A fascinating, human portrait of a man who rarely gets one
Avaliado nos Estados Unidos em 20 de fevereiro de 2021
[This review was also posted to my Goodreads account.]
If you grew up loving comics, you probably grew up loving Stan Lee. And, to this point, to the extent Lee's life has been probed at all, it's been done by friends or fans. Even though the controversy around whether Lee or Jack Kirby can claim the most credit for Marvel's creations has been out in the open for a while, Stan's still been "Stan the Man," beloved cameo artist and figurehead.
Riesman (who, full disclosure, I'll be interviewing shortly after this review runs) takes a more neutral stance, focused entirely on Stanley Lieber as he works his way into a publishing job and, by degrees, becomes Stan Lee, glib and delightful public speaker and character. It's not entirely shocking that Lee's self-presentation as a doggerel-spouting cheerleader is something of a front; the man would have to have been painfully simple-minded for that to be his actual personality.
Still, what Riesman brings out is a far more complex and sometimes unpleasant person than Stan allowed fans to see, and curiously what often emerges is that Stan's everything-sunny-always behavior covered not just Stan himself but many of the people around him, including those he wronged. Kirby, for example, is often treated as a martyr to creator's rights in the industry, but while Stan doesn't come off well when Riesman discusses it, Kirby's less-than-tasteful treatment of those in Stan's orbit, Roy Thomas in particular, doesn't exactly cover him in glory. There are even some discussions of Martin Goodman here, hardly somebody held in esteem by comics nerds, that make it clear Stan covered for his boss and relative long after he really shouldn't have.
Interestingly, perhaps Riesman's best point is that Stan was never a particularly great writer (and even the most generous fan in touch with reality will admit this), but he was a great editor and manager, and the great tragedy of Stan's life is that he could never accept this skill as enough. There's a funny moment where Stan, late in life, takes apart the plot structure of a comic he's being pitched and has a great point.
All that said, the final section will be a tough read. Just how much Stan exploited others versus how much he was exploited or used to exploit others we'll probably never know for sure, but it makes for tragic, ugly reading, pocked with some fairly bizarre characters.
In the end, what comes out of this book is that Stan Lee was a character, being played all the time, and the man behind the character was not the saint we comic fans might prefer. If you're a fan of the comics, or just curious about the man, it's a must-read.
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