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, 20 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 100 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.
©2012 Sean Howe (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers
I couldn't have enjoyed this more... I collected comics for many years from the late '60's until the mid-90's when the blatant commercialism of multiple foil covers for the same book and horrible new art style (Yes, I mean you Liefeld) finally drove me away.
I was therefore already very familiar with all the names and events described herein, but having never read the fanzines or trade mags, was quite unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes stories of WHY certain things happened the way they did.
This book covers that in a comprehensive and interesting way. It begins with the formation of the company in the early 1930's and progresses chronologically with the bulk of the narrative focusing on the 60's-80's. Narrator does a great job, and is very easy to listen to.
Some of the questions I received answers to are:
Why did Captain America, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner suddenly all get solo titles in 1968?
Whose dumb idea was it to give Spider-Man a "Spider-Mobile" in the 70's? and
Why was Secret Wars such a terribly written story?
I lost a night of sleep because I couldn't stop listening to this book. If you've read Marvel comics, I give this my highest recommendation. If you haven't, I can see how it might be too esoteric for the uninitiated.
Forgive me for editorializing, but it's absolutely criminal what was done to Jack Kirby.
ZEN. LDS. GTD. FTW.
Having grown up with comic books, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was fun and regulatory. The storytelling of Sean Howe really nailed the headspace of comic books readers.
The history is complete and everything is "exposed" as far as I can tell.
Stephen Hoye also does an excellent job at narration, but it look a bit to get used to the depreciated sound quality and his slightly hyperbolic delivery. Once settled in, I realised he was the perfect and obvious choice for this material.
One caveat (and complaint) is the course language. I nearly quit a few times because of it. Hence only 4 stars overall.
Non-Fiction, Science, History and Business Reader
If you have an interest in the Comic Book industry or Marvel in particular then this is a book I highly recommend. This book is well written and unbelievably well paced for a business/creative history. It is a consistently good read for the full 18 hours.
• The book evenly presents the history of marvel, so if you are strictly, only really interested in one or two particular periods then you may find yourself skipping chapters, but even so, it's still a solid pick up
• This book is not about the purchase by Disney, although you do get a solid understanding of previous ownership changes
• There is little or no Celebrity Gossip from the sets of the films
• If the book has a theme, it's the question of creative ownership and how it has been dealt with by countless people from Jack and Stan to Steve Gerber and Rob Liefeld.
Let's face it, these authors aren't paying me, so there's no need to lie!!
Maybe I've just read too many biographies that were amazing, so my standards are set too high. (Gabler's book on Walt Disney comes to mind). This book doesn't come close.
I was really wanting an easy to follow, compelling story, that kept me guessing and held my interest. What I got was just a bunch of facts, taped to the wall in chronological order. I could care less about any of these people, as the book never truly helped me get to know them. Sure, it talks about the tension and strife between some of the major players, but without sufficiently building up WHO these people actually are... WHAT MAKES THEM TICK... I just don't care about their arguments or problems.
This book is like an encyclopedia. Knowledgeable, but lacking in heart. If you're a die-hard Marvel fan, you may find it interesting, in terms of learning how they got to where they are. Odds are, you'll finish this book feeling like you just skimmed Marvel's Wikipedia page.
Narrator is excellent.
I have been a comic book reader since 1985 and while I've always been more in the DC camp, I enjoyed reading this history of the "House of Ideas." The narrator was engaging which is a must with non-fiction books like this.
Going in, I feared that this would be a one-sided story portraying Marvel in glorious, technicolor beauty. The author did a good job of highlighting both the high and low-lights of the publishing giant's 70+ year history. Most importantly, he didn't gloss over the image of Stan Lee, Marvel's ambassador and editor emeritus.
Lee seems is too often portrayed as a genius who single-handedly saved superhero comics from certain demise in the early 1960's while Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the true geniuses behind Marvel's core characters, get lost in the dust bin of history. Admittedly, Lee certainly contributed much to the rise of Marvel comics in the 1960's but his tireless self-promotion has gained him some undeserved credit in my opinion.
