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Marvel Comics

The Untold Story
Written by: Sean Howe
Narrated by: Stephen Hoye
Length: 17 hrs and 52 mins
Categories: Arts & Entertainment, Art
4.5 out of 5 stars (25 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The defining, behind-the-scenes chronicle of one of the most extraordinary, beloved, and dominant pop cultural entities in America’s history - Marvel Comics - and the outsized personalities who made Marvel, including Martin Goodman, Stan Lee, and Jack Kirby.  

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

For the first time, Marvel Comics tells the stories of the men who made Marvel: 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 WW II veteran who would co-create Captain America in 1940 and, 20 years later, developed with Lee the bulk of the company’s marquee characters in a three-year frenzy. 

Incorporating more than 100 original interviews with those who worked behind the scenes at Marvel over a 70-year-span, Marvel Comics packs anecdotes and analysis into a gripping narrative of how a small group of people on the cusp of failure created one of the most enduring pop cultural forces in contemporary America.

©2012 Sean Howe (P)2012 HarperCollinsPublishers

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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'Nuff Said

This book IS the entire history of Marvel Comics up until it's publishing. It does a great job of giving both sides of the story even though it is centered around the story as it pertains to Marvel Comics. The story and history is completely filled out and lush and should leave no reader/listener wanting more. The book is so fantastic, in fact, I am currently wondering why a television series isn't in the works. If you think all the possible story lines in the MCU and comic books have been exhausted look no further than this the true and untold history of it all. Seriously a TV series based on this book needs to happen.

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Really interesting, I replayed chapters alot!

Tons to digest, and I replayed several chapters, but a very tight narrative that kept me engaged.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Legend.

very Cool Story Regarding all the ups and downs that took place in the creation of the new enterprise Marvel!

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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Very interesting and mostly inspiring

I really enjoy this book. I have read it before, and bought it here because I knew I would want to listen to it multiple more times.

As a creative person, I found the history of the artists to be inspiring and fascinating, and I found it to be good content for business owners, and it’s a warning to be careful how you treat your employees.

The narrator was also very good, giving it the performance that this non-fiction book needed. #Audible1

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Greg
  • 2013-03-15

It's as if this book was written for me!

I couldn't have enjoyed this more... I collected comics for many years from the late '60's until the mid-90's when the blatant commercialism of multiple foil covers for the same book and horrible new art style (Yes, I mean you Liefeld) finally drove me away.

I was therefore already very familiar with all the names and events described herein, but having never read the fanzines or trade mags, was quite unfamiliar with the behind-the-scenes stories of WHY certain things happened the way they did.

This book covers that in a comprehensive and interesting way. It begins with the formation of the company in the early 1930's and progresses chronologically with the bulk of the narrative focusing on the 60's-80's. Narrator does a great job, and is very easy to listen to.

Some of the questions I received answers to are:
Why did Captain America, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner suddenly all get solo titles in 1968?
Whose dumb idea was it to give Spider-Man a "Spider-Mobile" in the 70's? and
Why was Secret Wars such a terribly written story?

I lost a night of sleep because I couldn't stop listening to this book. If you've read Marvel comics, I give this my highest recommendation. If you haven't, I can see how it might be too esoteric for the uninitiated.

P.S.
Forgive me for editorializing, but it's absolutely criminal what was done to Jack Kirby.

75 of 77 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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  • DARBY KERN
  • 2016-08-24

I'm curious what the creators think...

I took this book with on a business conference/golf outing and found myself looking for time alone to listen to it.
It was fun to hear more about people I've only known as names in comic book credits. There is plenty in these 18 hours that I didn't know at all, some good , some bad. The first half, after a brief recap of Marvel before 1960, talks about the Marvel age and the people behind it. Lots of interesting personalities there. You have your shirt sleeves and tie crowd and your dope smoking, acid dropping witch crowd working on the books almost side by side. It must have been interesting days to say the least.
The first half of the be book covers the stories and characters, giving attention to the people who wrote and drew them. Once Marvel becomes a corporate entity the focus shifts to more boardroom decisions and it becomes more dry. Less attention is given to the creators until we arrive at the Liefeld/McFarlane period (and you learn what a couple of morons they truly are).
My only beef with this reading is how the reader is allowed to mispronounce some of the names. The producers could have easily name checked these. It didn't ruin anything, just seemed amateurish.
I'm curious to hear what the creators would have to say about the accuracy of this book.
UPDATE:
Before he passed away I asked Len Wein what he thought of this book. He said it was about 50% accurate. I don't know if he had any ax to grind tithe author or publisher, but that's what he said. I just listened to it again and thought it was terrific.

22 of 22 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Phillip
  • 2013-08-08

Well written, even handed history

I have been a comic book reader since 1985 and while I've always been more in the DC camp, I enjoyed reading this history of the "House of Ideas." The narrator was engaging which is a must with non-fiction books like this.

Going in, I feared that this would be a one-sided story portraying Marvel in glorious, technicolor beauty. The author did a good job of highlighting both the high and low-lights of the publishing giant's 70+ year history. Most importantly, he didn't gloss over the image of Stan Lee, Marvel's ambassador and editor emeritus.

Lee seems is too often portrayed as a genius who single-handedly saved superhero comics from certain demise in the early 1960's while Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, the true geniuses behind Marvel's core characters, get lost in the dust bin of history. Admittedly, Lee certainly contributed much to the rise of Marvel comics in the 1960's but his tireless self-promotion has gained him some undeserved credit in my opinion.

This book covers the history of Marvel from its founding as Timely Comics in 1939 through the first decade of the 21st century and does so "marvelously." I would highly recommend it to comics fans and those who wouldn't know Batman from Christian Bale.

