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Marvel Comics: The Untold Storyby Sean Howe
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The comic book publisher that spawned roughly half of Hollywood's summer franchises roils with its own melodrama in this scintillating history. Journalist Howe, editor of Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers, recounts the saga of Stan Lee and the other auteurs who broke the square-jawed-and-earnest mold to create quirky, neurotic, rough-edged superheroes with a Pop Art look, including Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, and the X-Men. Howe's exploration of the vast Marvel fictive universe, with its crazily grandiose plots and thousands of bizarre characters — the psychedelic 1970s birthed Angarr, a hippie supervillain who 'blasted people with bad trips and primal screams' — is affectionate and incisive. But he focuses on the battle between the forces of art and commerce at the Marvel offices, where writers, artists, and editors wrestle for control of story arcs, titanic egos clash over copyrights, and creative oddballs confront the heartless, power-mad suits from marketing. Adroitly deploying zillions of interviews, Howe pens a colorful panorama of the comics industry and its tense mix of formulaic hackwork, cutthroat economics and poignant aesthetic pretense. Like comic books, his narrative often goes in circles; the same antagonisms keep churning away on successively grander platforms. Still, Howe paints an indelible portrait of the crass, juvenile, soulful business that captured the world's imagination. Photos. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
In the early 1960s, Marvel Comics introduced a series of bright-costumed superhero characters—including Iron Man, the Hulk, Thor, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, and the Amazing Spider-Man—that would evolve into a modern American mythology for millions of readers. Over the last half-century, these characters have been passed along among generations of brilliant editors, artists, and writers who struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and, over matters of credit and control, one another. Written by Sean Howe, former comic book reviewer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a gripping narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop cultural entities in Americas history.
About the Author
Sean Howe is the editor of Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!: Writers on Comics. He is a former editor and critic at Entertainment Weekly, and his writing has appeared in New York, the Los Angeles Times, Spin, The Village Voice, The New York Observer, and The Economist. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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