True Believer : The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee has been described as “the definitive, revelatory biography” of Stan Lee. Who exactly was Stan Lee? That depends on who you ask. Most movie-goers will recognise him from the numerous cameos Lee has made in popular MCU movies – the man who created those various superheroes featured in those films. Comic book geeks might also know Lee as the man who either created (or co-created) the Marvel Universe in the 1960s.
Written by Abraham Riesman, True Believer : The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee explores the idea that the “Stan Lee” mentioned above was a construct, as fictional as the superhero characters he claimed to have created. This “Stan Lee” would ultimately become an icon, a brand and a celebrity, his fame transcending even beyond these well-known characters he is most associated with.
Thus, with True Believer : The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, Riesman suggests that Lee was first and foremost, a promoter, a marketer and a salesman with the image of Lee as this supreme creative force basically self-aggrandisement and self-mythologizing. To Lee, being successful and famous in show business was paramount and that it was never about the love of comics or even superheroes that Lee was concerned with.
In meticulous fashion, Riesman chronicles Lee’s ninety-five years with this particular slant. Naturally, much attention will be paid to the Marvel Universe controversy – the question marks over Lee’s creative role in its inception. Was Lee’s contribution limited to marketing and promotion with his claim of co-creating now-valuable intellectual properties like The Avengers, the X-Men, Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four et al, a sham? Should we go further to accuse Lee of stealing credit that rightfully belonged to Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, Wally Wood etc?
It is telling that after his close involvement with Marvel Comics, as Riesman details, Lee from the 1980s onwards, was no longer a creative force. In fact, it may be argued that for the final forty years of his life, Lee released failed project after failed project. Furthermore, his dodgy involvement with Stan Lee Media and POW Entertainment – both of which had criminal entanglements – suggests that as noted above, Lee was most interested in financial success, achieved by any means necessary – as long as it made money, artistic content was secondary.
Is any of this shocking? Not for anyone familiar with the true story behind Marvel Comics of the 1960s but for anyone who only knows “Stan Lee” the MCU icon, perhaps True Believer : The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee will prove to be a sobering read.
… still there’s more …