Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
By Sean Howe
On Sale October 9, 2012
From a tiny office on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, a struggling company named Marvel Comics introduced a series of bright-costumed superhero 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 imagination of pop artists, public intellectuals, and campus radicals. 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. Written by former Entertainment Weekly editor Sean Howe, MARVEL COMICS: The Untold Story (Harper; on sale October 9) is the first unauthorized history of this fascinating and undeniably vital company.
Today Marvel is more visible than ever: in May 2012, The Avengers shattered the U.S. opening-weekend box office record; in July, Columbia unleashes The Amazing Spider-Man. Iron Man and the X-Men and Captain America all originated at Marvel, too, and had long and varied histories long before Hollywood came calling. But, as much as Marvel has been in the public eye all these years, there’s a wealth of stories and behind-the-scenes information that’s never been told.
MARVEL COMICS charts the extensive cultural history of the comic form and the artists and businesspeople who created and sold it. It also examines the inherent tensions that arise when artistic pretensions exist within commercial endeavours. What results is both an entertaining tapestry of a highly visible, long beloved media company and an insightful investigation into the complex interplay between art and commerce that’s relevant to Marvel fans and nonfans alike. Howe introduces the men behind the magic, including self-made publisher Martin Goodman, energetic editor Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby, the WWII veteran and co-creator of many of the company’s marquee characters. Entrusted to carry on tradition, subsequent creators—impoverished child prodigies, acid-gobbling longhairs, and mercenary careerists among them—struggled with corporate mandates, a fickle audience, and, over matters of credit and control, one another.
Until now, the only histories of Marvel Comics that have been published have been authorized coffee-table books, filled with cheerleading and spin. MARVEL COMICS moves the focus away from the authorized image of a benevolent, utopian corporation, and zooms in on the people who toiled behind the scenes.
Sean Howe’s writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the New York Observer, Spin, and the Village Voice. He is a former editor and critic at Entertainment Weekly, and the editor of Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!: Writers on Comics. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.