly purchased by a fly-by-night outfit called New World: “The young, hip, fun-loving guys who run New World dig Marvel Comics as much as you do! That’s why they bought us! They want to make some real dynamite movies and TV shows based on all your favorite characters… I don’t wanna sound like I’m trying to snow you, so I’ll just mention two of their latest smashes - the movie Soul Man and the TV series Sledge Hammer. ‘Nuff said?” If you look up the word “tool” in a dictionary you’ll see Lee’s grinning mug. And really, his shit comics were the best he could do. He was never destined to be a great writer because he wasn’t one. He made terrible comics and dreamt dreams of better things like the rest of us. He was lucky he made his name with the comics he looked down on otherwise he’d be a total unknown! What’s really unforgivable though is the way Lee treated his co-creators and artists. For example: in the early days of Marvel, Stan Lee created what would become known as the “Marvel style” of writing as he was at that point the sole writer of the entire line! A page or two of outline would be handed to one of the artists – Jack Kirby, John Romita, Steve Ditko – who would then flesh it out into a 20+ page comic. Lee would then go back and fill in the word balloons and captions depending on what was happening in the panel. Today, the artist would be given a co-writer credit because that’s what they did: took a rough premise and fashioned a story out of it, breaking it down into panels and pages. Because that’s what modern comics scripts do, a page of script per page of comic, within that page are panel breakdowns, captions, and notes to the artist for what’s happening. Take those away and the artist then has to do that – become the writer, as it were. Not back then. Ditko, Kirby, et al. were never given co-writer credits and were only ever listed as artists. What made it worse was that the PT Barnum-esque Stan Lee often claimed that he was the creator of characters like Spider-Man and the Hulk, frequently ignoring and downplaying the contributions of the artist co-creators entirely. In these early days when artists like Kirby were leaned on to make the deadlines for less dependable artists, there’s a definite case to be made that there wouldn’t even be a Marvel Comics today without the likes of Kirby – Stan Lee couldn’t draw and nobody would pay to read just his shoddy prose – and still the artists were denigrated. Sure, there also wouldn't be a Marvel without Stan Lee's efforts. I understand why he chased movies and TV so hard - success there would help the ailing comics market and allow it to continue and prosper - and he put in countless hours into broadening the appeal of the brand, as well as writing so many comics. But I can't reconcile the fact that he was so well recompensed (Stan Lee’s salary from Marvel was (is?) $500k a year for life) in sharp contrast to the artists who got shafted, nor was his behaviour towards them anything less than unacceptable. Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, put it best in a letter to The Comics Journal: “Stan was responsible for a massive infusion of creativity into the industry twenty years ago but he is also the man who, under the protective umbrella of Marvel company policy, has robbed Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and others of the credit due them as creators for those same twenty years.” Stan Lee on the 1970s Ms Marvel redesign: “Why didn’t you bring me this one first? This is what I’m after… tits and ass” Hack Chris Claremont misunderstanding and being an asshole to his audience: “Rarely will you find among fans, comic or SF, a magnificent physical specimen of humanity. Because if you’re that good mentally or physically, you don’t need the fantasy - the reality’s good enough.” What I learned about Jim “Trouble” Shooter: We have Shooter to thank for: 1) Event Comics, which started with his abysmal Secret Wars, a storyline designed to sell toys, 2) Tie-In Comics, where entire lines would have to halt and come up with an issue that ties into an event comic for no reason other than MONEY, and 3) Death Comics, where he realised he could sell more comics if he killed off the main character, so all these “Death of (Insert Character Name Here)” titles are down to this douchebag! DC were doing so poorly in the early 80s they at one point began negotiating to give Marvel the rights to Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, New Teen Titans, The Legion of Superheroes, and Justice League of America - can you imagine if that deal had gone through!! My dislike of Scott Lobdell is vindicated. He was a struggling stand up comic who got the job of staff writer at Marvel purely because he could hit deadlines; talent didn’t come into it. Oh and unbelievably, in the early 90s when the comics market was going crazy, he was earning $85k A MONTH! That said, the guys at Image like Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane were literally earning millions. MILLIONS. For unreadable drek! Bill Jemas gave us some truly awful comics like Wolverine: Origin and Marville and is the reason why Grant Morrison left Marvel for good after his New X-Men run, but the loudmouth dickhead did do some good. He gave us the Ultimate universe, which made the company a lot of much-needed money back in the day, and gave us the MAX line (an adult Marvel line that allowed swearing, nudity and graphic violence). The best thing he did though was tell the Comics Code Authority to fuck off once and for all. When he did that, everyone followed suit and by 2011 that toxic body, the CCA, was no more. Michael Jackson once thought about purchasing Marvel. Marvel really aren’t about the comics, even today. Comics are a means to an end. Avi Arad, the guy who’s responsible for a number of Marvel movies getting made before Marvel became their own studio: “Publishing was where it all started, and it was great source. You had ready-made storyboards to look at, to understand how to lay out stories. But the big deal for the company was merchandising - everything from cereals to shirts to video games to shoes, you name it. That’s where the serious revenues were coming from.” The final word has to go to Frank Miller who paid tribute to Jack Kirby who died in 1994. That year, Miller delivered the keynote speech at an industry seminar in Baltimore and he was so on point. “An age passes with Jack Kirby. I can’t call it the Marvel Age of comics because I don’t believe in rewarding thievery. I call it the Jack Kirby age of comics.” Miller went on to say that the only way to talk about the future of comics is to talk about its “sad, sorry, history of broken lives… of talents denied the legal ownership of what they created with their own hands and minds, ignored or treated as nuisances while their creations went on to make millions and millions of dollars.” “Marvel Comics is trying to sell you all on the notion that characters are the only important component of its comics. As if nobody had to create these characters, as if the audience is so brain-dead they can’t tell a good job from a bad one. You can almost forgive them this, since their characters aren’t leaving in droves like the talent is. For me it’s a bit of a relief to finally see the old ‘work-made-for-hire talent don’t matter’ mentality put to the test. We’ve all seen the results, and they don’t even seem to be rearranging the deck chairs.”

  4. 4 out of 5

    Brad

    I finished this book a while back, but I needed to let it sit and marinate before tackling my review. I'm not sure why that is exactly. It's not for fear of bias getting in the way of my review (I've long ago lost any pretension of objectivity when reviewing anything); it's not because I didn't have things to say. Perhaps it is simply that my enjoyment of the book and its quality don't match, and I needed to reconcile that in and for myself before sharing it with others. My enjoyment -- I run a c I finished this book a while back, but I needed to let it sit and marinate before tackling my review. I'm not sure why that is exactly. It's not for fear of bias getting in the way of my review (I've long ago lost any pretension of objectivity when reviewing anything); it's not because I didn't have things to say. Perhaps it is simply that my enjoyment of the book and its quality don't match, and I needed to reconcile that in and for myself before sharing it with others. My enjoyment -- I run a comic review website. Clearly I am a comic nerd. So I am of this book's target audience, and it serves me and my brethren well. It is, essentially, a history of the creators and writers and artists and bureaucrats and greedy bastards and corporate villains who made Marvel the biggest comic book company of all time, and nearly drove it into the ground over and over and over. It's the story of Stan Lee maybe co-creating most of the big characters with Jack Kirby, and Jack Kirby maybe creating the big characters on his own, and Marvel the entitiy screwing Jack Kirby royally regardless of the role he had (Lee likes to claim he was in the same boat as Kirby and that he understood all along that his creations weren't his own, but then Lee was working for the family in the family business when he created the big guns. Hardly the same boat, is it?). It's the story of psychedlic trippiness, cosmic tales, and LSD inspired deadline pushes. It's the story of creative infighting, of creative teams coming together and splitting apart. It's the story of how Marvel's liberal politics were always -- and quite by mistake -- at the forefront of social change and then pulled back when things got too hot. It's the story of selling comics to kids, and ringing as much money from the wet towel as they possibly could in every way they possibly could. And that's all the fun stuff. The quality --I know I've been implying that the quality isn't all it could be, and it isn't, but it is important to note that it isn't Howe's writing that is lacking quality. He writes fine. It is his courage that is lacking. We are left -- in those moments I mentioned where Howe discusses the behind the scenes drama -- with a sense that there is more, much more, that Howe knows that he's not telling us. This book is touted as an "unvarnished" and "unauthorized" take on Marvel Comics and when a book take that's stance it has to be braver by far than Marvel: The Untold Story. Surely Howe discovered more about the Kirby/Lee battle over character creation. Where are the interviews with their colleagues? Howe mentions these folks, mentions that they know things or don't know things, but he never tells us what those things might be. Where is his investigation into the controversy? Where is his opinion? Where are his conclusions? Not here, that's for sure, and this isn't the only time he steers away from controversy. There's no discussion of how John Byrne's Canadian super-hero, Northstar, a character of the 80s, was a gay man becoming mysteriously and gravely ill, of how we, the readers, all knew that Northstar was suffering from AIDs, and how Byrne's plans were tossed aside right at the moment he fled to DC and took over Superman. These and other stories like them are where the real "untold" stuff sits, and Sean Howe simply didn't do enough to fulfill the promise of his title. So ... quality lacking. But there is one more quality issue, and that's that this book will do very little for anyone with a passing interest in comics and nothing for people with no interest. It is for fanboys and no one else. I wish it had been for everyone as I think it could have been. Perhaps that task will fall to someone else (or to Sean Howe once the players he's protecting have passed away).

