Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Sean Howe "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" (Harper, 2012)

When I was a kid I read both comics from both Marvel and DC, but my heart was always with Marvel.  DC seemed like Mr. Rogers—grandfatherly and in a cardigan.  Marvel was more like Sesame Street—weird looking young people on a street that I knew was supposed to be New York, even if it looked totally alien to my eyes.  Marvel was dynamic in a way that DC couldn’t hope to be.  At their best, DC came off like someone’s dad trying to be cool.

So of course I was excited to hear about Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Here was my opportunity to find out what really went on in the Bullpen, and learn the truth behind all those crazy nicknames.

Sean Howe does a fantastic job of telling the story behind the stories.  After a brief overview of Marvel’s WWII era legacy heroes, he begins the story with the dawn of the modern Marvel – in the 1960s with Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.  From there he goes through the story of the company, ending only around the millennium.  All the big name writers and artists seem to be here, as well as many that would otherwise be forgotten.

Readers looking for storyline rehashes will be disappointed.  While some major characters and storylines are discussed, it is always from the perspective of business or creative decisions, not from any sort of in-universe perspective.   But the real story is intriguing all on its own.

It’s fascinating how many problematic issues surrounding comics were already issues 40 years ago.  Intellectual property, creator compensation, gender and race issues, boom and bust sales cycles, exploitative sales and marketing strategies were all being argued many years ago.  Howe spotlights many of these issues without bringing his own perspective to the fight.  He uses interviews to allow various voices to be heard.

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