Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is a history of Marvel Comics’ superhero comics from its beginnings in the early 1960s all the way up to the present day. Superhero comics started at Marvel as a response to the success of such DC characters as the Green Lantern and the Justice League; and the inventor of most of them in the early days was (at least partly! this was the subject of much dispute!) Stan Lee, the cousin of Marvel’s owner’s wife. So if you say you don’t like nepotism, remember that without it we wouldn’t have the gorgeous Gwendie. What set Marvel apart in these early days of superhero comics was the way the heroes would bicker with each other — the Fantastic Four were so successful in this regard that Marvel continued inventing gripey teams and individuals, including the teenaged Spiderman, to be written by their small, closeknit (sort of) team of artists.
As Marvel became larger and more successful, and Stan Lee continued to insist upon keeping a finger in every comics pie, discontent in the “Marvel bullpen” began that would continue throughout the company’s history. Artists and writers and editors were perpetually irritated with each other, and creators of memorable characters retained no rights to the ideas they gave to Marvel. Management changes throughout the company’s history constantly shook up the stable of writers, as did contract and labor disputes, and particularly disputes about the future of the now-beloved characters of the Marvel series.
Sean Howe is obviously in love with Marvel Comics. (Go here to listen to a Grantland podcast where he talks about the book.) The stories of the original Marvel bullpen told by Stan Lee in the pages of the early superhero comics caught his imagination, and these writers and artists are the main focus of the book. This is very cool in a way, as it allows the reader to see the differences the changing staff made to various series, from the real-life focus of Ditko’s Spiderman to the soapy story arcs (I say that without any judgment at all ever) of Chris Claremont’s X-Men.
On the other hand, it can be difficult to keep track of everyone who comes and goes and loves Marvel and hates Marvel and loves superhero comics or hates them, and who thinks Jack Kirby is the best and who thinks Stan Lee is the best, and who got screwed out of millions of dollars of income from their intellectual property by shady doings (hint: everyone). I got bogged down around the mid-1970s and early 1980s with all the names that were flying around, and I nearly gave up the book. But then I listened to that interview with Sean Howe and it cheered me up and gave me the strength to continue.
My very favorite thing I learned was this (I guess there are spoilers for old Spiderman here, the comics?, if you care about that?): At one point Mary Jane was pregnant (PS, lame, Gwen Stacy is better), and they wanted Spiderman not to have a baby, so they had a sinister nurse come tell MJ that the baby was stillborn, and then you see someone, like, delivering a shady secret package on the dock. Maybe a dead baby? Maybe an alive baby? And nobody has ever picked up this storyline. Y’all, I know. This is clearly insane. I have invented a storyline for the secret baby, and I think they should let me write for comics (or else soap operas) because I would be amazing at it. Spoiler alert, my storyline ends with Spiderman feeling sad and guilty. It doesn’t end that way because I’m mad at Spiderman for not growing old with Gwen Stacy. That’s not why. Not at all.
Does anyone want to recommend me some good Marvel comics to read? I don’t know where to start! There are way too many!
I received this ebook for review from Harper, through Edelweiss.