Audiobook Review: Marvel Comics

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Audiobook Review: Marvel ComicsMarvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe
Narrator: Stephen Hoye
Length: 17 hrs, 52 mins
Published by Harper Audio on January 22, 2013
Genres: Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Publisher

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 co-created 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.

According to Goodreads, which likes to judge me for slowness, I’ve been reading Marvel Comics: The Untold Story since February 18th. Something taking me over a month to read is pretty much unprecedented, especially since I actually found this nonfiction audiobook pretty damn fascinating. What happened? Well, see, most of the chapters in Marvel Comics are an hour long on audio, and I typically just listen to 20-30 minutes as I get ready for bed at night or up in the morning. Stopping in the middle of a chapter is anathema to me, so finding sizable chunks of time to fit a chapter in was a serious pain.

I think most book bloggers have certain kinds of reviews they find really tough to write. Well, one of the kinds I really don’t know what to do with is non-fiction, but I’ll do my best, I guess. I can’t evaluate the accuracy of the info, because my only knowledge of Marvel going in was pretty much entirely limited to the film versions of their comics. I know you judge me comic book fans, but it’s impossible for me to read ALL of their stuff, so I can’t really read any of it.

If you want to know about Marvel, this is a great resource. Now, it doesn’t go very in depth into the comics, so if that’s what you want, look elsewhere. What Howe does is give the inside scoop on all of the office politics and drama, and, oh lord, was there a ton of it. Basically, I’m not convinced that Marvel was run by a bunch of petty backstabbers. The history is just battles between management and creators.

Oh, I’m also fairly certain that the comic book industry is where this stupid trope of characters dying and coming back to life, popping back into place like punching bags, came from. Not cool, comic books publishers. Other things that were not cool about comics: the racism and the treatment of women. Even more horrifying, there’s still so far to go on those portrayals. Like, at one point in the 1960s, they wanted to target a female audience, so they had men write some titles like Night Nurse and She-Devil. Yeah, they really understand women.

The thesis of Howe’s book seems to be the difficulty the comic book industry has had finding a niche. Marvel has been near bankruptcy a dozen times, but always managed to find a way back into the market. In modern times, film adaptations and merchandising are pulling Marvel through, but something else is needed in the future, as less people actually seem to be reading comics. Basically, the comic book industry, like the rest of publishing, has to plan for the future.

Stephen Hoye does a nice job narrating Marvel Comics, and it was pleasant to listen to, even though I would have gotten through faster with more chapter breaks. If you’ve ever been curious about the comic book industry from early days to the present day, Howe’s written a book just for you.

4 responses to “Audiobook Review: Marvel Comics”

  1. Michael Tate says:

    If Steve Ditko is not part of this story, then whats the use, it was his artwork that got me on the mantle “Make Mine Marvel” .. after his absence, it wasn’t till Steranko and Romita did I have a peak in interests,.. so if this book is about Lee and Kirby,.. then I will pass

    • Christina says:

      Steve Ditko’s definitely part of it, as are Lee and Kirby. Howe seems to have done a pretty good job representing everyone. Lee has a lot of focus, but he was also the only one employed throughout. Even so, when he moved to CA, he was hardly mentioned for a few hours of the audio. Steranko and Romita are definitely in it too. The scope is broad, and I wouldn’t call it the Lee and Kirby show. I think you’d like it. Plus, it didn’t seem like Howe was setting out to romanticize anyone.

  2. Audra says:

    Nice review — I find NF hard to review as well — is it about factchecking, etc? I can’t ever do audio books — I never have time to just listen to things!

  3. Bonnie R says:

    Non-Fiction is the worst to review and I typically avoid it all costs. I honestly have a hard time reviewing audiobooks too for some reason. Anyways, 18 hours is a crazy long audiobook and I wouldn’t have expected that considering the topic. I’m more interested in comic books themselves rather than the actual industry but it does still sound like an interesting read.

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