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    I read the heck out of this book but having read it I feel the need to rant. Until Howe's book I never had issues with Stan Lee beyond his irritating cameos in Marvel films and his tug-of-war with Jack Kirby. Even if half of what's in the book is true, Lee is by turns a relentless huckster, a boo-hoo victim, a master manipulator and a kind of unappreciated naif who always wanted to write poetry and novels and shit like that but never got the chance. Now I'm amazed that so many people buy into his I read the heck out of this book but having read it I feel the need to rant. Until Howe's book I never had issues with Stan Lee beyond his irritating cameos in Marvel films and his tug-of-war with Jack Kirby. Even if half of what's in the book is true, Lee is by turns a relentless huckster, a boo-hoo victim, a master manipulator and a kind of unappreciated naif who always wanted to write poetry and novels and shit like that but never got the chance. Now I'm amazed that so many people buy into his cult of personality. I'll gladly pay "the Man" respect for his contributions to the Marvel universe, but when he claims sole credit for these creations, the respect diminishes greatly. I've noticed that some reviews remark on Howe's choice to write less about relatively recent developments at Marvel. I don't have a problem with that. Consider that most of the people working for Marvel ten years ago are still working for Marvel and probably don't want to talk trash. There's also the lack of "historical perspective". Wait another 25 years and see what happens.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sean Gibson

    4.5 Stars I reviewed this engaging narrative for Kirkus Reviews a while back: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-re...

  7. 5 out of 5

    First Second Books

    This is a fascinating glimpse into the early years of the superhero comics industry. If you’ve read it: I’m pleased to report that the office environment at First Second is nothing like the office environment in the early years at Marvel Comics. For one thing, no one here has ever come to work to find that their desk has been turned into an aquarium.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    Depressing Short shrift Fascinating Depressing, to see just how much Stan Lee and many others did some grand over-fucking of the painfully naive creators in whose backs this company was built. Short shrift, as in a great many sub-stories just beg to be told, but only get a passing reference amidst all the musical chairs of the corporate/management foolishness. Fascinating, imagining what it would've been like to be part of a rag-tag group of folks just blazing trails without any idea if any of this Depressing Short shrift Fascinating Depressing, to see just how much Stan Lee and many others did some grand over-fucking of the painfully naive creators in whose backs this company was built. Short shrift, as in a great many sub-stories just beg to be told, but only get a passing reference amidst all the musical chairs of the corporate/management foolishness. Fascinating, imagining what it would've been like to be part of a rag-tag group of folks just blazing trails without any idea if any of this was going to last another month let alone decade. Sean Howe writes more in the style of play-by-play than suspense-thriller. There's plenty of material in comics' history to weave the intrigues, unreliable narrators and constant corporate machinations into a potboiler. Instead there are page-long attempts at telling a tale and withholding the punchline (King Kirby, Star Wars, Frank Miller) but nothing of great style or weight. This book moves like an historical narrative. I am no history buff, and I usually could give a shit about the day-to-day movements of pieces on a glossy map, but damned if I'm not interested in reading more of the oldies after seeing all the old creators and editors' names splashed in this sprawling tale. However, once it gets into the middle eighties time and the revolving door of editors and money-men seems to be stuck on repeat, I lost interest and set the book on the counter, and after three long months more collecting dust I'm ready to call it "couldn't-finish-it". It was good while the fun lasted.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bmj2k

    This is a great book for comic book fans, but beware: This will not tell you if Thor can beat the Hulk, or if any of Cable's origins are true. What this book will do is give you an appreciation for the men behind the characters, and a look into how the corporate world conspired to destory the men and their books. In many ways it is the simple story of Jack Kirby, a man who almost by himself created the Marvel Universe and defined the look and feel of their comics, yet at the same time was treate This is a great book for comic book fans, but beware: This will not tell you if Thor can beat the Hulk, or if any of Cable's origins are true. What this book will do is give you an appreciation for the men behind the characters, and a look into how the corporate world conspired to destory the men and their books. In many ways it is the simple story of Jack Kirby, a man who almost by himself created the Marvel Universe and defined the look and feel of their comics, yet at the same time was treated as a disposable tool by Marvel, to the point that they used him to train his own replacements. From the Atlas era to now, Sean Howe has covered all (or most, there were so many) the egos, the heoroes, and the villains of the real Marvel comics.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    This is an extremely readable and quite detailed history of Marvel Comics through the years, but exceedingly grim. It certainly shatters much of the Merry Marvel Mystique, for good or ill. As a result I found it rather sad to look behind the glittery curtain and see the bleak and crass reality. Regardless, Excelsior!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Vinton Bayne

    An awakening glimpse behind the curtain. I wish there were (or will be) decade by decade, artist by artist, alternative view and continuing history sequels. I would love more looks into the comic industry like this.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Santiago L. Moreno

    La Biblia del marvelita, un culebrón interpretado por sus mitos. Para todo lector de la generación Vértice que haya seguido con su afición a lo largo de los años, un libro imprescindible. Imprescindible para la nostalgia, imprescindible para conocer el factor humano tras las historias, para saber de dónde surgieron la mayor parte de las maravillosas y locas Ideas que acabaron poniendo el alias a la empresa, y para darse cuenta, de una vez por todas, de cuán indisoluble es el factor personal, bio La Biblia del marvelita, un culebrón interpretado por sus mitos. Para todo lector de la generación Vértice que haya seguido con su afición a lo largo de los años, un libro imprescindible. Imprescindible para la nostalgia, imprescindible para conocer el factor humano tras las historias, para saber de dónde surgieron la mayor parte de las maravillosas y locas Ideas que acabaron poniendo el alias a la empresa, y para darse cuenta, de una vez por todas, de cuán indisoluble es el factor personal, biográfico, en las creaciones artísticas. ¿Quieres saber de dónde vino la idea de Born Again? ¿Por qué murieron Fénix y Gwen? ¿A qué se debieron las alucinantes odiseas cósmicas de Starlin? ¿Quieres hacer un egotour al corazón de la empresa que te hizo soñar en la adolescencia, pasear por el mítico Bullpen marvelita y asistir a la tormenta de ideas más alocada que hayas vivido? ¿Y quieres ver cómo el mal, personificado en los vicios capitalistas norteamericanos, casi acaba con el sueño? Ilusionados creadores luchando contra mezquinos ejecutivos; el dinero condicionando los caminos del arte y la maravilla; Gordon Gekko pervirtiendo el arte y a sus creadores, a los herederos de Lee y Ditko, a ellos mismos. Si quieres ver las raíces, el nacimiento del alma de este siglo, la germinación del zeitgeist cultural que impera en estos momentos, no dejes de leer este libro.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    An essential, must-read history of the most recognizable comic book and entertainment company in the world. Sean Howe's meticulously researched and pitch-perfectly written book chronicles the story of Marvel from its early days as a pulp hero publisher before WWII to its current, mass-media juggernaut incarnation. Along the way, he introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters, including the eager to please Stan Lee, the tragic Jack Kirby, everyman Herb Trimpe, power-mad Jim Shooter and m An essential, must-read history of the most recognizable comic book and entertainment company in the world. Sean Howe's meticulously researched and pitch-perfectly written book chronicles the story of Marvel from its early days as a pulp hero publisher before WWII to its current, mass-media juggernaut incarnation. Along the way, he introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters, including the eager to please Stan Lee, the tragic Jack Kirby, everyman Herb Trimpe, power-mad Jim Shooter and many, many more. Howe has a knack for not only summarizing the business side of the comic book industry, but for humanizing it, too - painting a vivid picture of the eras that Marvel came up in and the people that helped make it. He also manages to echo back to the early days of the company with each new chapter, dding a depth and context lacking in many similar tomes. Howe knows his stuff and it shows in the work. I read this book years ago when it first came out, but rereading it recently, I felt like I learned all the more. Highly recommended.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Roseb612

