cover image Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World Inside Your Head

Marvel Comics in the 1970s: The World Inside Your Head

Eliot Borenstein. Cornell Univ, $23.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-1-5017-6936-8

Borenstein (Plots Against Russia), a Russian and Slavic studies professor at New York University, delivers an entertaining exploration of Marvel’s turn inward during the 1970s. He contends that over the course of the decade, Marvel authors—namely Steve Englehart, Steve Gerber, Don McGregor, Doug Moench, and Marv Wolfman—developed a style “focused intensely on the inner lives of the characters on the page.” Englehart, Borenstein suggests, bucked Marvel’s editorial mandate that characters can never fundamentally change and depicted character growth through introspection, as shown in his narratives in which Doctor Strange must explore his “ego in order to move beyond it.” Other innovations included Moench’s use of first person narrative captions to get inside the minds of such characters as the Werewolf and Deathlok, as well as the existentialist musings that Gerber wove into his Howard the Duck comics, which used the anthropomorphic character to offer an outsider’s disenchanted perspective on the human condition. Theory-driven discussions of Fredric Jameson’s and Umberto Eco’s writings on science fiction and superheroes give this academic heft, though lay readers will still have plenty of fun with Borenstein’s thoughtful close readings of Spider-Man and Fantastic Four comics. Marvel connoisseurs willing to put up with some light scholarly jargon will appreciate the insightful takes on a pivotal era in the publisher’s history. Illus. (May)