Tuesday marks the release of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, the latest in a long line of works attempting to provide fans with an intimate look at the men behind heroes such as Spider-Man, X-Men and The Avengers. Howe’s work endeavors to capture quite a bit of Marvel’s history, dating all the way to its origins as a publisher in 1933, right up to its acquisition by Disney and its eventual transformation into a multimedia giant. The work also highlights individuals responsible for the creation of Marvel’s lineup, profiling the obvious legends (Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby) but also shedding some light on the lesser-known but still quintessential figures of the company. The book also does well to discuss the issues Marvel Comics has faced, including legal battles, the defection of icons Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee, and the perpetual failures of Stan Lee to commercialize properties outside of comics.
The question fans should really be asking themselves when purchasing this work is what level of fandom they subscribe to. Are you one of the fans that had not heard of Thor or Iron Man until their respective movies came out? Are you still in the dark about the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy? Do you legitimately believe that The Avengers was the first time Joss Whedon worked on a Marvel property because you have never heard of a wonderful series called Astonishing X-Men? Well, then, you may gain a history lesson, but the level of detail this work goes into is not for the outsider or the casual fan.
Instead, the intimacy of Howe’s account is best reserved for the avid reader or, as Stan Lee would say, the true believer. For those of us that have had heated arguments about whether Daniel Way handled Deadpool better then Joe Kelly (which he in-arguably did), this is the kind of work we webheads would enjoy. For those of us that still rue the day Image Comics was formed because it meant a dilution of the best kind of talent to grace the editorial round table in decades, this is the account to rely on. For those of us that still feel saddened that Stan Lee’s legend has been somewhat tarnished by his inability to expand the franchises, these are the heartwarming and heartbreaking tales for us. Of course, there are the fans that feel Lee gets far too much credit for what was undeniably an entire company’s effort, so this is also the book for them as it gives them more ammunition and another chance to open the discussion.
Ultimately, your need to purchase this book varies with your purpose within the comics community. If you are the kind of reader that likes to follow a story but doesn’t really care about the inner politics behind creation, then this simply isn’t a work you’re going to enjoy and nothing I say can change that. However, if you feel that the magic of holding a comic book, feeling that warm fresh page scent every Wednesday, is just as important as the actual content of the work, then this is a book to help explain how a few doodles on a page became a multi-billion dollar company. I intend to get a copy because I am always out to prove that Stan “The Man” Lee is to Marvel what Shigeru Miyamoto is to Nintendo; if that seems like dull conversation to you, then this simply isn’t the work for you.