December 7, 2012

Sean Howe: Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

"What they need is a union."- Beadie Russell

When I started reading Sean Howe's "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" I kept thinking back to this quote by Beadie Russell from "The Wire" when she's talking about the dead hookers in season 2. What the writers of Marvel Comics, and comics in general, was a union. Especially in those early years.

Now full confession, I'm not the biggest comic book fans but I am a fan of back-stories and behind the scenes looks. I've never cared much for Saturday Night Live but have read two books on the back-stories and behind the scenes look at that show.

I did know one thing about comic books and specifically Marvel and that is the hardcore comic fans hate Stan Lee. Lee has in recent years with the release of these comic movies has been presented as the creator of all these characters. Hardcore comic fans will tell you that was people like Jack Kirby and Stan Ditko who created these works. Howe makes a tremendous effort in his book not to paint Lee has some villain who stole Kirby's or Ditko's work but he also didn't paint Lee as a sympathetic figure either.*

*When Ditko left, Lee put dialogue in one comic that was a condescending goodbye to the man who drew Spider-Man.

And that's how we get back to the Beadie Russell line about unions or specifically a writer's guild. Without a guild drawers like Ditko and Kirby didn't own the hero's they were creating. So they weren't making money when their creations were being sold as action figures or posters, Marvel was and Lee wasn't protecting them. Lee though also complained that he was making money from his creations. Lee was the creator of the comics dialogue and stories.

The book is more than disgruntled writers and drawers it's about the history of comics and the boom and bust periods of comics. Comic books for whatever reason have peak years and then turn into bottom years. Comic books were riding high at the start of WW2. No one cared about comics by the late 1940's. Comics peaked again in the early 60's, comics were at such a low point in the early 70's that Marvel was trying to cash in on the Civil Rights/Blaxploitation and feminism movements.

Throughout all of this is Stan Lee. Lee had his peaks and fallouts along with the comics. When the comics peaked in the 60's, Lee was the man creating the dialogue and stories. When comics bottomed out by the early 70's, Lee was nowhere to be found.

By the 80's roll along you have a group of new Kirby's and Ditko updating their work. Comics were once again on the rise but then you go back to the union talks and who really owned their work? That's where we see comics like Todd McFarlane fleeing Marvel to start their own publishing house for they could own their own work. Combine defections with bad business decisions and that's when Marvel almost collapse during the late 90's.

Throughout all of this is still Lee trying his hardest to bring Marvel comics to the big screen. He tried and tried for years until the early 2000's when his comics where finally turned into movies and Marvel was saved. And that's where the book ended.

This is a wonderful book if you're a comic book fan or not. The stories of the creations where great as well with the personal strife, peaks and valley's of comics and Marvel, and the people involved. What they need is a union.

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