    V Kosmasu mají u téhle knížky štítek "Pro Fajnšmekry" a myslím, že to sedí - pokud o klasických komiksech, Marvelu a DC pořádně nic nevíte, tak tohle není kniha pro Vás; jestli jste alespoň trochu zasvěcení, tak si to čtení užijete a jestli máte marvelovské komiksy (pozor - komiksy, nikoliv filmy) v paži, tak si budete chrochtat blahem. Jelikož jsem někde na pomezí první a druhé kategorie, tak to nebylo nezajímavé čtení, ale bylo tam až příliš mnoho jmen, komiksových sérií a zákulisních pomrkává V Kosmasu mají u téhle knížky štítek "Pro Fajnšmekry" a myslím, že to sedí - pokud o klasických komiksech, Marvelu a DC pořádně nic nevíte, tak tohle není kniha pro Vás; jestli jste alespoň trochu zasvěcení, tak si to čtení užijete a jestli máte marvelovské komiksy (pozor - komiksy, nikoliv filmy) v paži, tak si budete chrochtat blahem. Jelikož jsem někde na pomezí první a druhé kategorie, tak to nebylo nezajímavé čtení, ale bylo tam až příliš mnoho jmen, komiksových sérií a zákulisních pomrkávání, která šla mimo mě. Autor opravdu počítá s tím, že o Marvelu (a potažmu i DC) již něco víte, takže tu základní omáčku prostě přeskočil, což pro někoho může být problém. Také pokud po knize sáhnete kvůli filmům z marvelovského universa - což byl tak trochu můj případ - tak je to krok vedle, o filmech se sice v knize píše hodně, ale o těch nenatočených, aktuální sérii MCU autor sfoukne za jednu stránku, což je určitě škoda. A samotným příběhům z komiksů se v knize také příliš prostoru nevěnuje. Knížka je vlastně jako samotné marvelovské kontinuum - vše se proplétá se vším, postavy se objevují, mizí a znovu objevují v jiném kontextu; aliance se uzavírají a zase ruší; nejlepší spojenci jsou náhle největší nepřátelé. V tomhle se to autorovi opravdu povedlo - kniha věrně odráží svůj předobraz. Jen pokud se v tom předobrazu neorientujete, tak o to víc se ztratíte v jeho odrazu. Zajímavá kniha, pro marvelovské fandy určitě pomalu povinná četba, pro mě až příliš zahlcené fakty - slušné tři hvězdičky, nelituji, že jsem to četla, ale vracet se k tomu určitě nebudu. Kontext: Mám rozkoukaný chronologicky MCU, tak mi přišlo, že by se to k tomu mohlo hodit (chyba lávky). Navíc mě teď komiksy začaly docela bavit. První věta: "V roce 1961 táhlo Stanleymu Martinovi Lieberovi na čtyřicítku a musel se dívat, jak komiksová branže, ve které se dřel po víc než dvě desítky let, usychá a vadne." Poslední věta: "Mnohočetná zjevení postav, ať už to je Captain America nebo Spider-Man a X-Men, se vznášejí v tvárných realitách, přecházejí od jednoho dočasného opatrovníka k jinému a jejich hrdinskému putování je navěky upřeno jediné: konec."

  15. 4 out of 5

    F.R.

    I’m not a bloke who reads a lot of comic books. I do retain a fascination with comic book heroes from my wasted childhood, and Mrs Jameson and I are mid-way through watching the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (IRON MAN 3 is next), but to actually pick up some Marvel or D.C. printed offering and see what’s illustrated between the pages is something I would almost never do. However, in the last couple of years, I have read a couple of books taking a look behind the scenes (as it were) of co I’m not a bloke who reads a lot of comic books. I do retain a fascination with comic book heroes from my wasted childhood, and Mrs Jameson and I are mid-way through watching the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (IRON MAN 3 is next), but to actually pick up some Marvel or D.C. printed offering and see what’s illustrated between the pages is something I would almost never do. However, in the last couple of years, I have read a couple of books taking a look behind the scenes (as it were) of comic books. As a creative person, I quite like reading about other creative people and the challenges they face – even if it is in a completely different field. And whereas reading about films I haven’t seen or music I’ve never heard could leave me baffled, here, even if I don’t know the specific comic books being talked about, I know who the characters are, I can imagine them, I can appreciate the story being told. The first half of this MARVEL COMICS – THE UNTOLD STORY is a great read, there’s Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and various other big personalities clashing as they try to get their comics out. While in the background there is a growing sense that for all the sneering they get (Mario Puzo, of all people, shows up in person to sneer) that they are doing something which impacts the world. As the book goes on though, and perhaps reflecting the change in culture at the company itself, the story becomes more corporate and less interesting. The personalities shrink and the back-biting becomes even more petty. Or maybe after hundreds of pages of back biting, I was just a bit worn down by it. No doubt, Sean Howe will eventually produce a sequel which details the films (we pretty much stop here at the original IRON MAN) and how this upstart comic company became one of the biggest entertainment forces in the world. No doubt that will be full of ego clashes and arguments too, but by that point my weariness will have past and I’ll probably revel in it.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    I did not read books as a child. Rather, I grew up on "Archie and Veronica," "Millie the Model," "Tales From the Crypt," and "Superman," inter alia, not to mention my favorite comic compilation – "Mad Magazine." What I really appreciated, even then, was how social and political change was reflected in the comics. Thus it was with nostalgic pleasure as well as the thirst for background that I dove into Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. As it turns out, I wasn’t that thirsty! To me, there is a littl I did not read books as a child. Rather, I grew up on "Archie and Veronica," "Millie the Model," "Tales From the Crypt," and "Superman," inter alia, not to mention my favorite comic compilation – "Mad Magazine." What I really appreciated, even then, was how social and political change was reflected in the comics. Thus it was with nostalgic pleasure as well as the thirst for background that I dove into Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. As it turns out, I wasn’t that thirsty! To me, there is a little too much information for anyone but obsessive purists (of which there are apparently quite a few, however). The author takes us from the very beginnings of what would become Marvel to its purchase in 2009 by Walt Disney for $4 billion. In between, Howe gives us some insights into how the popularity of certain comics waxed and waned with world affairs, and the effect of the state of the economy and politics on sales. But most of the text is an in-depth look at the personalities and politics of the writers and artists behind the scenes. And when I say “in-depth” I mean astonishingly so. It is as if the author had a daily videotape running inside the offices during the entire history of Marvel Comics. After a while, it seemed more like it should be called "The Endless Internecine Squabbles of a Bunch of Angry and Frustrated Artists." Then again, this aspect of the history of comics is more relevant than one might think; certainly, according to the author, the text of the comics often included coded office politics, allowing for superheroes to exact revenge on disliked editors or rivals. The biggest beef the comic writers had was who got credit for what. Page after page of this quite long book chronicles the course of these arguments. There is also a lot of space devoted to the “superstars” of Marvel, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, but not much about what made them tick; the author focuses more on who they ticked off, or who ticked them off….. Discussion: I don’t think I was the proper audience for this book. There are many, many devotees who will appreciate the day-to-day grind and gripes of comics creators (almost 500 pages worth!), but I am not one of them. I am much more interested in background and analysis. [More to my taste is the book From Krakow to Krypton: Jews and Comic Books, in which author Arie Kaplan explains how the overwhelmingly Jewish make-up of early comicdom affected the content of the stories and the evolution of both the superheroes and the industry itself. It also includes plenty of full-color illustrations of landmark comic book covers and characters. Another creative look at comicdom I like from yet another approach is Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art by Scott McCloud that examines the art form of comics in the art form of a comic book! ] Marvel Comics: The Untold Story stays deep within the “bullpen,” emphasizing interactions between labor and management. I would have liked more details about the Marvel Comics fictional universe and its denizens. When the book does discuss the characters or the nature of the drawings, there are no illustrations to help us visualize the points the author is making. Nevertheless, the research is impressive and book is well-written. There are some passages I loved, such as the one providing a rare (for this book) in-depth look at some of the characters drawn by Steve Gerber for “Jungle Action.” After listing the supporting cast for “the Man-Thing” (including a barbarian who emerged from a jar of peanut butter), the author observes: Amazingly, this was all conceived without the help of psychedelics.” (As Howe documents, this wasn’t always the case with all of the writers!) Evaluation: While I am not the proper audience, I want to point out that comic fans love this book, which has more inside dirt than I could have thought anyone could have collected! (The author notes in the "Acknowledgments" that “Much of this book is based on the personal recollections of more than 150 individuals…” He also drew from many, many articles and published interviews.) It just wasn’t the right book for me.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Luke Boyce

