New book tells forgotten tale of Brooklynite who founded Marvel Comics

New book tells forgotten tale of Brooklynite who founded Marvel Comics
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

The Brooklynite who founded Marvel Comics only got a one-paragraph tribute from the company he created when he died in 1992 — but now the incredible story of his life and achievements is getting the recognition it deserves.

Martin Goodman was a working class Brooklyn kid who launched the biggest name in comics and tasked his wife’s nephew, a junior editor named Stan Lee, to come up with a superhero team better known today as The Fantastic Four.

That hiring decision gave rise to a big bang of creativity that soon brought Spider-Man, Iron Man, the Hulk, and thousands of other characters into the world.

But his legacy was largely overlooked until Prospect Heights resident Sean Howe realized Goodman’s historic contributions while researching his upcoming book “Marvel Comics: the Untold Story.”

“When Goodman died, there was just a paragraph-long notice in the Marvel publicity letter. It was listed underneath a much bigger obituary for William Gaines, who was one of the Mad magazine founders,” said Howe, who uses the perfunctory, one-paragraph obituary in the official Marvel newsletter to close one of the saddest chapters of his text.

Goodman was an unlikely hero, quitting school in the fifth grade to help his parents and 12 siblings in Brooklyn make ends meet, rising from poverty during the Great Depression, starting the world’s largest comic book publisher from a cramped office in Manhattan.

And he didn’t just sit back and maneuver the purse strings. Goodman had final approval for all covers for decades, and deftly pushed the company to explore genres such as horror and romance.

The strange saga of Goodman’s anti-climatic death is just one of the once untold stories found in Howe‘s book. Through three years of research, Howe stitches together the tale of how impoverished child prodigies, hallucinating peaceniks, and mercenary careerists helped Marvel weather Wall Street machinations, Hollywood failures, and the collapse of the comic book market.

Howe captures the often volatile world of hero-and-villain makers.

While the recent ballooning movie budgets and story lines that have pitted hero against hero would surprise Goodman if he were alive, he would surely recognize the never-ending battles between writers, artists, and editors. Throughout the book, it’s like Howe is putting a glass to the door at Marvel’s old offices on Madison Avenue and letting us listen in as the drama plays out like an issue of Chris Claremont’s theatrical run on the X-Men in the 1980s.

“I think there may be a certain type of person creating superhero stories with a streak of idealism in them,” Howe said. “I wouldn’t explain everything away with that, but it’s not that much of a leap to think that someone who is creating stories about characters that are fighting for values would be willing to wage a war for their own values.”

Sean Howe, author of “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” at powerHouse Arena [27 Main St. in DUMBO, (718) 666–3049]. Oct. 9, 7–9 pm.