22 of 24 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Steve Xameron
  • 2018-08-01

Hell of a good book, but the narrator...

I really enjoyed Sean Howe's history of my favourite comics publisher, but the narrator gave such a phoned-in performance I kept getting distracted by it. There's an almost sing-song cadence where every sentence ends with the same da-da-dah that I would start to focus on that and not listen to the words. Also, it was often difficult to tell where quoted sections would begin and end, something I had never experienced with a narrator before. Usually there's some obvious indication, a pause or a change of delivery or something. This guy couldn't be bothered with any of that. So, great story but a middling performance.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
  • aaron
  • 2013-02-14

Heavy on data, but totally lacking in STORY

Maybe I've just read too many biographies that were amazing, so my standards are set too high. (Gabler's book on Walt Disney comes to mind). This book doesn't come close.

I was really wanting an easy to follow, compelling story, that kept me guessing and held my interest. What I got was just a bunch of facts, taped to the wall in chronological order. I could care less about any of these people, as the book never truly helped me get to know them. Sure, it talks about the tension and strife between some of the major players, but without sufficiently building up WHO these people actually are... WHAT MAKES THEM TICK... I just don't care about their arguments or problems.

This book is like an encyclopedia. Knowledgeable, but lacking in heart. If you're a die-hard Marvel fan, you may find it interesting, in terms of learning how they got to where they are. Odds are, you'll finish this book feeling like you just skimmed Marvel's Wikipedia page.

Narrator is excellent.

31 of 36 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
  • Gonzalo
  • 2013-04-19

Mainly for Comics Fans?

The story of how the fortunes of Marvel Comics unfolded is very interesting on a number of levels. After all, it is the story of real people and their struggles in a business that has changed radically in the last 50 years. Facing everything from changing markets to corporate takeover. However this book will be enjoyed most by Marvel Comics fans. I am one and have followed and collected Marvel Comics for perhaps too long. In the telling, many names of comics professional come up but the book does not have all that much time to duel on more than a handful. For me, that was not a problem because I knew the names and their work. But for someone who is not familiar with people like Roger Stern, John Buscema, Steve Ditko, John Byrne, Todd McFarlane and Joe Quesada as well as the superheroes they created and/or worked on it may get annoyingly hard to follow. (yes we all know Spider-man and the Avengers but how 'bout Captain Marvel and Howard the Duck?)

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Chris
  • 2019-03-26

An epic history of Marvel

It took me several months to fully get through this epic history of marvel. Afterwards I was left with a much better understanding of the politics and major players that helped create some of my most favorite marvel characters and storylines. I only wish the last portion of the book covered the recent introduction of marvel movies with the same thoroughness as the preceding 50 years.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
  • Mr Conway
  • 2013-05-02

If you are on this page, you will this book!!!

If you have an interest in the Comic Book industry or Marvel in particular then this is a book I highly recommend. This book is well written and unbelievably well paced for a business/creative history. It is a consistently good read for the full 18 hours.

Worth Noting:

• The book evenly presents the history of marvel, so if you are strictly, only really interested in one or two particular periods then you may find yourself skipping chapters, but even so, it's still a solid pick up

• This book is not about the purchase by Disney, although you do get a solid understanding of previous ownership changes

• There is little or no Celebrity Gossip from the sets of the films

• If the book has a theme, it's the question of creative ownership and how it has been dealt with by countless people from Jack and Stan to Steve Gerber and Rob Liefeld.

16 of 20 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Melvin
  • 2018-06-04

Fantastic, Amazing Even.

This is quite a new look into the world of comics. Honestly it's a bit shattering to learn how much Stan the man had little to do with some of these characters, but it's interesting seeing where a lot of these characters come from. I was hooked upon the first fifteen or so minutes, understanding the birth and the inner workings of marvel is really fascinating, I feel like I'm actually seeing the place. I the narrator comes off as a little dry but ultimately I couldn't listen to it without him, he sounds very of the time, though I wonder how it would feel to have a more energetic one. Ether this story is not so much exciting as it is very informative and feels like a great history lesson for comic buffs. Honestly after hours end I still want more, and would love to hear the DC side of things one day.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Shellbin
  • 2013-04-02

If You're Into Marvel Comics...

...you may enjoy this book. But if you're not, it may not be very interesting. As a fan myself, I personally was riveted. In the last third or so of the book, I felt sad at what I heard. There are good reasons as to why the comics of the 1960s-80s were often quite good and the 90s so dreadful, and they are delineated in gory detail in the book.

In some ways I regret taking in this book, because any illusions I had about Marvel were shattered. I will never again be able to watch a Marvel movie - or read the comics for that matter - without being aware of the stunning, greedy injustices that were perpetrated upon longtime creators who worked at Marvel, most notably Jack Kirby.

Quite recently, a judge ruled that Disney/Marvel owns the characters that Kirby created. In another ruling, the creator of Ghost Rider, Gary Friedrich, was actually ordered to pay Disney 17K! Even though Friedrich created it - it says so very plainly on the splash page of the inaugural issue - it belongs to Disney/Marvel.

If you move over to another medium, say, if Stephen King writes a novel, does the company that publishes the book own the rights to the book?

Many of the ideas that have become substrate to the sci-fi and super hero movies seen today were created by chain smoking guys in tiny apartments in New York City decades ago, for very little money. They did not retain rights to the characters they invented.

The Avengers Movie of 2012, which mostly features characters created by Jack Kirby, had the biggest opening weekend of any movie ever in North America. It was also the fastest film in history to hit the $1 billion mark, and ultimately grossed $1.51 billion worldwide.

Kirby's family won't be seeing any of that money; nor would Jack himself, were he alive today.


8 of 10 people found this review helpful