    I've been wanting to read Sean Howe's Marvel book for awhile. I grew up a DC fan, never reading any Marvel books outside of a few Spider-man comics. So not having that foundation in my childhood always made me reluctant to get into Marvel characters as I was worried about understanding the canonical intricacies. With the movies, it made things easier to ease into but I really wanted to get the full Marvel story so I knew the historical context behind these characters. Often, that's what really h I've been wanting to read Sean Howe's Marvel book for awhile. I grew up a DC fan, never reading any Marvel books outside of a few Spider-man comics. So not having that foundation in my childhood always made me reluctant to get into Marvel characters as I was worried about understanding the canonical intricacies. With the movies, it made things easier to ease into but I really wanted to get the full Marvel story so I knew the historical context behind these characters. Often, that's what really helps me fall in love with something, whether a movie or book or anything. What I wasn't expecting with this book was just how damning it was to Marvel as a company. I certainly didn't expect to read a book about a company with a long history of screwing over artists and numerous corporate takeovers. I'd heard all my life in the annoying Marvel vs. DC crap that Marvel was a better company, better writers, better artists, but it seems that most writers and artists started at Marvel and we're forced out eventually because of mistreatment or just general frustration with the corporate management system. For instance, when the press about what DC was doing with the Batwoman comic came out it was frustrating to me and I would be mad at them and hear people telling me how DC sucks and Marvel would never do something like that. I believed them, but the truth is that Marvel has done just as much horrible stuff and even worse in some cases. If anything, this book lifted that veil of this company being this wonderful safe haven of artistic freedom. Truth is, it's anything but. A struggle for artists and writers throughout it's history. Just like DC, just like anybody else. They need to make a profit. They're beholden to their corporate owners and with that comes corporate bullshit just like anybody else. If anything it made Marvel human. It made the Marvel vs. DC concept irrelevant. They may sell more comics, but they're not a "better" company by any means. They're just like everybody else. That was a relief reading this. The book is very much not flinching in it's condemnation and spends the majority of it's time going through one conflict after the other. It can get exhausting after a while to be honest, but there's also tons and tons of interesting stories within. And hearing about the writers and artists and where they went and what they did was very interesting. And understanding Stan Lee's role finally, what he was to the company and when he stopped being that was interesting. And even Stan's hands are not clean. Though he has gotten his own fair share of crap in the past couple decades from the corporate heads. All in all, it was a great book, and I honestly wish they had one for DC. While there's some great stuff out there detailing DC's history, it's all from the perspective of the characters and milestones. It doesn't deal in the day-to-day drama of the company itself. The leaders and the problems associated. Hearing all the instances of when this one person went to DC in this book made me want to hear what happened to them once they got there, but those stories are, obviously, not told here. Generally, I think I'd give the book 3.5 stars out of 5, but you can't give a half star on the rating system so I enjoyed it enough to round up. I would have liked to have spent a little more time hearing about the different character storylines, but they did still have those moments from time to time and I know this book could have easily have been even longer.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Osvaldo

    This book was fantastic. I'd say four-and-a-half-stars. Comprehensive, well footnoted, easily readable, funny, poignant, balanced and reasoned - this is a fantastic read for any lover of the comics industry. Essentially the history of Marvel Comics is the history of a perennially mismanaged company that repeatedly treated its writers and artists (even the successful ones) as replaceable cogs and seemed to have no sense of what made what worked work. The ongoing push and pull between the corporate This book was fantastic. I'd say four-and-a-half-stars. Comprehensive, well footnoted, easily readable, funny, poignant, balanced and reasoned - this is a fantastic read for any lover of the comics industry. Essentially the history of Marvel Comics is the history of a perennially mismanaged company that repeatedly treated its writers and artists (even the successful ones) as replaceable cogs and seemed to have no sense of what made what worked work. The ongoing push and pull between the corporate nature of the publishing endeavor and the creative determination of writers (with editorial moving back and forth between the camps) makes for a fascinating read. The wacky boys' club of pranks of the 60s, the mind-altering drug-fueled creations, the bitter politics of creators versus company-men, the misguided attempts to draw more women and minority readers, the failed development of countless film treatments, the tragic treatment of Jack Kirby, the nearly criminal mishandling and manipulation of the speculators market that led to the boom and bust of the 90s – it is all there. I devoured it. The half-star is lost for two reasons: 1) A book about comics should have pictures and illustrations of the comics and characters and creators that it is about. I know that it may have been difficult for Howe to get the rights to the Marvel Comics images, but certainly he could have gotten old and/or public photographs of the various writers, artists and locations in the history of the comic company. The book is already very long, so another 15 to 20 pages of images would not have been a problem, I think. 2) As a reviewer somewhere else pointed out, for a book as much about the culture of the infamous Marvel Bullpen as its actual business history, more time could have been spent exploring what that was like for black writers/artists and also women as well. The atmosphere for minorities in the comic world has had some serious acccusations against it in the past (consider Christopher Priest's blog, and then there's this and this), so for a book that tries to give different points of view of what it was like to not include this is kind of glaring. Overall, however, I give this a hearty recommendation.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Brian Rogers

    This was a really engaging history of the company, carrying from its beginnings up to the sale to Disney, and filled in a lot of my knowledge gaps even in the areas I thought I knew. It's very well researched, well told and even handed. It's hard to walk away with a sense of winners and losers for many of the eras - the highly creative writers and artists of the 70's decrying against the evil editorial team who kept forcing them to do things like 'make deadlines', but also the editorial team try This was a really engaging history of the company, carrying from its beginnings up to the sale to Disney, and filled in a lot of my knowledge gaps even in the areas I thought I knew. It's very well researched, well told and even handed. It's hard to walk away with a sense of winners and losers for many of the eras - the highly creative writers and artists of the 70's decrying against the evil editorial team who kept forcing them to do things like 'make deadlines', but also the editorial team trying to force those pesky, childish writers to understand the need to sacrifice all sense of story and narrative for months or years long crossovers to milk all money from the collectors market. OK, there are some clear villains, and some poor unfortunates caught in the crossfire, but the lack of black and white clarity makes it a more real history.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Arun Divakar