This book covers the history of Marvel from its founding as Timely Comics in 1939 through the first decade of the 21st century and does so "marvelously." I would highly recommend it to comics fans and those who wouldn't know Batman from Christian Bale.
The story of how the fortunes of Marvel Comics unfolded is very interesting on a number of levels. After all, it is the story of real people and their struggles in a business that has changed radically in the last 50 years. Facing everything from changing markets to corporate takeover. However this book will be enjoyed most by Marvel Comics fans. I am one and have followed and collected Marvel Comics for perhaps too long. In the telling, many names of comics professional come up but the book does not have all that much time to duel on more than a handful. For me, that was not a problem because I knew the names and their work. But for someone who is not familiar with people like Roger Stern, John Buscema, Steve Ditko, John Byrne, Todd McFarlane and Joe Quesada as well as the superheroes they created and/or worked on it may get annoyingly hard to follow. (yes we all know Spider-man and the Avengers but how 'bout Captain Marvel and Howard the Duck?)
...you may enjoy this book. But if you're not, it may not be very interesting. As a fan myself, I personally was riveted. In the last third or so of the book, I felt sad at what I heard. There are good reasons as to why the comics of the 1960s-80s were often quite good and the 90s so dreadful, and they are delineated in gory detail in the book.
In some ways I regret taking in this book, because any illusions I had about Marvel were shattered. I will never again be able to watch a Marvel movie - or read the comics for that matter - without being aware of the stunning, greedy injustices that were perpetrated upon longtime creators who worked at Marvel, most notably Jack Kirby.
Quite recently, a judge ruled that Disney/Marvel owns the characters that Kirby created. In another ruling, the creator of Ghost Rider, Gary Friedrich, was actually ordered to pay Disney 17K! Even though Friedrich created it - it says so very plainly on the splash page of the inaugural issue - it belongs to Disney/Marvel.
If you move over to another medium, say, if Stephen King writes a novel, does the company that publishes the book own the rights to the book?
Many of the ideas that have become substrate to the sci-fi and super hero movies seen today were created by chain smoking guys in tiny apartments in New York City decades ago, for very little money. They did not retain rights to the characters they invented.
The Avengers Movie of 2012, which mostly features characters created by Jack Kirby, had the biggest opening weekend of any movie ever in North America. It was also the fastest film in history to hit the $1 billion mark, and ultimately grossed $1.51 billion worldwide.
Kirby's family won't be seeing any of that money; nor would Jack himself, were he alive today.
A very good listen, lots of detail
They tell the story chronologically which is what I prefer, rather than having a Stan Lee chapter, Jack Kirby chapter, etc.
Very good behind the scenes look at how my Marvel favorites were created. The battle between creators and corporations was well described
I never understood Reed Richard's hair . . . a few years ago I woke up and realized I had it.
If you get that joke . . . or if you are/were a Marvel comic book junkie, born between about 1958-78 (I was born in '68) I think you'd enjoy this book in some way, with the particular type of joy dependent on your personality.
For me, it was a bit like reading about a childhood hero ("Say it ain't so, Marvel") who you later found out was an alcoholic, misogynistic, criminal bastard in their day-to-day life.
I usually can't stomach gossip, or seedy insinuation---I could never read "The Comics Journal" back in the day----but somehow this book manages to cover the history of Marvel and such topics in all their tawdry glory without making you feel like you hate humanity in general.
A disclaimer: I probably represent about the most interested possible audience for this book. As a young artist I came very close to working for the major companies (the Shooter/DeFalco regimes) before I became a mainstream commercial illustrator (Briefly, I did later work for Eclipse and Dark Horse) and so almost every name mentioned brought forth from memory a face and a conversation at a convention, but I think even if you were just interested in the 1980's comics as a reader this would still be a fascinating peek behind the scenes.
Beyond all of the above, this book is also an almost accidental testimony to the oblivious evils of corporate greed and what happens when it collides with a creator's idealistic artistic passion. (Creators lose the battle, but have a lot more fun and fewer regrets on their deathbed.)
Excelsior . . .
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