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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Paperback – October 1, 2013

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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 (36 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #32,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

Customer Reviews

For any fan of Marvel, this book is a great historical read.
Cameron Morgan
This book is overflowing with stories that answer long wondered upon fanboy questions.
David Jansen
It was very entertaining to get a glimpse of what went on behind the scene.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Franklin the Mouse on November 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
God knows, creative people are not usually the easiest creatures to work with and the passion that comic readers invest in these things is way beyond what I consider healthy. Sending out death threats to writers or artists because they killed a comic-book character isn't exactly someone working with a full storyboard in their head. Mr. Howe's "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" is a clear-eyed view of the birth and evolution of the mighty comic publisher. A large portion of the book focuses more on the dynamics between management and the creators. The author thankfully avoids immersing "Marvel Comics" into the different cartoon characters' adventures. Sadly, all the illustrators who were the visual and sometimes creative brainchilds of the now iconic superheroes such as Spiderman, Captain America, Fantastic Four, Hulk, Wolverine and X-Men were looked upon as peons by the original owner Martin Goodman and the other executives who followed in his footsteps. The author does an excellent job of separating fact and fiction about the myths that have arisen around Stan Lee and illustrator-extraordinaire Jack Kirby.

The book certainly removed any romantic impressions I had about working in such a demanding and temperamental field. It was disheartening to see how a scrappy little company churned out these wonderful creations and eventually morphed into a corporate nightmare under the tutelage of odious, corporate raiders Ron Perelman and then Carl Icahn. At some points, you'll shake your head in disbelief at the gang-that-couldn't-shoot-straight executives' actions. I imagine "Marvel Comics" is a work that will interest people who read comics or have an interest in how the industry works. It would be nice to see a book written about the other publishing Goliath, DC Comics. Mr. Howe has written an extremely engaging book.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Ross Morrison on January 18, 2014
Format: Paperback
Sean Howe's book is a handy summary for those who don't want to trawl through various fanzines and other books to see the background workings of Marvel...but it comes with a hefty price. There is little space available to talk about the fun, creative side of comics...instead the focus is largely on the personal issues, office politics etc. Those who want to experience the joyful side of Marvel are better off reading Roy Thomas' much warmer fanzine articles/books on his time at the company, or John Romita's recollections in 'Romita - And All That Jazz' (particularly of his great relationship with Stan Lee).

Speaking of would have the impression from this book that he left Marvel angrily, never to return. It fails to mention that he did return...and that he has also spent decades of his life writing books/articles about the great memories he has of Marvel and his friend Stan Lee.

Less forgivable is Howe's failure to even mention the last documented face-to-face meeting between Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the 1990s (when Ditko considered working with Stan on the 'Ravage 2099' strip). The meeting has been described at length by witness Tom Defalco...who noted how well Lee/Ditko got on and how much they respected each other. Howe instead concentrates on the earlier disagreements between Lee/ the reader a very distorted view of their complex relationship over the years. Apparently Howe has since stated that he 'couldn't figure out a way of including it in the book'...but I have to suspect it simply didn't fit the sort of story he wanted to tell.

You have to wonder what other important events have been excluded in similar fashion. Certainly many of the key points of the Lee/Kirby relationship are described...
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Taylor on December 23, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I expected to be interested in the 60's and 70's sections because thats when I read comics. What makes this a good book is that I found myself just as absorbed in the years after that. Hard to believe how dysfunctional the comic industry is.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cameron Morgan on November 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
For any fan of Marvel, this book is a great historical read. The author did a great job of providing an objective view on some of the controversies throughout the company.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book gives a history of Marvel comics, and by extension the comic book industry that it influenced and dominates. It is full of behind the scenes human drama that as young readers would not matter much to us, but those revelations fill in a lot of cracks and fascinate as we grow older and want to better understand the world we live in and the reading material that shaped many of us.

Growing up, comic books were my companions and Marvel comics had a magic that warmed me that continues to this day. I will still sit down in a library or bookstore and spend a few hours reading stories from my past or new ones that are being developed now. Comics were fun, they connected with some part of me that needed what they offered. Maybe they kept me distracted from some things in life that might have dragged me down had I focused on them. Comic books were a kind of lifeline for me. At the end of most lifelines we cling to is a human being and that is true here as well. Marvel comic books, those magnificent modern myths were, like all myths, created by people and this book discusses those people and the way they shaped the Marvel company. What emerges is a picture of a reality we never suspected as children. We love the art but frequently the artist is not who we imagined.

The author, Sean Howe does a good job exposing the human interaction, the creativity, the contracts, the admirable, the petty, the honorable, the idiosyncratic, all the ingredients of life are present in the Marvel comics’ story and they are compelling reading. For me reading so long ago Lee and Kirby and all the players in the Bullpen were simply having fun. Like so many who read them I imagined Marvel comics to be a theme park where dreams were encouraged and indulged.
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