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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (1,055 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Sean Howe Narrator: Stephen Hoye Publisher: HarperCollins Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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Marvel Comics: The Untold Story offers a chronological look at the history of the multibillion-dollar comics company and an inside look at the people who created the characters America has grown to love. The book is based on more than 100 interviews with writers, artists and others from inside Marvel. It follows the company from the beginning, through Hollywood blockbusters and big screen bombs, and even through the collapse of the comic book market. It turns out Marvel was begin as a get-rich-quick scheme in 1939, and has grown in the decades since from an unknown underdog to a huge corporation.

This book is really about the editors, artists and writers who made up the Marvel team over the years, often called the Marvel Bullpen. It pits the creative minds against the corporate leadership that tried to control them, arguing for credit and control. Most of the creative team was low-paid, and got little credit for creating Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wolverine, Captain America and many other household names for generations of comics fans.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are just two of the members of the Bullpen who are profiled. Lee led the Marvel team for decades, proving to be a steadfast leader and a competent writer and editor in the best and the worst years of Marvel's history. A less well-known name today, Kirby was one of the company's most prolific creative minds. He created Captain America in 1940, fought in World War II, and then returned to create most of Marvel's marquee characters over a three-year period in the 1960s.

Author Sean Howe has written about the entertainment industry for Spin, the Village Voice, New York and the Los Angeles Times. He previously served as an editor at Entertainment Weekly. Marvel Comics, published in 2012, is his first book.

An unvarnished, unauthorized, behind-the-scenes account of one of the most dominant pop cultural forces in contemporary America

Operating out of a tiny office on Madison Avenue in the early 1960s, a struggling company called Marvel Comics presented a cast of brightly costumed characters distinguished by smart banter and compellingly human flaws. Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, Iron Man, Thor, the X-Men, Daredevil—these superheroes quickly won children’s hearts and sparked the imaginations of pop artists, public intellectuals, and campus radicals. Over the course of a half century, Marvel’s epic universe would become the most elaborate fictional narrative in history and serve as a modern American mythology for millions of readers.

Throughout this decades-long journey to becoming a multibillion-dollar enterprise, Marvel’s identity has continually shifted, careening between scrappy underdog and corporate behemoth. As the company has weathered Wall Street machinations, Hollywood failures, and the collapse of the comic book market, its characters have been passed along among generations of editors, artists, and writers—also known as the celebrated Marvel “Bullpen.” Entrusted to carry on tradition, Marvel’s contributors—impoverished child prodigies, hallucinating peaceniks, and mercenary careerists among them—struggled with commercial mandates, a fickle audience, and, over matters of credit and control, one another.

For the first time, Marvel Comics reveals the outsized personalities behind the scenes, including Martin Goodman, the self-made publisher who forayed into comics after a get-rich-quick tip in 1939; Stan Lee, the energetic editor who would shepherd the company through thick and thin for decades; and Jack Kirby, the World War II veteran who’d cocreated Captain America in 1940 and, twenty years later, developed with Lee the bulk of the company’s marquee characters in a three-year frenzy of creativity that would be the grounds for future legal battles and endless debates.

Drawing on more than one hundred original interviews with Marvel insiders then and now, Marvel Comics is a story of fertile imaginations, lifelong friendships, action-packed fistfights, reformed criminals, unlikely alliances, and third-act betrayals—a narrative of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and beleaguered pop cultural entities in America’s history.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “Sean Howe’s history of Marvel makes a compulsively readable, riotous, and heartbreaking version of my favorite story, that of how a bunch of weirdos changed the world. That it’s all true is just frosting on the cake.”

    Jonathan Lethem, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Exhaustively researched and artfully assembled, Marvel Comics is a historical exploration, a labor of love, and a living illustration of how the weirdest corners of the counterculture can sometimes become the culture-at-large.”

    Chuck Klosterman, New York Times bestselling author

  • “Page after page, Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics manages to be enchantingly told, emotionally suspenseful, and totally revelatory.”

