In 1961, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby created The Fantastic Four and changed comic books forever. In the five decades since, Marvel Comics has become a multimedia empire of thousands of characters, hundreds of comics and hundreds of millions of dollars. But how it got there, and where it went along the way, wasn’t always pretty. In what will no doubt become an indispensable volume for comics fans and pop culture junkies alike, Sean Howe explores the wild, often messy story of the people who made Marvel what it is today. This is Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.
This year, Stephen King returns to the Dark Tower series with a new installment, The Wind Through the Keyhole. The book hits stores next Tuesday, but our Matthew Jackson got an advance look. Hit the jump to find out whether or not you should pick up King’s latest.
Author’s Note: I know, I know, this thing came out almost a month ago, but like many of you, I waited six damn years for it, so rather than plow through it in the interest of getting a review posted, I decided to savor it.
When the last volume of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, A Feast For Crows, was published in 2005, readers immediately began clamoring for the next book with the normal fury of fantasy fans. But this fury was exacerbated by Martin’s announcement that what they were reading was only half the story. A Feast For Crows grew so prodigiously during the writing of it that Martin split his narrative in twain, and sent the storylines of many fan favorite characters – among them Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow – into the next volume, A Dance with Dragons.
Years went by, and Martin continually promised that the book was on its way, and as those years stretched on some readers became downright nasty about wanting the next book right damn now. Martin was forced to defend himself publicly and still endure the wrath of internet trolls who continually implored him to just sit down and type them damn thing already, as if it were that simple.
Reading A Dance with Dragons, you become grateful that you only had to wait six years. Not only is the book a mammoth of a tome (it’s the second longest in the series and still clocks in at well over 900 pages), but it’s also easily the densest, most lushly plotted book of Martin’s career. At the close of this sweeping, multi continent, cast of thousands narrative filled with death, glory, travels and flights, you’ll be amazed that it didn’t take 20 years to write, and you’ll be convinced that a lesser writer could never have done it.
If you were to make a list of every successful mainstream comics writer of the past 20 years, then whittle that list down to the select few that have truly owned the medium, you’d still have a pretty hefty set of names. Grant Morrison would be on that list, as would Alan Moore, Jeph Loeb, Bill Willingham, Warren Ellis, Garth Ennis, Matt Fraction, Neil Gaiman, Brian Michael Bendis and maybe even J. Michael Straczynski. If you were to then ask yourself, really ask yourself, who among these titans of comics has the best grasp on the tangible and often mystical pull of superhero comics, Morrison would stand alone.
It’s not that the others don’t understand superheroes. Their work is proof that they do, but Morrison has a peculiar habit of revitalizing and reinventing superheroes throughout mainstream comics while somehow still staying true to who and what they are. He made the Justice of League of American a pantheon of Olympians watching the Earth from above, then went to Marvel and restored the X-Men to their former glory. Then he turned his eyes on Superman and transformed him from the Big Blue Boy Scout to a sacrificial sun god. Through all of this, he never seems to betray the characters. He revels in them, celebrates their legacy, and adds his own thoroughly original pieces.
Supergods may not be Morrison’s last word on the power and glory of superheroes, but it is his most fully formed. Drawing on his decades as both a comics fan and writer, exhaustive (and probably lifelong) research into the creation of the world’s most influential superheroes and his own approach when it came to writing some of his most memorable work, it’s part treatise, part memoir and part master plan for understanding why superheroes are not just read about, but worshipped.
American Gods isn’t a book that really needs to be reviewed anymore. Upon its release in 2001 it promptly won nearly every award in the known universe for speculative fiction, sold millions of copies and insured that Neil Gaiman would no longer belong only to the nerds (though he was our’s first). Apart from being one of the most acclaimed books of its time and a watershed moment in the career of its author, it also remains a landmark work of modern fantasy, a haunting journey into the landscape of myth in America. Today William Morrow is releasing its Tenth Anniversary Edition of American Gods, featuring 12,000 previously cut words and several pages of special features, including a new introduction by Gaiman. A reason is never needed to pick up a great book again, but a new edition of one of the best fantasies in a decade serves as a reminder that while American Gods may no longer need reviewing, it’s always worth revisiting.