By Todd Allen

Sean Howe’s book Marvel Comics, The Untold Story gets double-duty today on Grantland, the ESPN-spin-off webside fronted by Bill “Sports Guy” Simmons.  The book is a warts and all history of Marvel and goes on sale on October 9th, so there may be a few more of these in the coming days as the hype machine builds up.

First off, there’s quite a lengthy excerpt about the transition from Stan Lee to Roy Thomas as Editor-In-Chief, the coming of Englehart/Gerber/Starlin, blaxploitation comics and a whole lot of drug use.  Here’s a particularly provocativene bit about Marvel’s initial (abortive) attempt to embrace feminism and draw in female readers:

Alas, the message of empowerment was lost on Wally Wood, whom Stan Lee hired to ink the cover of The Cat #1. Wood sent back Marie Severin’s pencil art with the heroine’s clothes completely removed, and Severin — who’d had more than her fill of boys’ club shenanigans over the years — had to white out the Cat’s nipples and pubic hair.

This doesn’t read like a book with an agenda, so much as a retelling of the oral history of Marvel.  In the excerpt, Howe quotes Roy Thomas, Roberta Goodman (the wife of Martin Goodman’s son Chip), Don McGregor, Steve Englehart, Gerry Conway, Steve Gerber, Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin and John Romita (Sr.).  I encourage you to have a look at the excerpt and get a taste for it’s flavor.  It’s long enough for you to tell whether or not you’re interested in the book.

Then there’s the PodCast.  Howe turns up on a 50 minute installment of Grantland’s Hollywood Prospectus.  The talk is mostly about Stan Lee the myth vs. Stan Lee the reality.  You also might recall Grantland had a lengthy piece on this back in May.  The chat meanders from Stan to Marvel’s cosmic turn in the 70s to the cosmic stuff being planned as the next step in the film franchise to a quandary of how people are supposed to start reading comics if they’re only in comic shops.  It ends on a slightly bittersweet note.

Both are interesting, both are worthwhile.  My only complaint is that the book (thus most of the material in the podcast) ends with the debut of the first Spider-Man film.  The juicier bits lie after that point and would have to be part of a future volume.


  1. I don’t know … I’m acquainted with a couple of old-time Marvel staffers, and they have some interesting tall tales about the 1970s Bullpen. Long before the era of political correctness … Some of that stuff would probably make for racy reading.

  2. I spent the train ride home from Asbury Park getting some of the secret history of Marvel from a longtime staffer.

    Howe was signing copies of this book at the Brooklyn Book Festival. I wonder what his panel appearance was?

    There is an e-book, which should make for easier searching.

  3. All the “we were on drugs, hur hur” stuff is arch and tiresome, especially as the comics concerned are notable mainly for their authors’ self-indulgence. Read the book? Of course.

  4. Stan Lee’s passionate letter, spending two paragraphs comparing all the newer publishers to Nazis, is one of the greatest things I have ever read.

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