A simultaneously wide-ranging and engagingly specific guide to the sprawling realm of comics culture.



A deep dive into the overarching, decadeslong narrative of Marvel superhero comics.

Wolk, author of the Eisner Award–winning Reading Comics, writes effusively about “the longest continuous, self-contained work of fiction ever created: over half a million pages to date, and growing,” and he delivers an interpretive guide to the thousands of comics that Marvel has published since 1961. The author moves between this multilayered comic-world narrative and the behind-the-scenes timeline of the once-marginal company and its pop-culture DNA, forged by brilliant eccentrics Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, and Mike Ditko. Kirby and Ditko eventually parted acrimoniously from wordsmith and showman Lee, though not before establishing bold visual and textual templates that later artists acknowledged. “Stan Lee’s words,” writes Wolk, “from early Marvel comics became the toys of the writers who followed in his path.” In most chapters, the author focuses on prominent tentpoles like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, and the Avengers. He assembles a critical narrative by linking contemporary issues to earlier decades and tracking the shuffles of artists and writers, recently emphasizing diverse younger talents. As one writer noted about collaboration on X-Men as it gained prominence, “such sparks as there were came about largely from us banging into each other.” In the 1970s, writes Wolk, “Marvel’s second-tier titles were subject to constant creative shuffling,” a process that produced complex crossovers between series amid larger patterns of “retroactive continuity.” But crossovers aren’t always welcome: “There’s a popular conception among irritable mainstream comics readers that crossovers wreck the flow of ongoing series.” Wolk breaks up his narrative analysis with “Interlude” chapters regarding business and cultural issues, noting how comics have pinballed among a variety of audiences: adolescents, comic collectors, film buffs, and more. The author’s exhaustive and mostly uncritical approach will appeal to those who share his passion for this self-sustaining superhero culture, understanding that “in a story as big as Marvel’s, everythingcan be a reference to the past.”

A simultaneously wide-ranging and engagingly specific guide to the sprawling realm of comics culture.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2216-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2021

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A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

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An account of the last gasps of the Trump administration, completing a trilogy begun with Fear (2018) and Rage (2020).

One of Woodward and fellow Washington Post reporter Costa’s most memorable revelations comes right away: Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, calling his counterpart in Beijing to assure him that even after Jan. 6 and what Milley saw as an unmistakable attempt at a coup d’état, he would keep Trump from picking a war with China. This depiction has earned much attention on the talking-heads news channels, but more significant is its follow-up: Milley did so because he was concerned that Trump “might still be looking for what Milley called a ‘Reichstag moment.’ ” Milley emerges as a stalwart protector of the Constitution who constantly courted Trump’s ire and yet somehow survived without being fired. No less concerned about Trump’s erratic behavior was Paul Ryan, the former Speaker of the House, who studied the psychiatric literature for a big takeaway: “Do not humiliate Trump in public. Humiliating a narcissist risked real danger, a frantic lashing out if he felt threatened or criticized.” Losing the 2020 election was one such humiliation, and Woodward and Costa closely track the trajectory of Trump’s reaction, from depression to howling rage to the stubborn belief that the election was rigged. There are a few other modest revelations in the book, including the fact that Trump loyalist William Barr warned him that the electorate didn’t like him. “They just think you’re a fucking asshole,” Barr told his boss. That was true enough, and the civil war that the authors recount among various offices in the White House and government reveals that Trump’s people were only ever tentatively his. All the same, the authors note, having drawn on scores of “deep background” interviews, Trump still has his base, still intends vengeance by way of a comeback, and still constitutes the peril of their title.

A solid work of investigation that, while treading well-covered ground, offers plenty of surprises.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982182-91-5

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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