Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

4.04 of 5 stars 4.04  ·  rating details  ·  2,409 ratings  ·  432 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 Fo...more
ebook, 496 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Harper
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Super-heroes have gotten darker and more violent over the years, but compared to some of the people in charge of Marvel during that time, Wolverine and the Punisher seem about as threatening as a glass of non-fat milk. Killers with razor sharp unbreakable claws and large guns are no match for the carnage a corporate executive worried about the stock price can create.

Sean Howe gives a comprehensive history of how the pulp publishing company founded by a Depression-era hobo named Martin Goodman ev...more
I finished this book a while back, but I needed to let it sit and marinate before tackling my review. I'm not sure why that is exactly. It's not for fear of bias getting in the way of my review (I've long ago lost any pretension of objectivity when reviewing anything); it's not because I didn't have things to say. Perhaps it is simply that my enjoyment of the book and its quality don't match, and I needed to reconcile that in and for myself before sharing it with others.

My enjoyment -- I run a c...more
This is a great book for comic book fans, but beware: This will not tell you if Thor can beat the Hulk, or if any of Cable's origins are true. What this book will do is give you an appreciation for the men behind the characters, and a look into how the corporate world conspired to destory the men and their books. In many ways it is the simple story of Jack Kirby, a man who almost by himself created the Marvel Universe and defined the look and feel of their comics, yet at the same time was treate...more
I read the heck out of this book but having read it I feel the need to rant.

Until Howe's book I never had issues with Stan Lee beyond his irritating cameos in Marvel films and his tug-of-war with Jack Kirby. Even if half of what's in the book is true, Lee is by turns a relentless huckster, a boo-hoo victim, a master manipulator and a kind of unappreciated naif who always wanted to write poetry and novels and shit like that but never got the chance. Now I'm amazed that so many people buy into his...more
This is an extremely readable and quite detailed history of Marvel Comics through the years, but exceedingly grim. It certainly shatters much of the Merry Marvel Mystique, for good or ill. As a result I found it rather sad to look behind the glittery curtain and see the bleak and crass reality. Regardless, Excelsior!
First Second Books
This is a fascinating glimpse into the early years of the superhero comics industry.

If you’ve read it: I’m pleased to report that the office environment at First Second is nothing like the office environment in the early years at Marvel Comics.

For one thing, no one here has ever come to work to find that their desk has been turned into an aquarium.
Del mio essere nerd ho parlato e riparlato anche se, stranamente, qui sopra ho sempre scritto poco di fumetti; nell'ultimo anno, poi, i miei acquisti in ambito "comics" si sono quasi annullati, dato che ho deciso di terminare prima l'immensa coda e poi, nel caso, ricominciare a comprare.
Questo, però, non significa che la mia nerditudine o che certe passioni possano assopirsi, per cui quando in libreria ho trovato il volumone "Marvel Comics - Una storia di eroi e supereroi" non ho fatto in tempo...more
John Frazier
Boffo! About the only thing I didn't learn after reading "Marvel Comics" was how to draw them myself. To say the very least, Sean Howe's chronicles of the many rises and falls of Marvel Comics was thorough, extensive, exhaustive and damn near exhausting.

Although the last comic book I bought was probably a Richie Rich or Beetle Bailey sometime in the '60s, the ubiquitous presence of Marvel (and other) characters in virtually every medium outside of comics made me want to learn how that came to be...more
This book was fantastic. I'd say four-and-a-half-stars.

Comprehensive, well footnoted, easily readable, funny, poignant, balanced and reasoned - this is a fantastic read for any lover of the comics industry. Essentially the history of Marvel Comics is the history of a perennially mismanaged company that repeatedly treated its writers and artists (even the successful ones) as replaceable cogs and seemed to have no sense of what made what worked work. The ongoing push and pull between the corporate...more
I enjoyed Marvel Comics a great deal - I like history, I like comics, and I was a huge, gonzo, ultra-mega-mega Marvel reader in the late 80's through early 90s (I probably collected ~50-60 titles monthly).

This is a rollicking, gossipy tale of office politics and corporate excess which clearly takes sides in some of the somewhat-known disputes (Kirby vs everyone, Ditko vs everyone, etc), and there are definitely some folks who come out of this worse for the wear. I was surprised at how complete t...more
I did not read books as a child. Rather, I grew up on "Archie and Veronica," "Millie the Model," "Tales From the Crypt," and "Superman," inter alia, not to mention my favorite comic compilation – "Mad Magazine." What I really appreciated, even then, was how social and political change was reflected in the comics.

Thus it was with nostalgic pleasure as well as the thirst for background that I dove into Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. As it turns out, I wasn’t that thirsty! To me, there is a littl...more
Peter Landau
Forget the Bible, I joked upon first reading MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, this is the greatest story ever told. Now, having just finished the exhaustive and definitive history of one of the greatest comic book houses ever, I'd like to amend that statement: this is the saddest story ever told.

