Marvel Comics: The Untold Story Review

Does Marvel Comics: The Untold Story succeed in offering a somewhat cohesive narrative while maintaining a fair but quality account of the facts?  Read on to find out.

The official description from HarperCollins:

An unvarnished, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes account of one of the most dominant pop cultural forces in contemporary America.

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.

Following a rather insightful prologue, Sean Howe sees fit to treat all of us with continuing lessons regarding the never ending legacy of Marvel Comics.  Not only does the author succeed in informing his audience but he also entertains us.  As he paints a visceral picture with quotes and facts he clearly make the case that one of the top comic publishers in the country was, from the get-go, an imperfect struggling entity that caused tension for all involved and somehow managed to be passed from generation to generation.

Marvel Comics as presented in this book is a victim of its own self-made cycle of success.  Behind the scenes each step led to events that perpetuated hatred, love and all the human emotions in between.  The creative artists and writers who have touched these various characters succeeded in generating some very memorable moments that endure in the hearts of fans all over the world, while simultaneously dealing with their own pile of personal issues.  But it was through these squabbles that the Marvel Universe was inevitably born, with the repercussions of its continuing existence brought to the surface in a rather honest conclusion in this very book.

Overall the layout of the novel is fairly standard, as it incorporates sections and chapters to break up its intrigue.  Each of these unloads a rather massive amount of information about both the comics and the people behind them.  The stories contained here may however turn off some dedicated readers.  It’s not a slight against either the people involved or the author, but as engrossing as the written word can be I found myself numerous times putting the book down and shaking my head in disbelief at the behavior of many of these industry insiders.  But if you can muster up the gumption to continue, the author will carry you through this infinite sage of discovery with an impartial voice that offers arguments for both sides.

Sean Howe stays clearly above the fray for the majority of the book as he draws on a plethora of facts and quotes to give the reader just enough information to arrive at their own conclusions.  And that right there is the paramount strength of this engrossing writer.  He delivers information while maintaining enough narrative control over the written word to yield some strong revelations.  I cannot put into proper words how much I appreciated the amount of research that was put into this book, because as a long time fan there was so much about Marvel that I just didn’t know, and this fantastic author presented it to me in the best way possible .

I’m willing to bet that like me there are many fanboys and fangirls out there who just don’t know anything but the bullet points regarding the history of the House of Ideas.  But if you’re even a bit curious than this book is for you.  Marvel Comics: The Untold Story goes a long way in exploring the somewhat complex and sordid saga involving many of the industries most cherished characters and honored names.  Highly recommended.


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