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Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Reader's Diary #1856- Sean Howe: Marvel Comics the Untold Story

Despite raking in billions for every movie they produce, Marvel Studios has its share of critics as well as a few problems on the horizon:
  • As many of the actors are aging, retiring, what should be done with their characters- retired/killed off? Replaced with new actors? Replaced with new characters?
  • They've been predominately led by straight, white males
  • The expanded (and expanding) universe creates a logistical nightmare for producers and directors who need to balance universe story arcs and canon with creating standalone films
  • Deaths are meaningless

While Sean Howe's Marvel Comics The Untold Story was published in 2012, just 6 films in and with 13 (to date) that would follow, it's fascinating to see how nearly identical issues have plagued the comic publisher for most of its existence. And, noting how circular the issues seem to be, it's arguable that they've never struck upon a solution that have pleased everyone, inside nor outside.

The similarities between the studio and the publisher issues, it could be argued, could even be transferred to the life of any branded, long lasted company. There are always ebbs and flows and those in charge will react appropriately or not depending on one's point of view. Indeed, Howe's book wouldn't be a bad read for those without any real in interest in comics as long as they had some interest in business. Of course, if you're a comics fan like me, you'll like that angle more and I took particular delight whenever there was mention of a new character being created.

For the most part I'd say that Howe's treatment of the publisher and the creators involved was pretty objective. While many Marvel fans, perhaps owing to the comics' good vs. evil dichotomy, have chosen sides in particular between Stan Lee vs. Steve Ditko/ Jack Kirby, Howe supplies enough quotes and history to treat all those involved fairly. Their relationships were, like any relationships, complicated; by time, egos, memory, outside influences, communication failures, and so on. Neither party could be fairly depicted as the villain nor the hero. That said, I think Rob Liefeld and Todd McFarlane come across less likeable or balanced. I don't know if it was some of Howe's bias coming through (to be fair, I wasn't a fan of either before starting the book either), if they are genuinely not nice people, or if there just wasn't time, nor space to get into their motivations as thoroughly as the aforementioned creators (Lee, Ditko, and Kirby had been there from the beginning while Liefeld's and McFarlane's tenures were mere blips in comparison-- important blips, but blips in any case).

I would still like another edition to get Howe's insight on how the last six years have shaken things up. What, if any, impact have the movies made on the comics? How has social media and the toxic fandom vs. social justice warrior debates been felt? What about digital comics and their effect on print sales, stores?

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