“Marvel Comics: The Untold story” by Sean Howe


artemisiconEveryone might not know this, but I am a HUGE Marvel nerd, and early 80s – 90s Marvel cartoons helped shaped who I am today. I started drawing Spiderman and Black Cat when I was 8 and 9, and then shortly after, started creating my own Mutants.

So naturally, when I spotted this book, I bought it! Sadly, it’s taken me years to pick it up and start reading, but in my own defense, I have had a lot of books to read.

I will say right off the bat, this isn’t a book for everyone. It’s all about Marvel and Stan Lee from the very beginning and everything he had to go through in the ups and downs of the comic book industry. Off the bat, it seems boring, and for someone used to the fast pace of fiction, it might be. But because of my love for Marvel (and I will admit, when I sat in at Stan Lee’s Q&A a few years ago, I cried realizing I was in the same room as the man who shaped my entire life) I found this book incredibly interesting!

It covers not only the Company and Stan Lee, but it shows the evolution of a lot of Superheroes, and other people that worked there. Because of the ups and downs, Stan Lee was constantly forced to fire and rehire people every few years, so he lost a lot of people to DC, who was still currently dominating the field.

DC was very ‘by-the-numbers’, but Marvel wasn’t, so both companies had a very different method to comics, and caused them to dominate or fail the market. Sometimes Marvels no-formula-formula worked, and more often than not it failed. Many of the block buster movies we have today, are series that had to be cancelled because of budget cuts.

One thing I found incredibly interesting about this book is the use of foot notes. Howe embellishes some parts, but others he references other books and interviews from old employees and artists. The point I found REALLY interesting, is he will put a conversation from an older interview, and then post an exert from another Interview with Stan Lee that contradicts that event. It’s interesting that he would put that in, but it also lets you see how different people want the event to be seen (in a good or bad light).

Sometimes it feels like Howe is trying to paint Stan Lee in a bad light, and then other times it seems like he is trying to build him up. All this really did was make me appreciate Stan Lee even more. He was thrown into this company with NO experience simply because he was the nephew of the boss and had an interest in writing and had to work his way up from emptying ashtrays.

The book is slow because it’s the rise and fall of a company, no explosions or car chases here, at least outside of comic pages. But for Marvel fans, or comic fans at all, it shows how fleeting our trade used to be, and how powerful and resilient Stan Lee and many of the artists (like Jack Kirby) used to be.

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