Read along at home!  Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe, and Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon, both available from Amazon.


ITEM! I suppose it was naive of me to expect the “Marvel Bullpen” to even remotely resemble the freewheeling, collaborative vibe that was sold to us through house ads and fan club records.  The home of Smilin’ Stan, Jolly Jack, Sturdy Steve, Jovial John, and all those other alliterative nicknames always seemed so inviting, like a clubhouse full of pals who just wanted to make comics to make you happy.

Oh, the older I got, I knew that there were rumblings of discontent; of writers annoyed at editorial interference, of general dissatisfaction with Jim Shooter, of the inexcusable refusal to return original art to creators, so they could maybe make a bit of extra money to make up for the royalties they didn’t get.

But I still held onto the illusion that these were isolated incidents, that overall, Marvel was still a pretty Merry place to work.  If I wanted to hold onto that, I shouldn’t have read Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.  Because the big takeaway from that is that, from Timely Comics in the 1930s, to the Disney-owned behemoth of today, there has never been a time when the atmosphere at Marvel hasn’t been in some way toxic to creators.

It’s tempting to point fingers at the best living link to the early days of comics, Stan, “The Man,” himself.  What’s more important to me, though, is getting other creators the same recognition – and the same security in their old age.  There are few creators left from those days, and they deserve better than they’ve gotten.

(You really want to have your heart broken?  Read about what happened to Bill Mantlo, beloved longtime writer of titles such as Micronauts and ROM.)

Other than making me feel guilty about seeing The Avengers, I highly recommend the book.  If I have one complaint, it has more to do with The Big Two’s dominance of the industry; when Kirby leaves Marvel to create the Fourth World Saga for DC, for example, he basically drops out of the narrative until his return to Marvel.  A companion piece focused on Marvel’s Distinguished Competition would be welcome.

But, yeah, don’t immediately follow it up with Superman: The Untold Story.  Read a few Walking Dead comics in between; that’ll be less depressing.

Writing this comic led us into a deeper comics-based conversation, some of which will be the subject of our next two strips.  If you’ve ever doubted my ability to blither about Superman, you’re about to be proven wrong, True Believer! Excelsior!