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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Hardcover – October 9, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 150 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (October 9, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061992100
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061992100
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #297,634 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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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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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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