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Top Books About Comic Books, Superheroes and Comic Book Creators!
Top Books about Superheroes, Comic Books and Their Creators!
Whether it is Superman or Spider-Man, Batman or the X-Men, superheroes and their comic-book world are almost everywhere in today's society. Once dismissed as pap for little boys, the genre has in recent decades become the subject of many serious and not-so-serious books.
The books include a recent history of Marvel Comics, and a ''biography'' of Superman, among many others.
If you are a comic book fan interested in the creators of comic books and the industry itself, here are some suggested books for you to read.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - Fascinating Behind The Scenes History of the Marvel Age!
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story by Sean Howe is an absolute must-read for any comic-book fan. The result of more than 100 interviews, the book details the excitement and giddiness of the early 1960s beginning of the Marvel Age of comics; the 1970s time of experimentation; the Jim Shooter era; and, alas, the corporate dominance of the creative process during the last two decades.
It's a hell of a ride, full of insight and anecdotes that will excite any fan. The stories behind the departures of Steve Ditko, Spider-Man's co-creator, and Jack Kirby, co-creator of the Fantastic Four and many others, from Marvel are fairly well-known, but the section on the 1970s detail many behind-the-scenes conflicts and actions that may be brand new -- or at least not familiar to many people.
Howe delves into Steve Englehart's work on Captain America and the Avengers in the 1970s; Don McGregor's Panther's Rage saga in Jungle Action; the reasons why Roy Thomas and Steve Gerber, among others, left the company; and much more in clear and sometimes bitter and raw accounts.
He is fair about the Shooter era of the 1980s, when as editor-in-chief Shooter was a hated figure as he tried to bring some order to an editorial department run amok. I think Shooter looks better and better when compared to what came after his departure.
The saddest section of the book is the last, which focuses on the 1990s and 2000s when the corporate ownership placed more value on the characters as franchise opportunities for movies and television, downgrading the importance of the actual comic books and allowing the marketing department to have too much of a say on the stories being told.
There is also a sad undertone to the way many of the writers and artists -- you know, the people who actually created the stories -- were treated over the years. For much of the period covered by the book, the writers and artists were work-for-hire so they never reaped the profits of their creations as movie, TV and merchandise opportunities became important. Some were simply dumped or forced out when editors decided their work was no longer selling.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who grew up reading Marvel Comics.
Comic-Con and the Business of Pop Culture - A Sad and Frightening Look at the Industry Today!
The author of this book, Rob Salkowitz, is a business consultant and expert of digital media, and he gives an eyewitness account of the San Diego Comic-Con in 2011 while providing an analysis of what ails the industry and what challenges it faces in the near future.
The main problem: a hard-core fan base that is reactionary to change and isn't particularly female friendly, but that also isn't providing the big money the industry craves. The big payoff is in licensing, and the movies, but the comic book industry has an antiquated distribution system tied to small comic book stores that cater to these hard-core fans.
And these fans are very devoted to the way things were, and can make or break a movie at the box office, for instance. So while business trends seem to be pointing toward going all digital (the younger generation are just as happy to read the tales on their electronic devices), Marvel Comics and DC Comics are struggling to move into the future without destroying the industry's base.
Is it really possible someday that there will be no such thing as physical comic books? Salkowitz raises the possibility of comics being print-on-demand products, and those fans who want an actual paper product can visit their comic book store and have it printed out right there.
As one of those old-time fans who really can't see himself enjoying comics on a laptop, I was left with a real uneasiness by this book. If you enjoy comic books you should read it yourself.
Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? - A Great Compendium of Comic Book Trivia!
Author Brian Cronin has compiled a treasure trove of facts and opinions about comic books , organized into lists with titles including ''Ten Crazy Items Found on Batman's Utility Belt,'' ''Four Strange Moments in Star Wars Comic Book History,'' and the ''Five Best Superman References on Seinfeld.''
That's not to say there aren't more serious topics, such as underrated comic book artists of the 1960s (including Frank Thorne), the top five comic book storylines and even the ten highest-grossing comic book movies of all time (2008's The Dark Knight, whether adjusted for inflation or not!).
This is a real treat for any fan of comic books, and it's hard to capture just how wide-ranging the lists here are. Bands that got their names from comics? Celebrities who guest-starred in comics without their permission? Most iconic Marvel Comics panels? This book has them.
I especially got a kick out of the lists of strange comic book ads from various decades -- the X-ray vision glasses and hypno-coins, the Hostess pies comic strips, etc. They seem so silly looking back, but when I was a kid they seemed pretty darn cool.
This book goes by very fast, because it is hard to put down. Trust me when I say there's something in here for any comic book fan!
Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman! - The Little-Told Tale of the Little-Known Batman Writer
This is the sad story of Bill Finger, the man who many now accept was the main creator of Batman. Finger designed the costume, created the origin, added Robin and even named the Batmobile. But readers won't find his name anywhere on the superhero's comic books or movie titles. Why?