    The characters of Marvel comics have captured the imaginations of a multitude of audiences across the world. You see them on almost every other kind of merchandise and with the uber-successful Marvel universe brand of movies, this fame has hit the stratosphere. If the hype is paused for a moment then the characters themselves show signs of patterns running across their storylines. For instance most of the superheroes from the Marvel stables ( or DC for that matter) began life as crime fighters o The characters of Marvel comics have captured the imaginations of a multitude of audiences across the world. You see them on almost every other kind of merchandise and with the uber-successful Marvel universe brand of movies, this fame has hit the stratosphere. If the hype is paused for a moment then the characters themselves show signs of patterns running across their storylines. For instance most of the superheroes from the Marvel stables ( or DC for that matter) began life as crime fighters or vigilantes who brought a sense of security to the common populace. With the passing of the decades and with creative juices flowing in from new writers, they took on new life as players in storylines which spanned planets, galaxies and celestial systems. The heroes go toe-to-toe against gods, supernatural entities and aliens and their personal lives are closely enmeshed with all this drama. Also somewhere along the way there began the endless cycle of deaths and eventual rebirths for a lot of the characters. Behind the stories and the fiery colored costumes ticks the brains of desk bound writers, artists and editors. As the name of the book suggests, this is the untold story of the men ( mostly men since there are very, very few women in this line of business at Marvel) whose sweat and blood has built the Marvel of today. The narrative is a sprawling history of Marvel from its early days as an artistic venture which was still unsteady on its feet to the gargantuan money making machine of today. Very early in the story and in the formative years of the company, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are introduced whose shadows linger all through the scope of the book. This is hardly a surprise since the creative minds of these two men gave rise to almost all of Marvel’s bestselling characters. More and more writers, artists and editors find their footing with the company and slowly the organization grows larger. As the company scales more heights, the inevitable fallout happens wherein a corporate grows too large and slowly starts moving away from the personal touch it shares with the employees. Also since the employees in question are all ones with an artistic mind-set that seethes at any kind of authoritarian leashes placed on them, the fissures slowly start appearing. In case of Marvel this unrest snowballs over the years into the form of a battle for the ownership of the characters between the artists and the company. The other interesting aside is how the ownership of the company moves between people who have zero idea or interest about comics or art in particular. The crisp and unbiased style of writing captures Marvel’s story from both sides of the fence – firstly, from Martin Goodman to Disney who have owned the company and also from Stan Lee to Joe Quesada who have taken on the role of editor-in-chief for Marvel. Axel Alonso who is the current editor-in-chief is only hinted at and the story mostly winds up with how Marvel fully overhauled itself at the time of Quesada. The characters we meet along the way are more colorful and dynamic than their comic creations – Steve Ditko, Jim Shooter, Marv Wolfman,Chris Claremont, Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee are only some of the names in this ensemble cast and the ups and downs that they have taken Marvel through makes for excellent reading. A timeline of this creative behemoth is unveiled through the changing fortunes of Spider-Man, The X-Men, The Avengers and others in the global marketplace. Marvel and its characters have left a lasting impact in the minds of generations of readers and TV audiences and this book is a highly successful attempt at delving into the history of the hard work, persistence and sometimes plain luck of the people who built the Marvel universe. This book can be recommended on two separate levels – one as a history of one of the two largest comic publishing houses of today and secondly as a case study of the finer nuances of how a creative corporation has evolved over the years.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Nunez

    I used to think of myself as a Marvel comic book fan. I have read the comics since 1976 and into the 1990s (the clone saga did it for me, it was my Kronstadt) and have collected some of the key titles. I own an almost complete run of the John Byrne Uncanny X-Men, the Frank Miller Elecktra (per the cover) introduction story in Daredevil and a complete run of Amazing Spiderman into the 1980s (granted, parts of it are made up of the Italian and Colombian versions, but still...). After reading this I used to think of myself as a Marvel comic book fan. I have read the comics since 1976 and into the 1990s (the clone saga did it for me, it was my Kronstadt) and have collected some of the key titles. I own an almost complete run of the John Byrne Uncanny X-Men, the Frank Miller Elecktra (per the cover) introduction story in Daredevil and a complete run of Amazing Spiderman into the 1980s (granted, parts of it are made up of the Italian and Colombian versions, but still...). After reading this book, I stand corrected. I knew nothing or nearly. Here it is, in all its lurid glory, the story of Marvel comics. Virtually all important creators were nutters: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Gerber. Don't let's even mention Steve Ditko. And I don't mean that in a nice way: they were geniuses, but by the end of their lives they all seem to have become unmoored from reality. The company has spent a third of its story surviving bankruptcy after been driven into the ground by unscrupulous empire-builders, greenmailers and speculators (particularly ghastly were Ron Perelman and Carl Icahn). Another third has been about infighting between management and talent, between artists and scriptwriters, between the lawyers of all the preceding categories (virtually everyone has sued Marvel at some point in time); official mascot Stan Lee is quoted in the book as having said the following: "I've created a number of characters for Marvel that have been successful, but when I created them, I knew they were the property of the company. That was the understanding; that had always been the procedure. For me to suddenly start saying, `Wait a minute, I wrote that, I'm going to sue,' to my way of thinking, that would be dishonest. I had the right to leave at any time and if I felt I was so good I could create characters and make a fortune, I had every right to do it. And I think any artist or writer who doesn't want to work for us doesn't have to sign the contract, he's perfectly welcome to, with no hard feelings." Howe, Sean (2012-10-09). Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (Kindle Locations 4269-4274). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition. However, a company bearing his name, created by him and an scrupulous operator, has sued the company for intellectual property rights. I'm told this wasn't Lee's choice, nor will it benefit him personally. And the remaining third of Marvel's life seems to have been spent in political infighting of a remarkable beastliness. Jim "Trouble" Shooter (editor-in-chief between 1978 and 1989), who joined the company as an intern aged 14, appears to have been a particularly nasty piece of work. The book is full of unpleasantness, backstabbing, rampant egotism and dirty games. So reading about decent, talented people like the John Romitas (senior and junior) and the Buscema brothers (both mistreated at Marvel) comes in like a breath of fresh air. For me, Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson as portrayed by Romita senior are still the loveliest females depicted in comics. Reading the book, contrary to my expectation, made me like Marvel less. It is truly a "warts-and-all" portrait. Also, I sometimes got lost in the layers of Bizantine intrigue, in spite of being familiar with most or all the writers, artists and characters, and many of the storylines ("narrative arcs"). The book would make a good case study for a business school strategy course, since it highlights the inherent contradiction in running a business dependent on unusual talent, but without being too dependent on said talent (which is why management always took characters away from their creators). This explains the cross-over craze (where complex and convoluted plots develop across many or all company titles so that they are impossible to follow unless you read -buy- all of them). It also explains the overexposure of once thrilling characters like Wolverine, Elektra or Spiderman and the withering of many others taken off the spotlight to focus on those the public likes at a particular time. And the reason why some Marvel character movies are schlocky (v.gr., Daredevil, Elektra or the Fantastic Four) whereas others are pretty good or even great (v.gr., Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man, Avengers) and others never get made (v.gr., Dr. Strange): short-sighted managers looking for their next bonus often sold TV, movie or merchardising rights to whomever would pay regardless of whether a quality portrayal could be expected. It also explains the reason for the periodic killing of iconic characters or the relaunch of the same, to the annoyance of the fanboys and the indifference of pretty much everybody else. Comics seems to be a dying art form, at least at the majors (DC and Marvel). Indisputably its best days are behind. And yet... The book also describes the creative processes that led to that amazing burst of creative energy of the early 60s that gave us The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk, The Amazing Spiderman, The Mighty Thor and other formidable characters that gave joy to generations of children. These children are now adults, and it seems some never outgrew them, since according to the book the typical Marvel reader is a 30 year old male (aka Fanboy). Attempts to reach the next generation of eight year olds have been failing at least since the mid-80s. But what we felt when we read these comic books for the first time 20, 30 or 40 years ago will never entirely vanish. I take away one star because the book is mainly for insiders and even those that feel well informed may struggle to keep up. I take away another because the Kindle version has no photographs of the people mentioned in the book (a huge cast) or of Marvel artwork. If you cannot make up your mind whether to purchase this book and you like comics, I recommend that you go and purchase the recent Marvel Essentials about Adam Warlock. The second part, which includes the Jim Starlin years, will show you Marvel at its best, when creativity and talent were allowed to run amok. Excelsior!