    Sloane Crosley, New York Times bestselling author

  • “A warts-and-all, nail-biting mini-epic about the low-paid, unsung ‘funnybook men’ who were unwittingly creating twenty-first century pop culture. If you thought the fisticuffs were bare and bloody on the four-color page, wait ‘til you hear about what went down in the Marvel bullpen.”

    Patton Oswalt

  • “Sean Howe has collected the history with a fanboy’s dedication to continuity and detail. As with every two-bit, four-color superhuman donning tights to fight crime, there’s an origin tale, and Marvel Comics: The Untold Story lays it out.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • Marvel Comics is a meticulous chronicle of the real secret origins of the superhero, a tragic love story about the relationship between a long parade of passionate, talented superhero devotees and the company that didn’t love them back.”

    Los Angeles Times

  • “A superpowered must-read for anyone hooked on comics, as well as a gripping story for someone merely enlightened by a genre that’s always had to fight for respect. It’s much more about ordinary, flawed humans than super men and women, and therein lies its excellence.”

    USA Today

  • “A vivid account...Comics have proven an enduring art form, gaining new fans without losing the old ones. Howe’s exhaustively researched love letter to Marvel should find grateful readers among both groups.”

    Boston Globe

  • “Fascinating, compelling reading...Exhaustively researched...What ultimately propels you to keep turning the pages of this fat, enjoyable book are the endless anecdotes about how the Marvel universe was shaped.”

    Miami Herald

  • “Howe offers vivid reporting and enticing detail...The result is a book both authoritative and charmingly readable.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “It’s about time somebody wrote Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, and it looks like Sean Howe was the right guy for the job. Howe’s clear-eyed history...is as full of colorful characters, tragic reversals, and unlikely plot twists as any book in the Marvel canon.”


  • “A jittery, hilarious, anecdotal, and exhaustive history of the company...If you’re a comics fan, this is essential reading. If you’re not, then it’s merely fascinating. Howe has written a biographical history of modern America’s id.”


  • “Exhaustively researched and extraordinarily compelling...A quasi-Shakespearean portrayal of Marvel as it moves from spirited upstart to ruthless corporate colossus.”


  • “Howe, a widely published critic with a real knack...for reporting, gets farther inside the company than anyone else has...An essential read for anyone who loves comics.”

    Daily Beast

  • “Howe paints an indelible portrait of the crass, juvenile, soulful business that captured the world’s imagination.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “An impeccably researched, authoritative history of Marvel Comics.”

    Kirkus Reviews

  • A New York Times Bestseller

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Brian | 2/4/2014

    " Very interesting. I collected (mostly Marvel) comic books regularly from 1979 through 1982 or so. I started with The Hulk and The Thing (Marvel Two-In-One) but eventually became obsessed with X-Men starting with #132 (The cover shows Sebastian Shaw tossing Storm on a pile of defeated X-Men). I had found myself in the middle of the Dark Phoenix saga! I saved up money to buy back issues to get the whole story. This book shows how the talent flowed back and forth between Marvel and DC, as writers and artists got pissed off at their editors or each other and jumped ship, and how certain trends affected the industry, such as multiple collectible covers, huge price hikes, toy tie-ins, crossovers, deaths of major characters, returning to the basics, etc. It's too bad comic books are so expensive now, but it's great that decent movies are now being made from comic book source material. I can't wait for Days of Future Past! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Andy Blanchard | 1/21/2014

    " Man, people hated Stan Lee. Poor guy. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Craig | 1/21/2014

    " Having grown up as an avid reader of Marvel comics, it was fascinating to read about the personal relationships and corporate machinations behind some of the characters and stories I followed so faithfully. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Eric | 1/17/2014

    " Sean Howe did a fantastic job researching Marvel's history. The deal is, the story itself is long and filled with back-stabbing, falling outs, and bitterness. Combine that with the hundreds of people involved, it's easy to lose track on who is who, aside from the big names (Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Miller). So while it drags in spots, this is certainly a pretty definitive book. "

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About the Author

Sean Howe is the editor of Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers!: Writers on Comics. He is a former editor and critic at Entertainment Weekly, and his writing has appeared in New York, the Los Angeles TimesSpin, and The Village Voice. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.