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Editorial Reviews


“Sean Howe’s history of Marvel makes a compulsively readable, riotous and heartbreaking version of my favorite story, that of how a bunch of weirdos changed the world. That it’s all true is just frosting on the cake.” (Jonathan Lethem)

“A warts-and-all, nail-biting mini-epic about the low-paid, unsung ‘funnybook men’ who were unwittingly creating twenty-first century pop culture. If you thought the fisticuffs were bare and bloody on the four-color page, wait ‘til you hear about what went down in the Marvel bullpen.” (Patton Oswalt)

“Exhaustively researched and artfully assembled, Marvel Comics is a historical exploration, a labor of love, and a living illustration of how the weirdest corners of the counterculture can sometimes become the culture-at-large.” (Chuck Klosterman)

“Page after page, Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics manages to be enchantingly told, emotionally suspenseful and totally revelatory. If I knew more about superpowers, I’d be able to explain how he did it.” (Sloane Crosley)

“Sean Howe is to Marvel Comics what Procopius was to the Byzantine Empire: a court gossip of breathtaking thoroughness and exactitude, and a sly and nuanced writer. It is imperative that this work not fall into the hands of alien species, or we’re done for.” (Luc Sante)

“A jittery, hilarious, anecdotal, and exhaustive history of the company. . . . If you’re a comics fan, this is essential reading. If you’re not, then it’s merely fascinating. Howe has written a biographical history of modern America’s id.” (GQ)

“Sean Howe’s gripping new history lays out five decades of Marvel adventures and insanity, and will make you believe that comic-book creators have even weirder lives than their mutant creations.” (Rolling Stone)

Marvel Comics is a meticulous chronicle of the real secret origins of the superhero, a tragic love story about the relationship between a long parade of passionate, talented superhero devotees and the company that didn’t love them back.” (The Los Angeles Times)

“It’s about time somebody wrote Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and it looks like Sean Howe was the right guy for the job. Howe’s clear-eyed history. . . is as full of colorful characters, tragic reversals and unlikely plot twists as any book in the Marvel canon.” (Newsday)

“Exhaustively researched and extraordinarily compelling. . . . A quasi-Shakespearean portrayal of Marvel as it moves from spirited upstart to ruthless corporate colossus.” (Salon)

“A superpowered must-read for anyone hooked on comics, as well as a gripping story for someone merely enlightened by a genre that’s always had to fight for respect. It’s much more about ordinary, flawed humans than super men and women, and therein lies its excellence.” (USA Today)

“Howe, a widely published critic with a real knack, rare for his field, for reporting, gets farther inside the company than anyone else has. . . .An essential read for anyone who loves comics, but civilians with a taste for gossip will enjoy it too.” (The Daily Beast)

“A corporate biography of America’s most significant comic-book publisher and a definitive portrait of comics in American culture. . . . Howe offers vivid reporting and enticing detail. . . . The result is a book both authoritative and charmingly readable.” (The Wall Street Journal)

“Fascinating, compelling reading. . . . Exhaustively researched. . . . What ultimately propels you to keep turning the pages of this fat, enjoyable book are the endless anecdotes about how the Marvel Universe was shaped.” (The Miami Herald)

“A vivid account. . . . Comics have proven an enduring art form, gaining new fans without losing the old ones. Howe’s exhaustively researched love letter to Marvel should find grateful readers among both groups.” (The Boston Globe)

“Hugely entertaining.” (The New Republic)

From the Back Cover

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, the Avengers, the X-Men. Over the course of half a 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.

For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and generations of editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and—over matters of credit and control—one another. Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, 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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (October 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061992119
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061992117
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (132 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,177 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Roochak on October 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
By 1971, there was clearly no future in working for Marvel Comics. Jack Kirby had jumped ship for DC, sales were declining and Marvel's new owners, a New Jersey outfit called Perfect Film & Chemical, had installed a CEO who was making life so difficult for management that even Stan Lee was looking for the nearest exit. It was part of the boom and bust cycle that had plagued the comics industry (and Timely/Atlas/Marvel in particular) since the late 1940s, but when Marvel came back from its latest downturn -- as it would keep coming back from the brink of a series of disasters to come -- it was as a more resilient and ambitious company than ever.