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    4.5 stars. If even half of it is true, it makes Mad Men look like an episode of Joy of Painting hosted by Bob Ross. It's amazing that Marvel's comics got published at all, then and now. One (of many things) this book shed a light on was how much of a badass Jack Kirby (co-creator of most of Marvel's most iconic characters) was. The guy was a workhorse and creative genius. While Stan Lee seems to get 99% of the credit today, Kirby deserves his 50% (and maybe more?). My one area of concern is that t 4.5 stars. If even half of it is true, it makes Mad Men look like an episode of Joy of Painting hosted by Bob Ross. It's amazing that Marvel's comics got published at all, then and now. One (of many things) this book shed a light on was how much of a badass Jack Kirby (co-creator of most of Marvel's most iconic characters) was. The guy was a workhorse and creative genius. While Stan Lee seems to get 99% of the credit today, Kirby deserves his 50% (and maybe more?). My one area of concern is that the book primarily covers the drama of Marvel over the years and only occasionally touches on some of the reasons that the people, at one time or another, found some facet of joy at Marvel. A slightly more balanced approach would have improved the overall experience.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Elina Gomberg

    This book is a historical review of Marvel comics from the time of its formation until recent years. If you're looking for a book that takes a stance, this is not it. This book lets the reader decide which version of events or which motive of people they prefer most. However, the book becomes a lot less detailed as it reaches the time Ike Perlmutter took over Marvel. Also I would have proffered more dates within the book itself to make the time jumps clearer. Despite the lack of stance, this boo This book is a historical review of Marvel comics from the time of its formation until recent years. If you're looking for a book that takes a stance, this is not it. This book lets the reader decide which version of events or which motive of people they prefer most. However, the book becomes a lot less detailed as it reaches the time Ike Perlmutter took over Marvel. Also I would have proffered more dates within the book itself to make the time jumps clearer. Despite the lack of stance, this book does not make Marvel look good. Though comics are not doing well, Marvel comes across as a terrible cooperation. Working within the law doesn't make you right and as more and more people are exposed to these wonderful characters, the fact that their creators get no money or credit is very sad. That's the feeling that you are left with when you finish this book, it's a sad to have been working for Marvel.

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    I enjoyed Marvel Comics a great deal - I like history, I like comics, and I was a huge, gonzo, ultra-mega-mega Marvel reader in the late 80's through early 90s (I probably collected ~50-60 titles monthly). This is a rollicking, gossipy tale of office politics and corporate excess which clearly takes sides in some of the somewhat-known disputes (Kirby vs everyone, Ditko vs everyone, etc), and there are definitely some folks who come out of this worse for the wear. I was surprised at how complete t I enjoyed Marvel Comics a great deal - I like history, I like comics, and I was a huge, gonzo, ultra-mega-mega Marvel reader in the late 80's through early 90s (I probably collected ~50-60 titles monthly). This is a rollicking, gossipy tale of office politics and corporate excess which clearly takes sides in some of the somewhat-known disputes (Kirby vs everyone, Ditko vs everyone, etc), and there are definitely some folks who come out of this worse for the wear. I was surprised at how complete the book is - it manages to cover events all the way into 2012, including the successful theatrical release of The Avengers (although a bit thinly). Now, what comic-book history would be complete without heroes and villains? First and foremost, Stan Lee comes across as (and this was the most surprising accusation in the book) largely absent in anything other than the early years of Marvel - he is portrayed as focused on movie deals and expanding the Marvel brand into other media and not focusing on the day-to-day comic writing or editing (at least after he left the workday scripting environment in the 60s). Kirby really shines - he is shown as the progenitor of the whole medium: the "new style" artist and writer (but not scripter) who was able to change the way pretty much everyone told sequential art stories. I had always liked his work, but hadn't appreciated how much comics could be divided into before and after-Kirby periods. Now, some of this may be overstated - there were others who were clearly extremely important and influential, but he is portrayed as a towering figure both in his work and his influence on the artists who followed. Chris Claremont gets the role of Marvel martyr (which, given how badly Kirby is treated, is saying something) - he shepherds the lowest selling books (the X-men) into the giant franchise only to see all of them wrenched from him during the proto-Image phase, and he gets to watch while all of the years of characterization he put into the books is cast aside for the crowning moment of awesome. It was actually right about this time that I left comics for nearly 20 years, and never really went back to Marvel. But the big villains in the books are the folks running the show - it seems the inmates run the asylum, and between the idiotic attempts at brand expansion (which turn into dilution), massive reorganizations, the juvenile office politics (honestly, I'd lose my job if I acted half that badly), editorially-driven mandates (specifically ultra-mega crossovers), and penny-wise/pound-foolish behavior, it's a miracle (nay, a marvel) that the company survived at all! The foolishness basically comes down to this: the company spent an inordinate amount of time focusing on things other than making good stories (specifically, good stories which people wanted to buy), and let short-term thinking crowd out long-term stewardship of the characters. The current success of Marvel movies rescued the company from oblivion, but it's notable that most of the stories and characters which form the backbones of the movies were ones which were introduced in the 60s through 80s - Marvel (comics) is having to try to keep up with the success of the movies, which are again mining out that excellent work which was done in the past. What's going on now? I find no particular jumping-on point - I tried a few times, and really couldn't get back into it, because the characters did not grab me. I'm still collecting the trade paperback releases of stuff from the 80s and earlier, because it's great, but the current stuff is missing the mark and wallowing in nostalgia and cheap thrills. But back to the book - it's a great read if you want to see how a company can be spectacularly mismanaged and still manage to survive and produce some great work even in a hostile environment. It's not as depressing as The Bonfire of the Vanities, but some of the same wretched excess makes itself known here too.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Frazier

    Boffo! About the only thing I didn't learn after reading "Marvel Comics" was how to draw them myself. To say the very least, Sean Howe's chronicles of the many rises and falls of Marvel Comics was thorough, extensive, exhaustive and damn near exhausting. Although the last comic book I bought was probably a Richie Rich or Beetle Bailey sometime in the '60s, the ubiquitous presence of Marvel (and other) characters in virtually every medium outside of comics made me want to learn how that came to be Boffo! About the only thing I didn't learn after reading "Marvel Comics" was how to draw them myself. To say the very least, Sean Howe's chronicles of the many rises and falls of Marvel Comics was thorough, extensive, exhaustive and damn near exhausting. Although the last comic book I bought was probably a Richie Rich or Beetle Bailey sometime in the '60s, the ubiquitous presence of Marvel (and other) characters in virtually every medium outside of comics made me want to learn how that came to be. (Why and how do I have Spidey and several of his fellow characters included in my toy collection?) And while I'm not sure where or how the fascination began from a fan's standpoint (Howe really doesn't discuss their appeal from a reader's standpoint--the experience of choosing and reading a title, the attraction to collecting them, the seemingly endless allegiance toward them), I now know about virtually every step of the process required to create, produce and distribute a comic book, and the story is no less riveting, scheming or dramatic than the decades-long trials and tribulations of Spider-Man or Iron Man. Perhaps most revealing was learning how the writers and artists were switched from one title and group of characters to another, as interwoven in their responsibilities as the characters themselves are intertwined in myriad titles. That anybody could keep track of that from the outset is amazing enough. (There are something like 2,000 characters in the Marvel household.) That Howe was able to piece this altogether in hindsight demonstrates nothing short of a super power itself. (Toward the end he actually suggest that the company had a software program that essentially tracked each story and character and its relationship and status relative to every other story and character.) Of course, this is a fantasy world we're talking about, and Howe cites innumerable examples of how one character could be brought back to life or assume the identity of another, all in the name of "advancing" the storyline or reviving a title. Naturally, the stories of the creators (and the battles legal and otherwise that they endure with their employer and each other) are every bit as twisted as the plot lines they created, and I'm thankful Howe didn't interview any more of the participants; this mass of minutiae borders on overload as it is. That said, the one area I thought that could've used more attention is the actual process itself. While he does delineate the various responsibilities of the writers, artists and colorists, it would've been helpful to actually chronicle the sequence. I think I understand it--a writer or artist outlines a story that's then drawn, inked and colored before the actual dialogue or narration is lettered--but I'm not certain. And after 450 pages I feel as though I should know that. You don't have to be a fan of comic books to be a fan of a good expose, and the untold story of "Marvel Comics" certainly qualifies as that. Enjoy.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Christina (A Reader of Fictions)

