Newest Review: ... books scores well is in the range of its coverage. Most people (myself included) will probably be most familiar with Marvel from the 196... more
A Real Marvel?
Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History - Tom DeFalco
Member Name: SWSt
Marvel Chronicle: A Year by Year History - Tom DeFalco
Advantages: Very attractive external presentation, a wealth of interesting facts
Disadvantages: A little too much company history, disappointing used of images, slightly dull text
When it comes to getting their characters into the public consciousness, Marvel have had a great deal of success recently thanks to the popularity of films like Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and, of course, The Avengers. Such exposure is likely to whet the appetite of audiences for more information on those heroes and the company behind them. Which is where this book comes in.
As its name suggests, Marvel Chronicle takes a chronological look at Marvel's development. Chapters essentially cover a single decade with a double-page spread devoted to each year. Entries focus on specific months that were significant in that year, with a time-bar down the side highlighting key events from the "real world". Some of these are major (the end of WWII), others more frivolous (the most popular films from that year). All of this information combines to present not just a comprehensive view of the company and how its roster of characters grew, but also how real world events impacted on the comic world.
First things first: this is a seriously big book and not one that you will want to lug around. It's intended as a coffee table book; something that you pick up and browse or read in small chunks. In this sense, it's very successful: it's one of those books that if you leave it lying around, your friends will find it hard to resist flicking. Digested in small chunks like this it's interesting, informative and entertaining - just don't try to read it all in one go.
Where the books scores well is in the range of its coverage. Most people (myself included) will probably be most familiar with Marvel from the 1960s onwards (the period which gave birth to its most well-known characters). This chronicle gives a much wider perspective; highlighting Marvel's origins through to its massive success and near-bankruptcy in the 1990s. As such, it's bound to contain new information for all but the most ardent of fans.
The entries themselves are generally short - often no more than a single paragraph, which is fine for the reader who just wants to find out the basics (which is what this book is intended to provide). The text generally is competently written without being particularly inspiring. Unlike similar books I didn't get any sense of passion from the author for the subject matter. The text was perfectly readable and contained some interesting nuggets, but it gave the impression that the author was merely doing a job they had been commissioned to do, rather than it being a labour of love (ironic since main author Tom DeFalco is a comic book writer and Mavel man through and through).
This left some sections feeling slightly dull and turgid. This was compounded by the curious decision to focus large parts of the text on the Marvel the company, rather than its roster of heroes and villains. One of the chapters from the 1950s, for example, goes into great detail on how a distribution deal went sour for Atlas Comics (Marvel's predecessor), resulting in its collapse. Whilst this obviously had major repercussions for the company, it's not really a subject which is going to be of interest to most readers. Surely they are interested in the Marvel characters - particularly the superhero explosion of the 1960s. Indeed, it's noticeable that when the book moves onto this period, it becomes far more interesting.
From a presentational point of view, the publishers have really gone to town. My edition came with a cardboard sleeve decorated with images of some of Marvel's most loved characters in black and white pencil style drawings. Take the book out of its sleeve and you see the same image rendered in colour. The front cover is cut into the shape of a great big M (just in case you were in any doubt about that it was about!). It's really eye-catching stuff designed to make you want to pick it up and browse it.
It's a shame that this level of presentation isn't carried into the main body of the book. I expected the pages to explode with large colourful images, some taken from original comics, others created especially for the book. Surprisingly, the pages almost seem muted (not a word you normally associate with Marvel!). Images are quite small, often little more than thumbnails and, in the early stages at least, of comic book covers rather than actual characters. There's an odd selection of artwork, too and I was often left feeling that the very best representations of various characters have not been selected. The odd full two page colour spread is welcome but again, the selection is a little uneven. It's not always clear whether there is a reason why that particular cover or set of panels has been chosen (is it an important issue in that character's development? Is it an especially fine representation of the character?)
It's a shame that things like this let the publication down a little bit, because whilst on the whole it is a good read, I was left with the feeling it could have been even better. I've read the DC equivalent of this found it superior. Initially, I out this down to the fact that I am more of a DC fan than a Marvel one, and so am more familiar with the company's output. On reflection, though, this should make the Marvel edition more interesting, because a greater percentage of the information was new to me. As it is, a couple of poor design and editorial decisions let things down a little.
Marvel may have had more success in the film arena, but when it comes to tie-in books, DC arguably does it better. There's nothing inherently wrong with Marvel Chronicle - indeed it gets a lot right - it's just that with a little more care this could have been an essential purchase; as it is it's merely a pretty good one. The book has gone through various editions and been updated a number of times since first publication. A new copy of the most recent edition will cost around £25 which is a bit steep. If you're not bothered about your book being bang up to date, you can pick up earlier editions for around a tenner.
Dorling Kindersley, 2010
© Copyright SWSt 2013
Summary: Despite some weaknesses, it's still well worth buying if you want to know more about Marvel
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