That's the tale that this illustrated book tells. Finger, an easygoing, genial sort, fell in with Bob Kane, whose name DOES appear on every book that Batman appears in. It seems Kane was a comic-book artist who was asked to create a superhero in a weekend soon after Superman proved to be a success. He needed help and turned to his old buddy, Finger.
Finger gave him pretty much all the essentials, but when Kane went to the publisher on Monday he took all the credit. And later insisted on a contract that gave him exclusive rights to be called the creator of Batman -- even while Finger was writing the comic books anonymously for him!
The book is told in large panel illustrations that seem to carry a sadness whenever Finger is present. He seemed one of those people in life who seemed destined to be taken advantage of by the Bob Kanes of the world.
I highly recommend this book.
Superman: America's Most Enduring Hero! - A History of the First Superhero!
Superman was the first superhero when he burst onto the scene in 1938, and over the decades he has become one of the most recognized fictional characters of all time. Really, is there anyone who hasn't heard of Superman?
Author Larry Tye does a yeoman's job in detailing the creation of Superman and the many ways he has appeared in the media in the last eight decades or so. His recounting of how Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, two teenagers in Cleveland, developed Superman is familiar, because that story has been told many times.
More interesting is the story behind "Adventures of Superman," the 1950s television series starring George Reeves and the behind-the-scene tales of the 1970s blockbuster Superman: The Movie, starring Christopher Reeve. In both cases Tye includes details that I haven't seen elsewhere. He also discusses the "Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman" and "Smallville," two more recent television series that focused on different aspects of the character.
But the spine of the story is the comic book, of course, and he does a nice job in explaining how Superman's adventures change with the times. In the beginning he fought ruthless landlords etc, then World War II began so he fought Nazi spies. In the 1950s the tales were far more lighthearted, befitting the times, and he grew so powerful that writers turned to ''imaginary stories'' just to have something new to say. In the 1970s there was an attempt to make him more mortal, then a complete reboot in the 1980s. And, of course, in the 1990s the company successfully reignited interest in Superman by killing him, creating a media sensation. Don't worry -- he got better.
This is a really fun book that any fan of Superman or comic books would enjoy.
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko - A Biography of Spider-Man's Co-Creator
Steve Ditko was one of the premiere comic-book artists of the 1960s. He created the look of Spider-Man, then helped develop the character's world and even plotted many of the early stories. But he walked away from the comic book after issue No. 38, a move that highlighted the artist's enigmatic career.
Strange and Stranger: The World of Steve Ditko captures the artist's career in a well-told tale that contains many of his gorgeous illustrations. It is well worth reading. I have written a separate review of the book here if you want more information, or you can click below to buy it:
Spider-Man Co-Creator Steve Ditko: Strange and Stranger Book Review
Strange and Stranger: the World of Steve Ditko was published in 2008 by Fantagraphics Books. Author Blake Bell traces the life story of this legendary and re...
Men of Tomorrow - A History of the Publishers and Sci-Fi Geeks Who Created the Comic Book Industry!
Gerard Jones' Men of Tomorrow is great book for anybody interested in how the comic book industry began and how it grew over the decades after Superman first appeared.
The story of the Cleveland teenagers who invented Superman -- writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster -- form the spine of the book, and their tale is probably familiar to most people who have read anything about comic book history. But Jones also tells the story of publisher Harry Donenfeld and partner Jack Liebowitz, who took the chance of the superhero (and won big!).
The story also details what life was like for Jewish boys growing up in New York during the early part of the 20th century, as many of the comic book publishers did. It tells about the birth of science fiction, fandom and geek culture, and how many of those who grew out of that culture were exploited and destroyed by the publishers.
Jones' narrative thrust peters out after the 1950s, as the main people involved in the industry's founding begin to die off. And the last chapter, which talks about the industry since the 1980s is pretty much a waste. Even so, this is a book well worth reading.
Which Book Sounds The Most Interesting?
The Secret History of Marvel Comics
If you are interested in Marvel Comics' early artists and the work they did in pulp magazines this book will be a lot of fun for you.
Martin Goodman, the publisher of Marvel Comics (and its predecessors from the 1930s through 1950s), had a very large pulp magazine range as well. This book spends the first third of the book detailing this pulp history, with a lot of ins and outs on which magazines were being published when.
But the best part of the book is the last two-thirds, which is turned over to the number of comic-book artists that also moonlighted as pulp artists. If you are a fan of Jack Kirby, John Severin, Carl Burgos, Gene Colan, among many others, you will be able to see some of their work that you may never have seen before!
Comic Book Nation - A Thorough But Slightly Unsatisfying History
Bradford W. Wright, the author of Comic Book Nation, tells us in the preface and introduction that he was a fan of comic books and that the research he did for this book was fun. Maybe so, but it doesn't translate onto the pages.
Make no mistake: This is a meticulously researched book and tells the history of the comic book industry from the 1930s to the 1980s in a very through and complete way. It is very good at explaining the ebb and flow of the popularity of the comics, and how they influenced society and were influenced by it.