Sean Howe's tale of the second-rate comics company that turned itself into the gold standard of superhero geekdom is a fascinating business book about the rising value of intellectual property in the late 20th/early 21st centuries, and a sweeping narrative history of the people and the work environment behind Marvel's best-remembered comics. Howe is enough of a fanboy to write knowledgeably about the great story arcs of past decades: the coming of Galactus, the Kree/Skrull War, the Dark Phoenix saga, the deaths of Elektra and Gwen Stacy. His critical eye is acute, as in his wonderful observation that "to a dedicated readership of gearheads, pot smokers, and art students, [Steranko's] 'Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.' was the apex of an art form."

A savvy journalist, Howe identifies the crux of Marvel's early history as the Stan Lee - Jack Kirby partnership, a dynamic machine built on fault lines of ego. They co-created most of the company's iconic characters, changed the way comics were drawn and written, and wound up feuding in public until Kirby's death in 1994.
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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Luke Martinez on October 16, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book is a history of Marvel Comics, which is to say that it is an institutional history and not the history of the comics themselves. It is less worried worth a critical look at the work, the art form, or the philosophy of comics, and is really a story of the business of comics, and the history of the company in question and its employees. In focusing on Marvel, Sean Howe is able to illuminate wider trends and movements in the industry, using one of the "Big Two" to do so.

This is not to imply it is boring; quite the contrary, this was a fun read for me. Even better than its insightful narrative is the author's willingness to cut through the company line, the public stories, the versions offered from official sources and legends to find out what really and truly went on. Stan Lee is still the merry, happy man at the top, but in this book is a much more nuanced character; he perpetually longs to escape the art form that he is synonymous with, and his changing relationship with the company is a common focal point for the book's wider story. Jack Kirby remains the persecuted genius, but Howe is careful to probe at the edges of the image, analyzing how Kirby's own approach and feelings about his characters changed over the years. Again and again Howe dissects the gossip, shop talk, and official news to find the more complicated story below it all. No writer comes off as persistently good or consistently right, but all the characters are complex and flawed - which actually serves to humanize the whole history and make you look differently at your favorite funny books.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By tim on October 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
First, let me say that my title doesn't mean the hobby isn't for adults. I wrote that in perspective to my own collecting (I'm 33 now) that started when i was 12. That childhood "innocence" resonated throughout this whole book for me.

This is a very dark book. Not dark as in scary, or dangerous, per se; dark as shady. The comic world behind the scenes was a very cut throat and competitive world. Marvel, from its inception, was about the business and Howe hits on this point early and often. As readers we are led from the beginnings of Timely through the superhero renaissance of the Silver Age and into the modern era, never letting go of the fact that the bottom line is the motivating factor. There is no more fantasy.

Another key thread that weaves its way in and out of the narrative, though never too far out of reach, is Stan Lee's idea of "illusion of change". It hits hard, but many of the people who read this book will be long time collectors, lovers of the medium, and will probably understand this wether they know it or not. I still find it, in an artistic sense, to be shallow and really throw an ugly light on the medium.

You'll get a very even, outside, perspective of the Lee/Kirby/Ditko arguments which have been fought over the years, and though I do ultimately believe Stan took and was rewarded for, way more credit than he deserved, this book adds a bit of depth to the discussion. None of those guys were entirely saints.

There is a couple of bright spots to the book that shine particularly bright.
Reading about the Bronze Age and the expression of guys like Starlin, Englehart, Gerber, and Steranko, really provide inspiration and evidence that there are creators out there who truly love the work they do.
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