Note from the editor: This review was made possible by an advance reading copy of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, which differs slightly from the copy released to the public. Certain information in the final copy is not covered in this review, because the writer did not have access to it in their advance copy.
Those who’ve followed Joanna Robinson over the past few years have heard passing references of the MCU history book she’d been working on, but with no details regarding the book’s release date or even its title. Then, on April 26, 2023, Entertainment Weekly took to social media to debut the cover of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios, a history of fandom entertainment’s most successful brand written by Robinson, Dave Gonzales, and Gavin Edwards. Not to skip to the post-credits scene, but the book is necessary reading for anyone who fancies themselves an MCU fan.
Robinson has permanent membership in the Fandom Illuminati. Whether it be in podcasts like Trial by Content or House of R, or in the written word for outlets like The Ringer and Vanity Fair, her bona fides speak for themselves, and loudly. After her 2017 Vanity Fair cover story captured the state of the MCU just before it would reach the narrative crescendo of the Infinity War–Endgame phenomenon, it was clear that any history of the MCU penned by Robinson would be the definitive entry on the subject. MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is just that.
“Marvel: the film studio” would be impossible to fully contextualize without an understanding of “Marvel: the comic book publisher owned by the toy company.” MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios chronicles not only the history of the MCU from 2008’s Iron-Man through 2023’s Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, but the history of Marvel, full stop. The cast of characters is a mélange of the company’s outspoken frontmen (Stan Lee, Robert Downey Jr., Kevin Feige) to behind-the-scenes figures (Ike Perlmutter, David Maisel, Victoria Alonso), and everyone in between. Drawing on more than a hundred interviews, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios features quotes from Jeff Bridges, James Gunn, Scarlett Johansson, and so many more.
‘MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios’ is honest and unmerciful
With this much access (there may never be another MCU book to achieve as much), the expectation might be for MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios to operate as little more than a 400-page puff piece singing the praises of the MCU and Kevin Feige, and how every experiment paid off. Alas, this is not the case.
The book is unafraid to point out Marvel’s long run without titles led by women (2019’s Captain Marvel is its first female-led film, 11 years after Iron-Man) or people of color (2018’s Black Panther broke through that barrier). Readers will also get insight into the decisions above Kevin Feige’s head that resulted in merchandise freeze-outs of popular female characters like Black Widow and Gamora.
Also noted throughout the book is what happens when the unstoppable force of a director used to a certain level of autonomy (like Patty Jenkins, Edgar Wright, or Scott Derrickson) clashes with the immovable object that is the Marvel process. Even for the MCU fans who have some working knowledge of what happened behind the scenes on these snake bit projects, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios delivers a wealth of new context.
Perhaps the book’s most prescient chapter focuses on visual effects (VFX) houses, Hollywood’s broken “fixed-bid” system, and Marvel’s role in exacerbating the inequities in that system. When Victoria Alonso, the former head of post-production, VFX, and animation at Marvel, was unceremoniously fired in March 2023, the rumors of an Alonso-led toxic VFX environment began to rumble in social media circles. Unfortunately, it was too far along for the book to address it.
“I like your plan, except it sucks”
The chapters of MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios which delve into the post-Endgame era of the MCU, make no qualms about the fact that the results since that point have been middling.
Some issues at hand are purely circumstantial. The studio which once counted on a future anchored on the gravitas of Chadwick Boseman’s T’Challa was caught off guard by his tragic passing, as were we all. Problems such as these are understood by the public and easily forgiven.
The films are not the critical darlings they once were. The post credits stingers feel less like a preview of the next project and more like loose threads to be pulled (maybe) later. The Disney+ series may have come too much too quickly. As such, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios closes with Marvel in a precarious point in its history. But the book makes a strong case for why the quality appears to be diminishing, and even offers a glint of hope that better days are on the horizon.
How much we have left
It’s a testament to the authors that the narrative thread remains easy to follow given the growing expanse of Marvel Studios’ reach. The book stays fresh, shifting formats from chapter to chapter, topic to topic. Where one might expect each chapter to cover the next MCU project in chronological order, some chapters tackle a wider concept, such as Marvel’s trio of “Chrises”—Evans, Hemsworth, and Pratt—or the famous Sony-Marvel partnership that finally brought Spider-Man to the MCU.
There is no better document charting Marvel’s improbable rise and total disruption of the Hollywood paradigm than MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios. Readers are sure to learn something new on every page, from which MCU stars first auditioned for roles years earlier to exactly what happened with Edgar Wright’s Ant-Man. A volume of trivia, drama, and humor, MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios belongs on every Marvel fan’s bookshelf.
MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios is available October 10, 2023. Pre-orders are available now. Follow the Agents of Fandom socials to stay up to date on all the latest MCU news.
'MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios' Review'MCU: The Reign of Marvel Studios' Review
- Fun, witty writing that makes a convoluted history easy to digest
- A fair look at the MCU's shortcomings as well as successes
- So much access to behind-the-scenes figures
- An inside look at the "What Ifs" of actors who were almost cast in iconic roles
- Stick around for the credits 😉
- There's a last page