Marvel has suffered near death and revival more than its characters, starting in the early '60s with the birth of the Fantastic Four out of the ruins of what almost was the bankruptcy of the business. T...more
Olli Booms
When I picked up MC:TUS, I was a bit afraid that the book might not offer much new information, as most of the story *has* actually been told several times before. I'm happy to say that Howes' history of Marvel Comics is an entertaining and enlightening companion piece to Gerard Jones' books 'Men of Tomorrow' and 'The Comic Book Heroes', with which it pretty much shares the tone and approach.

Howe was able to go into even more detail, portraying the personalities of major creators and executives...more
Easily a five-star effort in weaving a decades-long narrative of two universes-- the shared Marvel universe and the world of creators, businessmen, readers and fans that we inhabit. With a deep focus on the personalities and conflicts that led to the creation, sustainment, and success of the Marvel model, this is a particularly in-depth kind of inside baseball that only the zealous and fanatical will probably be able to enjoy. For me, this is five-stars; if you don't have a deep interest or inve...more
I grew up in the "Marvel Age." Howe's book gave me a glimpse behind the scenes that a simple reader of the comics never had (or even guessed at). By relating the history of the Marvel offices, writers, artists, editors, and upper management to the events that were going on in some of the comics, I gained a much better understanding for the forces behind some of the mystifying and stupefying changes that were made during the 40+ years I've been reading comics.

As a very young reader, much of the...more
Stephen Twining
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story
By Sean Howe

Listen up, True Believers! Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" explores the vainglorious and piquant dynamics behind the talented creative teams and visionary artists of the Mighty Marvel Bullpen, as well as the company's vacillations between industry sensation and publishing fiasco. Tracing its genesis from Magazine Management's unsung Timely Comics and a relatively unknown Stanley Martin Lieber to the illustrious Marvel "House of Big Ideas"...more
I decided to check this out because I'd heard good things from various people. I'd read SuperGods earlier in the year and enjoyed it, but it didn't tell me much that I didn't already know about comic book history, especially when it came to Marvel Comics.

Sean Howe's book isn't licensed by Marvel, therefore making it an 'unofficial' biography, but given the creators and content that are in this book, it succeeds in being an informative and interesting look at the history of Marvel Comics.

A lively history of Marvel Comics, well-written and researched. Sean Howe interviewed dozens of current and former writers and artists, uncovering the brutal side of the business and spotlighting the creative genius behind the creation of iconic characters like Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Avengers, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four. Howe, a former writer for Entertainment Weekly, does a great job capturing how Marvel wrested market share away from rival DC Comics by giving readers edgier characters...more
Christina (A Reader of Fictions)
According to Goodreads, which likes to judge me for slowness, I've been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story since February 18th. Something taking me over a month to read is pretty much unprecedented, especially since I actually found this nonfiction audiobook pretty damn fascinating. What happened? Well, see, most of the chapters in Marvel Comics are an hour long on audio, and I typically just listen to 20-30 minutes as I get ready for bed at night or up in the morning. Stopping in the middl...more
Jamie Sigal
I bought this book because a couple of the reviews I read for it said that it was full of stories about the Mighty Marvel Bullpen and how counter-culture and crazy the creative teams were back in the day. Instead, I was provided with a lecture about how to succeed in business with your head up your ass. Hardly a full paragraph on the drug-induced creative bursts, but instead pages and pages of in-fighting and bickering between writers, artists, and editors. Seriously, I get it! Kirby is pissed o...more
Robert Boyd
Very interesting. What you realize reading this is that there is Marvel Comics (the comics publishing side, with editors, writers, artists, and so on) and everything else--initially a magazine publishing venture, then licensing, then movies and media. What struck me is how the history of the comics side paralleled the Roman empire. Prior to the explosion of Marvel superheroes in the 60s, Marvel comics publishing was just another small kingdom/republic surrounded by other kingdoms--the magazines...more

I was intrigued by the excerpt published online enough to buy the kindle edition of Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Having been a lifelong Marvel fan (and only a rare purchaser of DC comics over the years) I was hoping for some very detailed behind the scenes stories about the formation of Marvel, the "glory days" of the mid 80s, and the gimmickry of the 1990s that drove me from reading comics, to the present when most comics resemble their earlier editions in name only.

The book seems weighted...more
Readers of a certain age were witness to a new era in comics in the 1960’s—the age of Marvel Comics. What would become Marvel Comics had existed in other forms as far back as the 1940’s, but the expansion of superhero comics with now iconic characters such as Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the X-Men did not take place until the 1960’s. The artists and writers at the forefront were mostly veterans of earlier comic book companies and non-superhero genres, but they created works t...more
Finally finished Sean Howe's history of Marvel Comics, reading it a bit at a time. Overall, I enjoyed it very much, and know it's just the kind of book my father would have loved to read, if he were still with us.

