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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (edition 2012)

by Sean Howe

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3422048,230 (4.03)7
Member:semanticdrifter
Title:Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
Authors:Sean Howe
Info:Harper (2012), Hardcover, 496 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:history, comics, nonfiction

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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe

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It's hard not to make this review about me, as annoying as that would be to read, because of how important comics - and Marvel Comics in particular - were to me (and still are, to some degree), but I won't go there.

The history of this company, and its expansive modern mythology, is seriously fascinating reading - especially if you are familiar with their output. If you aren't, you may well find yourself getting a hold of some of their amazing work that you've never heard of before (esp. the books from the 70's). It is also the history of a corporate juggernaut that chewed up and spat out all the people who devoted the most to it. Aside from the Ballad of Jack Kirby, which could be its own 600pg tome, there were so many bodies left in ditches. People who devoted decades of their lives and were the most popular creators of their time, cut off without a single word about their involuntary departure. Then you have the superstars of the early 90's, who were (esp. in the case of McFarlane and Liefeld) unscrupulous hypocrites who bragged about burning their bridges - only to go on (in several cases) to treat others even more unfairly than the parent company they sought to replace.

It's a story of greed, and the magic that somehow managed to grow in the tiny green spaces not touched by corporate corruption and a virtual derth of human decency. It's one of the best nonfiction books I've ever read, and it has had what I think will be a lasting impact on me.

The summation on the cover, that it was a company that "gave people what they wanted while it took from them what they had" is better wording than I can generate. I'm going to write to a few of the creators who we're lucky enough to still have with us, to thank them for their work. ( )
  Ron18 | Feb 17, 2019 |
A good book. It glossed over a few areas but was still quite well researched. It doesn't pull punches. It goes into creator rights and Marvel's bankruptcy (almost the end of them). Wish it head spent a little more time in each of the decades. ( )
  CSDaley | Mar 28, 2018 |
Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story begins with a quick account of Timely and Atlas Comics before turning to the launch of the Marvel Age with the Fantastic Four. From there, he examines the early Bullpen and the explosion of creativity that accompanied the cultural resurgence of comics in the 1960s. Howe effortlessly weaves between the business side of comics and the lives of writers, artists, editors and others, while using letters (both published and unpublished) and excerpts from college talks to give insight into the public's reaction to the comics. He moves into the 1970s and 1980s, when Marvel went from the underdog in the industry to the leading publisher, culminating in the speculator market bust of the 1990s. The human stories of people trying to tell their stories and make a living or control the ideas they brought to the company provide a dramatic counterpoint to the business wheeling and dealing of publishers and corporate vice presidents. These stories make this a particularly harrowing look at the unforgiving nature of the comics industry, though there may exist parallels elsewhere in publishing. All of this ends with a focus on the cyclical nature of the stories, which reflect the cyclical nature of the industry, as Howe writes, "Multiple manifestations of Captain America and Spider-Man and the X-Men float in elastic realities, passed from one temporary custodian to the next, and their heroic journes are, forever, denied an end" (pg. 432). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Mar 8, 2018 |
I didn't grow up with Marvel; I read Archie comics almost exclusively until I discovered indie comics as a teen. I bought one issue of Wolverine because I liked the X-Men animated series and it ended up being Wolverine and Sabretooth fighting for 32 pages while they watched news footage of a police beating. I had no idea what the hell was going on, and I still don't, and that colored my perception of Marvel Comics for a long time: ultra-violent muscle porn with way, way too much continuity. And as I learned from this book, that definitely seemed to be the case in the 90s, and they didn't like it either.

I guess all I mean to say is that I'm not necessarily the target audience for this. I don't love comics, but I am interested in them as a medium. I love junk culture, culture made to be disposed of, and comics really were that for a very long time. It seems Marvel was at the forefront of comics being considered anything other than kids' stuff, and they really helped usher in this modern era where low-art genre trash (and I say that as someone who loves low-art genre trash) is the biggest moneymaking force in popular culture.

From reading the book you get the impression that working at Marvel was pretty much always hell for one reason or another (I'm not sure I've read another book about culture history where one company was bought and sold so many times). But through that hell the writers and artists produced some outstanding work, creating characters and stories that have resonated for decades.

They also produced the Clone Saga and Rob Liefeld worked there for way too long, but hey, nobody's perfect. ( )
  redhopper | Dec 2, 2017 |
Engaging but disturbing account of what goes one behind the panels at Marvel Comics.

While very detailed and thorough regarding the start of Marvel, the latter two-thirds of the book seems to have its fast-forward button stuck on. Loads of details glossed over in sentences that had more apparent impact than whatever Stan Lee was up to that year/decade (and yet there's constant return to Stan's goings-on, often for no reason other than to show how removed he was from matters). ( )
  SESchend | Sep 6, 2017 |
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Cassaro, DanCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0061992100, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:28 -0400)

Interweaves history, anecdotes, and analysis with more than one hundred interviews with Marvel insiders to reveal how Marvel, which introduced brightly costumed caped crusaders in the 1960s, became one of the most dominant pop cultural forces in contemporary America.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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