    According to Goodreads, which likes to judge me for slowness, I've been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story since February 18th. Something taking me over a month to read is pretty much unprecedented, especially since I actually found this nonfiction audiobook pretty damn fascinating. What happened? Well, see, most of the chapters in Marvel Comics are an hour long on audio, and I typically just listen to 20-30 minutes as I get ready for bed at night or up in the morning. Stopping in the middl According to Goodreads, which likes to judge me for slowness, I've been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story since February 18th. Something taking me over a month to read is pretty much unprecedented, especially since I actually found this nonfiction audiobook pretty damn fascinating. What happened? Well, see, most of the chapters in Marvel Comics are an hour long on audio, and I typically just listen to 20-30 minutes as I get ready for bed at night or up in the morning. Stopping in the middle of a chapter is anathema to me, so finding sizable chunks of time to fit a chapter in was a serious pain. I think most book bloggers have certain kinds of reviews they find really tough to write. Well, one of the kinds I really don't know what to do with is non-fiction, but I'll do my best, I guess. I can't evaluate the accuracy of the info, because my only knowledge of Marvel going in was pretty much entirely limited to the film versions of their comics. I know you judge me comic book fans, but it's impossible for me to read ALL of their stuff, so I can't really read any of it. If you want to know about Marvel, this is a great resource. Now, it doesn't go very in depth into the comics, so if that's what you want, look elsewhere. What Howe does is give the inside scoop on all of the office politics and drama, and, oh lord, was there a ton of it. Basically, I'm not convinced that Marvel was run by a bunch of petty backstabbers. The history is just battles between management and creators. Oh, I'm also fairly certain that the comic book industry is where this stupid trope of characters dying and coming back to life, popping back into place like punching bags, came from. Not cool, comic books publishers. Other things that were not cool about comics: the racism and the treatment of women. Even more horrifying, there's still so far to go on those portrayals. Like, at one point in the 1960s, they wanted to target a female audience, so they had men write some titles like Night Nurse and She-Devil. Yeah, they really understand women. The thesis of Howe's book seems to be the difficulty the comic book industry has had finding a niche. Marvel has been near bankruptcy a dozen times, but always managed to find a way back into the market. In modern times, film adaptations and merchandising are pulling Marvel through, but something else is needed in the future, as less people actually seem to be reading comics. Basically, the comic book industry, like the rest of publishing, has to plan for the future. Stephen Hoye does a nice job narrating Marvel Comics, and it was pleasant to listen to, even though I would have gotten through faster with more chapter breaks. If you've ever been curious about the comic book industry from early days to the present day, Howe's written a book just for you.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jack Herbert Christal Gattanella

    4.5/5 I'm not sure how much of this is exactly "untold" since, you know, thats sort of the gimmick to get people to buy the book (clearly Howe has done a metric-ton of research, from articles galore and likely thousands of Marvel and Comics publisher magazine backpages for correspondence and interviews), but it is I would wager the most comprehensive look you can get about Marvel comics and the entire empire than started with Martin Goodman, Submariner and Captain America and fluorished under Sta 4.5/5 I'm not sure how much of this is exactly "untold" since, you know, thats sort of the gimmick to get people to buy the book (clearly Howe has done a metric-ton of research, from articles galore and likely thousands of Marvel and Comics publisher magazine backpages for correspondence and interviews), but it is I would wager the most comprehensive look you can get about Marvel comics and the entire empire than started with Martin Goodman, Submariner and Captain America and fluorished under Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, (the *Ayn Randian*!) Steve Ditko, and had about 12 different ups and downs, including bankruptcy (hi 90s) and a multi-billion dollar movie congomerate. It is captivating and wholly interesting for the simple fact that Howe gets this right, which is all I ask of any biography: make me care about the people and make the main lot of them as fleshed out as possible. I certainly got a different take on Lee than I did from his "Amazing" comic book memoir that came out a few years ago... but at the same time it is actually quite accurate; he comes off as a contradiction at points - ebullient, creative, guarded, trusting and then, in his old age, broken and betrayed, a guy who started at Marvel in 1941 next to Kirby as a kid running errands and eventually changed the medium itself (no, really, I'd say he moved the needle far, far ahead, at least narratively). He's like a much more enjoyable Walt Disney, with the same innovative mind and the same flaws, minus the anti-union sentiment and smoking. He's the kind of guy who came within a hair of writing a movie for Alain (Hiroshima Mon Amour, Night and Fog) Resnais, and for all of his love of pumping up and hyping new people and events and films wanted to be a screenwriter or novelist instead of a comic book guy. Kirby comes off as a contradiction too, but mostly in the later part of the book, when he gets (truly) dicked over by Marvel (give the man his goddamned pages, I shouted at one point to no one present), as he badmouths Marvel to no end and changes up the mythology for his own ends (*creating* Spiderman, c'mon Jack). But then Howe details a 1987 radio appearance for his 70th birthday and Lee calls in, and its one of those great momrnts ive ever read in a biography, where these two men who have had all this history together thru thick and thin and then this acrimony and division have a moment of reconciliation... not that Kirby stopped badmouthing Marvel after that but that (and a couple other interactions between the two) shows Howes strong ability to build these personalities narratively until they take on equally mythic and flawed qualities. Indeed the book is insightful and absorbing and enticing on two fronts: getting me to know and care and (love to?) hate about so many, many people - Shooter, Gerber, Englehart, Romita, Miller, Byrne, Claremont, McFarlane, Leifeld (I didnt know that guy got a deal with Spike Lee and Spielberg, wtf 90s?!), Quesada, even (huh) Carl Icahn, not to mention the countless people who were artists and creators and businessmen (that one guy who's name is truly like a pasta, I'm blanking now) and of course the wonderfully OCD Gruenwald - and describing many of the amazing titles and stories. I realized I haven't read as nearly as much as I thought, and theres a treasure trove of both funny, weird, tragic, deeply misguided story in the lineage of crazy, beguiling timelines and titles. Its a compulsive read/listen if you are already familiar with the world, but Howe also tries (and I think succeeds) to make it accessible and endlessly fascinating for the more casual fan. Im sure he had to navigate a balancing act - what will the die hards not know already, or those mid-level, and then the newbies - and he focuses on making it work as a multi-pronged biography first, catalog of info and trivia second. Anyone can go to a Wikipedia- what does one do with the STORIES that can be told in these hallways and the bullpen and basements and penthouses and offices of Marvel? One flaw: I wondered at times, not often really but just here and there, if Howe wasnt depicting this history as being... overly dark and depressing. There are many sad times and acrimonious days and sudden (way early!) deaths in this, which, well, this is what happened, but im talking about an underlying tone. Theres this sense that doom is always somewhere around the corner, even in the good times or those heady, psychotropic LSD days of the 70s. It still works, but maybe its just that in the second half everything gets so unremittingly bleak as far as the takeovers in the corporate world, as business overtakes anything close to art or entertainment (one boss in the 90s looked at Marvel like the artists created candy bars). Its not all Howe's fault, but... I'm not sure how that could be avoided. This isnt to dissuade you at all from checking this out, if anything this is a personal complaint and its relatively minor. I loved a lot of this massive, often harrowing account of how popular culture, American culture in general, was altered practically by accident: by changing it up from monster books back to something more superhero driven in 1961, and almost as a lark to just try some thing different and more psychological and even Shakespearean (at leazt under King Kirbys pen), the company tapped into a consciousness that was and wasnt there. In that sense I find Lee an even more interesting guy than Disney too, though this book has the added benefit of being about a lot of guys (and women, sometimes). in other words, via Marvel, Howe at his richest gets to tell the story of American popular culture via this one maligned segment. a couple of small facts I found, "Wow!": - Bendis, penning Jessica Jones in Alias in 2001, had a scene in his MAX title where Jones has sex with Luke Cage (spoiler, this is also in the Netflix show). Alabama would not print this comic and it needed to be printed elsewhere... in 2001. - Star Wars and KISS comics kind of single-handedly saved Marvel in the late 70s. The irony (or just coincidence) of two of those now being under the Disney umbrella is not lost on me. - Jim Shooter was equal parts maverick and total, complete asshole, though usually not at the same time. - the story of the one guy who drew comics for so many years and died while drawing at his desk is probably the *least* sad death in this book that isn't for someone who was over 70 - the Captain America movie from 1990 gets no mention. fyi this was the Captain America movie where Cap steals a small bike from a child so I can understand why - Lee got everyone at Marvel (except Ditko as he was kind of like the standoffish Peter Parker he drew) in 1964 to record a special audio LP for members of the Merry Marvel Marching society and the varied accounts of how that got made is as incredible and funny as anything ive ever heard. - Steve Gerber is awesome. one last brief side note: if you listen to the audio book, as I did (my final Hoopla book), the narrator sounds a lot like an upstanding heroic comic book character on an animated show, like Tim Daly's Superman or even one of the guys on Superfrienda or something.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Michael Gonzales

