Comic Book Club: Marvel Comics – The Untold Story (Part 4)

Welcome to week four of Comic Book Club! Each week, we will be covering a section of Sean Howe’s novel Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. This week, we are discussing Part IV: Boom and Bust (p. 301-376).

Highlights from this section include:

  • Jim Shooter is replaced in the Editor-in-Chief position by his second in command, Tom DeFalco, who inherits a divided staff. Relying on his instincts as an editor, his reign is one in which the editorial side were the franchise caretakers who would often overrule the creators.
  • New World Entertainment struggles to capitalize on Marvel properties and ends up selling the company to Revlon chairman Ron Perelman. The change in management would lead to a profit-chasing model that would dominate over the next several years.
  • An artists revolution would soon occur as Art Adams paved the way for other detail-oriented, dynamic artists to arrive on the scene and dominate the sales landscape. This would eventually lead to a speculator-driven market with a series of high profile launches on artist-driven comics like Spider-Man #1, X-Force #1, and X-Men #1.
  • Carol Kalish seeks a new innovation with a special cover with foil ink for Spider-Man #1 in order to build a relationship with retailers who would get the direct market exclusive variant. Eventually, this practice spins out of control as gimmick covers with inflated prices flood the market.
  • With Bob Harras in charge of the X-Men line, Chris Claremont is essentially pushed off the X-Men comics after leading the franchise for 16 years.
  • Frustrated with work-for-hire arrangements and wanting a bigger piece of the pie, superstar artists Rob Liefeld, Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Marc Silvestri, and Whilce Portacio collectively leave Marvel to launch a new competitor, Image Comics.
  • Facing rapid sales success, Marvel makes a series of ill-advised purchases such as Fleer, Toy Biz, Skybox, and eventually their own distributer, Heroes World.
  • In 1994, Jack Kirby passes away after a long and heartbreaking career in comics.
  • Seeking to remove DeFalco’s interference in communication between the higher-ups and the editors, Terry Stewart replaces him with five Editors-in-Chief who operate side by side and control their own line of comics. Eventually, Bob Harras becomes the sole EiC after this experiment fails.
  • Jerry Calabrese replaces Terry Stewart as president. One of his first major moves is the controversial decision to cancel and relaunch the Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America books under the Heroes Reborn banner. These books are completely created and overseen by Rob Liefeld and Jim Lee on the West Coast.
  • A combination of speculator-driven stunts, late shipping comics, and distribution problems lead to industry to contract as half of the retailers in the nation end up closing and Marvel has to cut 40% of their workforce.

Here are some possible starter questions for our discussion: 

What stands out to you about this era of comics? What behind-the-scenes stories shock you to this day? Of the comics covered here, what are your personal favorites? What supplemental media would you recommend from this era?

Upcoming Discussions:

  • February 5th – Part V: A New Marvel (p. 377-434)