Sunday, September 17, 2017

Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel by Bob Batchelor


When I first saw this book on Netgalley, I was super excited because I thought it was going to be a graphic-novel style biography of Stan Lee's life, because some fool had slapped it with the "graphic novels" label. But STAN LEE is not a graphic novel - it is merely a biography about a man who wrote them. Apart from that slight disappointment due to some questionable labeling choices (*cough*), STAN LEE is a pretty fantastic book. I've read several comic book histories, about Wonder Woman and Superman, and they were all good. But they were also all DC. It would be really cool, I thought, to see the Marvel side of things. I've always liked Marvel.

STAN LEE shows how Stan Lee became involved with Marvel, how the Depression made him desperate and hungry (a familiar tale with many comic book authors and illustrators). It shows his contributions to the war effort with colorful cartoony instructional pamphlets for the soldiers. But the best part is his contributions to the Golden Age of Comics, before the Comic Code snafu. I had no idea that he was involved with so many of the Marvel superheroes - X-Men, The Fantastic Four, Thor, Doctor Strange, Iron Man, Spider-Man, The Hulk. Basically all of them. It was incredible. I guess there are some controversies over how much of the effort was his versus, say, Jack Kirby's, and I found a pretty great Vulture article called Why Is Stan Lee's Legacy in Question? that does a pretty good job discussing the subject, whereas this book, STAN LEE, kind of glosses over it.

STAN LEE is obviously biased in that it is very much pro-Stan Lee. You don't want to air all the dirt on your childhood heroes. Why would you? But then, Stan Lee is a cool guy. He's got that "cool grandpa" vibe, where he's kind of nerdy, but not really out of touch. A living personification of the grandfather character in Princess Bride who woos his grandson over with a tale of heroics and romance and good triumphing over evil. That was the vibe that I got from STAN LEE. He wooed over America when we were being saturated with superheroes, and helped keep Marvel from going under in the Silver Age of comic books, when they were being stifled by the Comic Code.

This isn't all rose-tinted lenses, though. STAN LEE does touch on some of Lee's failings or mediocre efforts. The ill-fated Stan Lee Media venture was mentioned, and so was the Pamela Anderson-voiced Stripperella cartoon from the early 2000s, which I only vaguely remember as being one of those saucy late-night shows that I wasn't allowed to watch along with Greg the Bunny and The Man Show. And then of course, Batchelor also discusses Stan Lee's settlement with Marvel.

But good times and bad times aside, it's clear that Stan Lee is a creative individual who not only has a highly active imagination and creative eye but an excellent business sense as well. If you're a fan of Marvel or Stan Lee, I highly recommend this book. It's a great addition to the existing comic book histories, and I enjoyed it just as much as the Super Man and Wonder Woman histories, if not more.

P.S. For some reason, there are a ton of Excelsior Cafes in the Tokyo area in Japan. I don't know if they are named so as a nod to Stan Lee or what, but when I was in Akihabara - the gaming/comic district of Tokyo - I made sure to stop by one and drink a toast to Mr. Lee.

Thanks to Netgalley/the publisher for the review copy!

3.5 to 4 out of 5 stars

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