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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  6,504 ratings  ·  863 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
Hardcover, 485 pages
Published October 9th 2012 by Harper
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Feb 10, 2013 rated it really liked it
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 eve
Dan Schwent
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is the story of Marvel Comics, from its beginnings in the late thirties until fairly recently, with all the highs and lows in between.

Confession Time: For most of my life, I've been a comic book fan. I've got around 2000 of them in boxes in my nerd cave and have numerous super hero shirts.

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story was a very gripping read for me. I read the sanitized version of some of the events in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World's Greatest Comi
Sam Quixote
Aug 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I’m gonna do something a little different here: I’ll review the book properly first, then talk generally about what I read. These post-review comments are peripheral to the review, so I’ll keep them separate. They’re just things that interested me and might be interesting to others who haven’t read this, might not read this, but are into Marvel comics. I’ll tell you when I switch.


The review:

Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a comprehensive look at the company that was founded as
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
Sean Gibson
May 26, 2015 rated it it was amazing
4.5 Stars

I reviewed this engaging narrative for Kirkus Reviews a while back:
Dec 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: about-comics
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
Timothy Boyd
Jun 26, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have been a comic collector for almost 50 years. I actually owned a comic store for a few years. I would have told anyone i was pretty well versed in Marvel Comics history, at least the 1950s-1970s. Boy was I wrong. This book was so detailed in the history I was learning something ever minute I listened to it I think. It must be because the writer is a journalist by trade and obviously investigated this story like a high profile crime. Very detailed and well researched. If you want to learn EV ...more
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.
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, ebook, 2019
In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, author Sean Howe conducted over 100 interviews with employees past and present in an effort to present a comprehensive history of the comics giant.

Howe takes the reader through the company’s early years in the 40s and 50s before the explosion of popularity they would see in the 1960s. From there, things take a downturn in the 70s as the whole comic industry sees a dip in popularity. With the 80s, we get visionaries like Frank Miller, who take Marvel’s heroes i
Short shrift

Depressing, to see just how much Stan Lee and many others did some grand over-fucking of the painfully naive creators in whose backs this company was built.

Short shrift, as in a great many sub-stories just beg to be told, but only get a passing reference amidst all the musical chairs of the corporate/management foolishness.

Fascinating, imagining what it would've been like to be part of a rag-tag group of folks just blazing trails without any idea if any of this
Oct 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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!
Vinton Bayne
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An awakening glimpse behind the curtain. I wish there were (or will be) decade by decade, artist by artist, alternative view and continuing history sequels. I would love more looks into the comic industry like this.
Marvel Comics! All those iconic heros and villains. It must have been such an odyssey! I couldn’t wait get into the fantastic journey.

Well, it was, more often than not, a bloodbath. More people coming in and out than I could keep straight and endless office politics and corporate mismanagement. It makes you wonder how Marvel even survived.
Oct 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An essential, must-read history of the most recognizable comic book and entertainment company in the world. Sean Howe's meticulously researched and pitch-perfectly written book chronicles the story of Marvel from its early days as a pulp hero publisher before WWII to its current, mass-media juggernaut incarnation. Along the way, he introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters, including the eager to please Stan Lee, the tragic Jack Kirby, everyman Herb Trimpe, power-mad Jim Shooter and m ...more
Apr 17, 2018 rated it liked it
I’m not a bloke who reads a lot of comic books. I do retain a fascination with comic book heroes from my wasted childhood, and Mrs Jameson and I are mid-way through watching the whole of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (IRON MAN 3 is next), but to actually pick up some Marvel or D.C. printed offering and see what’s illustrated between the pages is something I would almost never do.

However, in the last couple of years, I have read a couple of books taking a look behind the scenes (as it were) of co
Jan 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Probably more than you’d ever need to know about Marvel, but quite entertaining. So much drama! Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Marv Wolfman and so many more fought, created, and persevered. This is also a decent history of the comic book industry. I haven’t read a ton of comics, but enough to appreciate this and the process. Hoye is a phenomenal narrator!
Nov 25, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Luke Boyce
Apr 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
I've been wanting to read Sean Howe's Marvel book for awhile. I grew up a DC fan, never reading any Marvel books outside of a few Spider-man comics. So not having that foundation in my childhood always made me reluctant to get into Marvel characters as I was worried about understanding the canonical intricacies. With the movies, it made things easier to ease into but I really wanted to get the full Marvel story so I knew the historical context behind these characters. Often, that's what really h ...more
Nov 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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
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
Jan 07, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: comics-related
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
Brian Rogers
Apr 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was a really engaging history of the company, carrying from its beginnings up to the sale to Disney, and filled in a lot of my knowledge gaps even in the areas I thought I knew. It's very well researched, well told and even handed. It's hard to walk away with a sense of winners and losers for many of the eras - the highly creative writers and artists of the 70's decrying against the evil editorial team who kept forcing them to do things like 'make deadlines', but also the editorial team try ...more
Arun Divakar
Jun 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites
The characters of Marvel comics have captured the imaginations of a multitude of audiences across the world. You see them on almost every other kind of merchandise and with the uber-successful Marvel universe brand of movies, this fame has hit the stratosphere. If the hype is paused for a moment then the characters themselves show signs of patterns running across their storylines. For instance most of the superheroes from the Marvel stables ( or DC for that matter) began life as crime fighters o ...more
Antonio Nunez
Jul 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
4.5 stars. If even half of it is true, it makes Mad Men look like an episode of Joy of Painting hosted by Bob Ross. It's amazing that Marvel's comics got published at all, then and now.

One (of many things) this book shed a light on was how much of a badass Jack Kirby (co-creator of most of Marvel's most iconic characters) was. The guy was a workhorse and creative genius. While Stan Lee seems to get 99% of the credit today, Kirby deserves his 50% (and maybe more?).

My one area of concern is that t
David Albee
Oct 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
**Estimated read period**

This book was fascinating and helped me understand the history of comics and Marvel.

Want to read more like this.

Could get a tad boring if you don’t like comics, but boy oh boy does Marvel Comics have some good tea.
Elina Gomberg
Jun 18, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is a historical review of Marvel comics from the time of its formation until recent years. If you're looking for a book that takes a stance, this is not it. This book lets the reader decide which version of events or which motive of people they prefer most. However, the book becomes a lot less detailed as it reaches the time Ike Perlmutter took over Marvel. Also I would have proffered more dates within the book itself to make the time jumps clearer.
Despite the lack of stance, this boo
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Engrossing and well-written, Howe alternates between the drama of Marvel writers and artists and their characters. Like with most businesses, a peek under the hood shows a mess and people just trying to figure things out. Don't meet your heroes, I guess. ...more
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
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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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21 likes · 2 comments
“Although Jerry Siegel didn’t bring it up with people, a swirl of whispers followed as he made his way in and out of the office: That guy co-created Superman. DC Comics won’t even let him in their offices anymore” 2 likes
“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.” 1 likes
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