Review: Marvel Comics The Untold Story

Sean Howe has produced an interesting and coherent history of Marvel Comics.  As a long time comics reader, I’ve certainly heard some of the stories related in here, but Howe excels at putting them into a coherent larger framework.

The Marvel company has had a collection of creators nearly as flamboyant as their published characters, and the temptation to make this a collection of just comics anecdotes must have been significant.  Howe does a nice job of hanging those anecdotes on the arc of the company itself as it moved from an upstart comics company, through a few fumbling attempts to reach other media, to today where some of the most popular and lucrative characters in the world are from Marvel.  He has an excellent sense of the overall narrative, which makes the book very readable.

The story itself is both messy and recent, however, and still very much a part of living history.  Comics buffs like me enjoy hearing the stories of artistic give and take that led to the creation of these stories and characters.  On the other hand, who created what and how can be a matter of millions of dollars, and in some cases the living protagonists are fighting those battles in court. The Untold Story does a nice job of showing how those problems can arise when creators are riffing on ideas that they don’t know will go anywhere, but that become assets to a large company owned by no one the creators knew at the time.  Or worse, when the ideas become assets of a company paying people the creators did know at the time.  Conflicting accounts would be par for the course, even if the creators were not larger than life.

One of the somewhat distressing issues with The Untold Story is that it occasionally muffs its comics history.  These are generally little things – toy tie-in comics ascribed to the wrong franchises or alien names misspelled – but it is distressing that when so many of the facts are in dispute, a few indisputable ones are dropped.

Overall an interesting history of living events.



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