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Thursday, January 24, 2019

Review: Marvel Comics - The Untold Story

Marvel Comics: The Untold Story is the history of Marvel, the company from inception to its acquisition by Disney. I was a Marvel shareholder during the brief period of time when it was public but before it was acquired by Disney, and maybe if I'd read this book I wouldn't have been a shareholder.

More than anything else, the book reads a lot like a biography of Stan Lee, who was in many ways the front-man for Marvel during the silver age of comics. Bombastic and with a talent for self-promotion, Stan claimed at least partial credit for many of the characters we see around the world today: Spider-man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, the Hulk, Iron-Man and the Avengers. He certainly had the writers-credit billing for most of that period, but the book does a good job of explaining that he mostly filled in the dialog balloons and captions after the artists had pretty much drawn the stories, so to a large extent, while he might have had detailed plotting discussions with the artists, he wasn't actually responsible for the detailed exposition of plot or character. This is why when Alan Moore showed up with his full scripts, it was a much more radical reimagining of what comic books could be.

I learned many things from this book, including a ton of back-biting and in-fighting amongst the Marvel employees over creators rights and credit sharing. I also had this realization that many of the comic book stories were written by very young writers, certainly, many of them never even made it to college, and overseen by Stan Lee, who himself was in his 40s during the silver age.

It was quite apparent by the 1980s that Stan Lee was more interested in breaking into the movies than staying interested in comics. Because of the book's focus on Marvel rather than DC, the British Invasion (Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, etc) is largely missing from the book.

All in all, I thought the book was very comprehensive, but I wish there were more details. I came away with several questions, such as why did Ari Arad finally succeed in getting Spider-Man placed in Hollywood while Stan Lee continuously met with failure? How did the sale to Disney eventually happen?

But other than that I thought it was a pretty good book. Recommended.

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