    I didn't expect to be as drawn in by this as I was. What really fascinates me about the Marvel Comics story is how uncertain the question of credit was even at the beginning. Sure, it's clear that Jack Kirby was playing chess while Stan Lee was playing Checkers (creatively, anyway), but it's undeniable that the pop culture was in love with Lee's weird carnival barker "way with words." Obviously there was only one genius in that creative duo but you don't have Marvel Comics without "IT'S CLOBBERI I didn't expect to be as drawn in by this as I was. What really fascinates me about the Marvel Comics story is how uncertain the question of credit was even at the beginning. Sure, it's clear that Jack Kirby was playing chess while Stan Lee was playing Checkers (creatively, anyway), but it's undeniable that the pop culture was in love with Lee's weird carnival barker "way with words." Obviously there was only one genius in that creative duo but you don't have Marvel Comics without "IT'S CLOBBERIN' TIME!" In Marvel Comics, the artists are kind of the main plotters, while the writers are in charge of the general concepts for the stories and then finish it off with dialogue at the end. No one outside the organization really understood that at the time, and that's caused so many hurt feelings and unsung heroes even to this day. Meanwhile, Marvel's insistence on owning all creations in totality caused some artists to end up screwed, like Jim Starlin who created Thanos but had to pay for his own ticket to The Avengers, or Dave Cockrum, who created Nightcrawler but couldn't pay his medical bills around the same time X2 was breaking Hollywood records. NOT TO MENTION all the other crazy characters from the Marvel world: Archie Goodwin, Chris Claremont, Marie Severin, Jim Shooter, Annie Nocenti, Rob Liefeld, Avi Arad, Roy Thomas, Steve Gerber, and my new hero, Neal Adams. In addition to penciling industry-shaping runs on Batman, Green Arrow, X-Men, and The Avengers, Adams was a vocal supporter for creators' rights starting back in the 70s when he tried to use his huge popularity to kickstart a failed attempt at unionizing. The story of Marvel Comics is the story of the most intricate fictional narrative in like the history of human civilization (paraphrasing Howe), which by necessity is also the story of bitchy office drama. Comics are the only thing that would get me to write three paragraphs like this these days.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Aries

    Del mio essere nerd ho parlato e riparlato anche se, stranamente, qui sopra ho sempre scritto poco di fumetti; nell'ultimo anno, poi, i miei acquisti in ambito "comics" si sono quasi annullati, dato che ho deciso di terminare prima l'immensa coda e poi, nel caso, ricominciare a comprare. Questo, però, non significa che la mia nerditudine o che certe passioni possano assopirsi, per cui quando in libreria ho trovato il volumone "Marvel Comics - Una storia di eroi e supereroi" non ho fatto in tempo Del mio essere nerd ho parlato e riparlato anche se, stranamente, qui sopra ho sempre scritto poco di fumetti; nell'ultimo anno, poi, i miei acquisti in ambito "comics" si sono quasi annullati, dato che ho deciso di terminare prima l'immensa coda e poi, nel caso, ricominciare a comprare. Questo, però, non significa che la mia nerditudine o che certe passioni possano assopirsi, per cui quando in libreria ho trovato il volumone "Marvel Comics - Una storia di eroi e supereroi" non ho fatto in tempo a leggerne il titolo che ero già alla cassa. Attenzione, però, qui non si parla di un libro sui fumetti Marvel, ma della storia della Marvel stessa, da quando ancora si chiamava Timely ai giorni nostri, passando per il boom degli anni '60, con la nascita dei Supereroi con Superproblemi, per la crescita esponenziale negli anni '70 o '80, ma anche per la crisi finanziaria che minacciò di farle chiudere i battenti nel decennio scorso, fino ad arrivare alla nuova vita del periodo recente, con tanto di film. E' un viaggio affascinante, che permette di scoprire tanti dietro le quinte, alcuni immaginabili, altri molto meno: troviamo così conferma delle personalità discutibili di alcuni autori, del fatto che Stan Lee, alla fine, sia un personaggio vagamente sopravvalutato e molto egocentrico, che il buon Jack Kirby venne trattato molto male (anche se anche lui si prese meriti non propri), che Rob Liefeld è meglio perderlo che trovarlo e via dicendo in questo modo. Altrettanto intrigante è scoprire come alcuni archi narrativi o certi personaggi sono nati, perché sono stati fatti certi cross-over (uno per tutti: Secret Wars) o certe scelte editoriali, quali sono state le vere spinte verso una direzione piuttosto che un'altra. Il rischio che tolga un (bel) po' di magia alla Casa delle Idee è più che fondato, ma devo dire che è stata una lettura interessante e appassionante, che consiglio a chiunque voglia andare un po' oltre rispetto al semplice acquisto delle storie.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Peter Landau

    Forget the Bible, I joked upon first reading MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, this is the greatest story ever told. Now, having just finished the exhaustive and definitive history of one of the greatest comic book houses ever, I'd like to amend that statement: this is the saddest story ever told. Marvel has suffered near death and revival more than its characters, starting in the early '60s with the birth of the Fantastic Four out of the ruins of what almost was the bankruptcy of the business. T Forget the Bible, I joked upon first reading MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, this is the greatest story ever told. Now, having just finished the exhaustive and definitive history of one of the greatest comic book houses ever, I'd like to amend that statement: this is the saddest story ever told. Marvel has suffered near death and revival more than its characters, starting in the early '60s with the birth of the Fantastic Four out of the ruins of what almost was the bankruptcy of the business. These books, including Spider-Man and more, were produced by professionals in ties and suits and ink-stained fingertips working for-hire and unaware of what they were giving away for a steady paycheck. The pillars of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby standing like gods on Olympus reigning over the world of superheroes with hangups that struck a chord with readers and pop culture, even Pop art, are the polar opposites of company and creation, a dichotomy that would grow with success. Sean Howe provides a detailed itinerary of Marvel's travel from four-color newsprint to digital movie extravaganzas and dispassionately tracks the strife of packaging creativity as commodity, as larger and greedier and clueless masters of the universe sucked the fun and profit out of the industry. Also, the changing of the guard from career cartoonists to grown-up fanboys producing work that became so self-referential as to be incestuous and deformed. Maybe those who didn't grew up with these comic books will not have the same emotional attachment to the story as I had, but even as it moved past my experience with Marvel I remained transfixed until the last page. There an old black-and-white picture of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby in happier times (1965) stands alone. I almost cried.

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