A few weeks ago I did something I’ve been meaning to do now for quite some time… I replaced by Library Card. I am so glad that I did as I have been able to read like 15-ish books/graphic novels that I otherwise probably wouldn’t have even thought about finding. One of those books was “Stan Lee: And the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book” which was written by Jordan Raphael & Tom Spergeon.
If case I haven’t made it painfully obvious in the past, I am a huge fan of Stan Lee, It’s pretty much my ultimate goal in life to meet this man. This book was honest, although Stan aided by being available for interviews and such he had no final say on what was included in his biography/the biography of the history of the comic book industry, therefore not everything in the book paints him in a glamourous light, which I think may be what I liked the most about it… I mean as much as I love Lee I also like that he is human, not super human like the characters he Co-Created, the “co” being something quite often missed as the book took every opportunity to point out.
It doesn’t give all the credit to Stan Lee, as many people tend to do, however it explains the importance of the artists & co-creators of some of Lee’s more popular titles such as Spiderman, Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk etc. Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.
It also digs into the past of not only Stan (Born Stanley Lieber) but also the past of comics in general. From before the conception of Comic Books to the early 2000s the book is good at hitting the big moments, from the rise of the superhero comics in the 1930s to the decline of comics in general in later decades, the parent organizations/juvenile deliquency concerns (similar to the concerns about video games today) of the 1940s *Lead by Dr. Fredric Wertham who declared that comic books were a threat to the younger generations.
Badly drawn, badly written, and badly printed – a strain on the young eyes and young nervous systems – the effects of these pulp-paper nightmares is that of a violent stimulant. Their crude blacks and reds spoils a child’s natural sense of colour; their hypodermic injection of sex and murder make the child impatient with better, though quieter, stories. Unless we want a coming generation even more ferocious than the present one, parents and teachers throughout America must band together to break the `comic’ magazine
The book continues to discuss not only the contributions of Lee & his team of artists but also what was happening in the industry, for instance, in the “Silver Age” while DC was thriving off of their superhero line of comics. Timely (now known as Marvel) failed at their attempts to revive what was seen as a dead genre yet they had their time in the sun in the 1960 in a period known as the “Marvel Period”. It also follows Lee on his journey into Hollywood after he left Marvel.
If I had to criticize anything about the book itself it would be this, the book is broken up into sections based on what was happening in both the comic world as well as the world of Lee, it however seemed to bounce around a lot in chronology, I think I would have prefered it if it had continued more in a linear fashion.
Overall I loved the book, I loved how they didn’t make Lee out to be a superhero in his own right (although 99% of the time it’s how I see him), they were honest about his copy-cat style while starting out (although it was at the demand of his employer who tried to always capitalize on what was trending at the time.) It also doesn’t act like he is always 100% honest, pointing out specific points in time he was caught it lies, it doesn’t give him full creative credit for his characters instead giving Kirby & Ditko (as well as other artists & creators) their due credit.
Not everything it says about Lee is bad though, it talks about his relationships, his leadership style, his speed and wit and dedication to the genre. It is a great book, any fan of Lee’s, Marvel or even just comics in general should really give it a read.
Overall i’d give it a B (only losing marks for the bouncing chronology)