But it's not a fun read. Wright sees the history as one long slog from sexism to racism to violence to imperialism to jingoism to over-the-top anti-communism back to racism and sexism etc. Yes, some comic books in any period reflected the worst impulses of society -- Do African tribes really need white women heroes in leopard skins to save the day? Did the crime stories of the 1940s and early 1950s have to be so violent? Did some comic books in their anti-communist enthusiasm play down the risks of atomic war.
Of course. But surely there was a lot of joy, fun and amazement in the comic books over the decades as well, right? How else did they become so popular? Why did Wright himself enjoy reading them?
If you can set aside the relentless negativity you will learn a lot about the comic book industry. But then go read a fun book to remind yourself why you enjoy comics. Or even better, pick up a collection of comics.
Captain America's 1960s Adventures in Color: A Marvel Comics Review
Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Volume 1 reprints the superhero's adventures in Tales of Suspense No. 59-81 in full color. This was Captain America's fir...
Marvel Masterworks X-Men Comic Book Review: Enter the Phoenix! Plus Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler!
This volume reprints Uncanny X-Men No. 101-110 in full color, a collection of 10 comics during a run that really established the new X-Men as a major franchi...
The Mighty Thor Debuts: Highlights of His First Marvel Masterworks Collection
Thor, one of Marvel Comics' mightiest heroes, debuted 50 years ago in a comic book called Journey into Mystery. One of the Marvel Universe's earliest charact...
X-Men Reborn in the 1970s: Storm and Nightcrawler Debut, plus Wolverine!
Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men Vol. 1 highlights the rebirth of the team in 1975-1976, reprinting Giant-Size X-Men No. 1 and X-Men No. 94-100. Promote...
The Amazing Spider-Man Debuts! A Marvel Masterworks Comic Book Review
Marvel Comics began publishing its Marvel Masterworks series in 1987 with The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1, among others. Since then the company has come out wi...
The Avengers Debut! A Comic Book Review of the Marvel Masterworks Collection!
The Avengers Volume 1 was one of the first four collections when Marvel Comics began publishing its Marvel Masterworks series in 1987. Since then the company...
The X-Men in the Early 1970s: Neal Adams' Dynamic Art
Marvel Essential Classic X-Men volume 3 is a real hodge-podge of stories that shows just how far below the radar screen the original X-Men had fallen in the ...
Marvel Essential Fantastic Four Comic Book Review: Dr. Doom and Daredevil Guest Star as the Legend Grows!
The Fantastic Four rocked the comic-book world when it debuted in 1961, with writer Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby introducing more characterization and real...
Captain America in the 1960s: A Marvel Comic Book Review
Marvel Essential Captain America Volume 1 reprints Captain America's stories from Tales of Suspense No. 59-99 as well as the first three issues of the newly-...
Spider-Man in the 1970s! A Marvel Comics Book Review
The Essential Spider-Man Vol. 8 contains issues No. 161-185 of the Amazing Spider-Man series, plus Nova issue No. 12 and the Amazing Spider-Man Annual No. 11...
The Ghost Rider Debuts! A Marvel Comic Book Review
The Marvel Essential series contains four volumes devoted to the Ghost Rider superhero, who first appeared in 1972 in a comic book called Marvel Spotlight. H...
The Fantastic Four Debuts! A Marvel Essentials Comic Book Review
The Essential Fantastic Four Volume 1 contains some of the most important stories that Marvel Comics ever published. This book contains the first 20 issues o...
Hulk in the 1970s! The Rampaging Hulk Marvel Essential Comic Book Review
Marvel Essential: The Rampaging Hulk 1 is a collection of Hulk stories from his short-lived late 1970s magazine. This volume includes the tales from issues 1...
Marvel Essential Fantastic Four: Galactus, Silver Surfer and the Black Panther Debut!
Marvel Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 3 contains perhaps the most-sustained run of great comic book stories of the 1960s. This collection of Fantastic Four No...
Essential Iron Fist: A Marvel Comic Book Review!
Essential Iron Fist Volume 1 collects the first four years' worth of Marvel comics starring the character, who debuted in 1974 during a martial arts craze. T...
Spider-Man's Earliest Adventures: A Review of Marvel Comics' Essential Spider-Man Vol. 1
Marvel Essential Spider-Man Volume 1 contains the debut story of Marvel Comics' most-popular character, who first appeared 50 years ago in the summer of 1962...
The Avengers in the Late 1960s: A Marvel Comics Review!
Marvel Essential: Avengers Vol. 3 contains issues 47 to 68 of the comic's original series, as well as Avengers Annual No. 2. For the most part this collectio...
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man: A Review of the 1970s Marvel Comics Series!
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man first appeared at the end of 1976, and was a comic book aimed at cashing in on the growing popularity of Spider-Man....
Marvel Essential X-Men Comic Book Review: Wolverine, Storm and a Return to Greatness!
Marvel Essential X-Men collects Giant-Size X-Men 1 and X-Men 94-119. Giant-Size X-Men No. 1 introduced the new team of superheroes, reviving the X-Men comic....
Growing Up With Spider-Man: The Day Gwen Stacy Died
Spider-Man's girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, died 40 years ago this summer, marking the end of one era in comic books and introducing a realism into the lives of sup...
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