Reviewed by Marcus Hammond

It’s fairly safe to say that at some point we’ve all come across a Marvel superhero in our weekly meanderings through pop culture. Whether it be through Marvel’s movies, clothing, toys, or comic books, it’s hard not to take notice of the company’s influence. It is the company’s tumultuous past that Sean Howe details in his book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Howe approaches this task by constructing a dense, chronological narrative that is peppered with various insider perspectives.

The general narrative of the book is nothing unique. Howe recounts Marvel’s beginnings at the hands of magazine publisher, Martin Goodman and works through to the acquisition of Marvel by the Walt Disney Company in 2009. Howe invests a lot of detail in the way he describes events like Jack Kirby leaving the company in 1970, Stan Lee’s charismatic and varying roles in the company, and the rise of Image comics (a comics imprint that allowed the artists to own their creations). Much of this information, however, is arguably well known to comic book fans. Due to this, I found that I wanted to skip some of the material that I had known from being a Marvel reader, in order to get to the “untold” information.

That “untold” aspect of the book largely comes in the form of detailed interviews, documents, and interpretations that may not have made its way into other accounts of the company’s storied history. These tidbits of information are interspersed throughout Howe’s main narrative. Some of the more interesting examples include the discontent felt by artists Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby towards Martin Goodman and Stan Lee. Quotes are provided either directly from the artists or in cases where documentation was unavailable, from employees that experienced the dramatic unfolding of events (both Ditko and Kirby left Marvel after disagreements about intellectual property rights or general dislike for Marvel’s publishing practices). These thoughtful and, at times, emotionally charged scraps of insider knowledge help provide an original view of the company. However, they may not be as untold as the title touts.

While the untold byline of the title may be a bit of a stretch for the regular or devoted comic book reader, the overall narrative is well written and organized, informative, and dramatic enough to maintain intrigue for those who are simply intrigued by the subject.

Rating: ★★★☆☆ 

After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.

Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Harper. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.