For me, reading this book was a strange experience because parts of it were very personal to me. I started working at Marvel in the beginning of 1985 as a sixteen year-old high school intern, and remained on staff until 1989, when I began my career as a freelance artist. Naturally, thos...more
Seen at Scott Reads It!
Keep in mind that I'm not a die-hard Marvel fanboy while reading this review. I love reading Marvel graphic novels and comics but I don't really follow their story-lines. I also have seen numerous Marvel movies and I used to have a Spider-Man obsession when I was little. I really wasn't sure what to expect with Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Marvel Comics is an extremely detailed and interesting history of the world's most famous comic book company. Marvel Comics: The...more
Generally interesting overview of the company that helped fill some gaps in my understanding of its history. Here are some of the problems I encountered, however:
1. Referred early on to the comic Millie the Model as Millie AND the Model
2. Gene Colan's arrival at Marvel failed to mention his starting there under the pen name Adam Austin
3. Referred to a "mustachioed" Lockjaw. Dude, that's not a mustache, that's the dog's upper lip.
4. Mary Jane Watson RAVEN-haired?! She's a redhead.
5. Kudos for men...more
Eoghann Irving
If you are any sort of fan of american comic books then this is a must read.

Starting from the very beginning, before Marvel Comics was Marvel Comics, it takes us all the way up to the present day. And while calling it the Untold Story might be a slight stretch (there are elements that are commonly known) there's a lot of detail in here. A lot of less well known information and a lot of good interview material.

One of the things that stands out to me is just how cyclical the comics industry seems...more
Tim Schneider
I've read hundreds of fanzines and prozines with thousands of interviews with creators. And I've read dozens of books covering largely the same subject matter. So it's, frankly, kind of hard to surprise me in a book like this. Moreover, it's gotten increasingly hard for someone to write such a book that I don't pick apart for some fairly blatant errors.

Howe managed to keep my interest with no problem whatsoever, not include any egregious errors (that I noticed) and put in a thing or three that...more
Eric Kibler
I'm so verklempt!

This book is on the one hand, a great trip down memory lane, and on the other hand, an open-eyed visit to the sausage factory. As an longstanding fan of Marvel Comics, I can't separate myself from my fandom enough to be able to tell you what this book can say to a non-fan. But to me, it brings back a lot of memories of characters and creators I've grown up (and into middle age) with. These characters and stories have been the backdrop of my life since, as a young DC fan, I first...more
Antonio Nunez
I used to think of myself as a Marvel comic book fan. I have read the comics since 1976 and into the 1990s (the clone saga did it for me, it was my Kronstadt) and have collected some of the key titles. I own an almost complete run of the John Byrne Uncanny X-Men, the Frank Miller Elecktra (per the cover) introduction story in Daredevil and a complete run of Amazing Spiderman into the 1980s (granted, parts of it are made up of the Italian and Colombian versions, but still...). After reading this...more
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Superheroes and C...: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe 7 15 Oct 06, 2013 07:55PM  
  • Marvel Chronicle
  • Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book
  • Superman: The High-Flying History of the Man of Steel
  • Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
  • The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How it Changed America
  • Comic Book Nation: The Transformation of Youth Culture in America
  • Kirby: King of Comics
  • Ultimatum
  • Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe
  • The Infinity Gauntlet
  • Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human
  • Ultimate Power
  • Fantastic Four: The End
  • Harvey Pekar's Cleveland
  • The Ultimates 2
  • Captain America: The Man With No Face
  • Ultimate Galactus, Vol. 3: Extinction
  • The Supergirls: Fashion, Feminism, Fantasy, and the History of Comic Book Heroines
Sean Howe is a former editor at Entertainment Weekly and The Criterion Collection. His writing has appeared in New York, the Los Angeles Times, Spin, and the Village Voice. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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“Over the decade that movie producer Menahem Golan had retained the rights for Spider-Man, he’d managed to involve half a dozen different corporate entities. Golan had originally bought the Spider-Man rights for his Cannon Films; after leaving Cannon, he transferred them to 21st Century Films. Next, he raised money by preselling television rights to Viacom, and home video rights to Columbia Tri-Star; then he signed a $5 million deal with Carolco that guaranteed his role as producer. But after Carolco assigned the film to James Cameron, Cameron refused to give Golan the producer credit, and the lawsuits began. By the end of 1994, Carolco was suing Viacom and Tri-Star; Viacom and Tri-Star were countersuing Carolco, 21st Century, and Marvel; and MGM—which had swallowed Cannon—was suing Viacom, Tri-Star, 21st Century, and Marvel.” 0 likes
“But once again, he would learn, Marvel’s fate lay in the hands of people who knew nothing about comic books. Out in Los Angeles, as soon as the sale was made, Rehme had summoned his vice president of marketing and proudly told him, “We just bought Superman.” 0 likes
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