Review – Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

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You know Marvel from the annual summer box office blockbusters from the past decade including the likes of Spider-Man, X-Men, and The Avengers. You also know the intricate and sometimes intertwined storylines of all your favorite characters. But what you probably don’t know is how it all began, who really created your favorite comic book hero or why it took so long to make it big in Hollywood. ‘Marvel Comic: The Untold Story’ offers all of that in an exhaustive look behind the curtain dating back to its inception. Sean Howe tells how Marvel Comics broke the fourth wall.

The book starts with the story of New York publisher Martin Goodman who would go on to launch Marvel Comics leading up the humble beginning of the man you know as Stan Lee. Yes, that Stan Lee, the one who wrote to readers from “The Bullpen.” It’s really quite fascinating, even if you’re not a comic book nerd. Oh, and there’s even a mention of Hugh Heffner, oddly enough.

Back in Marvel’s heyday, there was a revolving door of freelancers who worked on the 25-cent comics day and night – and sometimes (okay, a lot of the time) tripping on acid or LSD. Yep, that explains the peculiarity of the Marvel Universe. Life in the smoke-filled “Bullpen” wasn’t without its share of controversy. In fact, there was a time one of the artists threatened to throw his editor out of the window. Geesh! And you thought your office sucked.

You’ll be surprised to learn about the assembly line production of almost every single comic. From the editor to the writers, artists, colorers and inkers. Being able to see the amount of work that went into each page gives you a new appreciation for the art of comic production. Given the amount of recreational drugs these guys used, it’s astonishing that any issue ever hit newsstands (but explains how they came up with THIS).

Alright, back to the reviewing part. The first half of the book is about the birth and growth of Marvel, the creative process, and the oft-tumultuous relationship between Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko among numerous others. The trouble dates all the way back to Fantastic Four #1! It always boiled down to who created what. What you’ll learn is that working for Marvel wasn’t as marvelous as one might have you believe, especially when you consider that anything you created for the company became property of said company. Sorry, kid, you belong to Marvel.

The latter half of the book is a tale of legal woes with everyone suing each other, followed by a close look at how Marvel hit the Silver screen. There are mentions of James Cameron and Michael Jackson; I’ll let you find out on your own how they fit into the picture. It’s more captivating that it sounds, I promise. You’ll learn about the Comics Code seal, adult themed comics with some of your favorite heroines and depressing behind the scenes look at the comic industry.

Throughout it all, I’ve come to realize that Stan “The Man” Lee is a prime example of when talent and luck meet. If he were only talented or just lucky, I don’t think Marvel would be the comic book/cartoon/move juggernaut it is today.

The book is out today. Grab your copy of Marvel: The Untold Story on Amazon.

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