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"Excelsior! The Amazing Life of Stan Lee" has a cover with Lee surrounded by some of his famous Marvel comics creations (or co-creations depending on where you stand on the whole Lee/Kirby debate), but you may be surprised and/or dismayed to find that only six of the twenty-one chapters are devoted to the glory years at Marvel. Much of what is contained within Lee has talked about before, which means that by now the stories of how the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the X-Men and the rest came to be born have been refined and polished to the point you really wish he would provide more of the details. "Excelsior!" starts from Lee's childhood in Manhattan to those early days when he stumbled into writing comic books, his work as a "playwright" in World War II, and then through the rise of the Marvel empire and beyond.
The focus of the book is on the narrative recollections of Lee and if you have ever had an opportunity to hear Stan "The Man" Lee do a lecture or speak at a convention, then you are familiar with his conversational style (I liked it when Stan would pretend to be Clark Kent, take off his glasses and have people wondering where Clark went--plus, the man's autograph is always legible). One thing that struck me was how much Lee was affected by the Great Depression, especially since he often laments over the value of the comic books he created but never bothered to collect. Yet it is also clear that Lee is not driven by money but more by love of family and work, two subjects he talks about with equal passion. He does take pains to try and address the issues of his infamous rifts with artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and whether you believe his side of the story or not he certainly bears no animosity towards either man. There is no denying that Lee was a self-promoter of the first order, but he certainly tried to take along everybody else in the Marvel Bullpen and it is equally clear that Kirby and Ditko were not especially outgoing types.
George Mair provides a more objective view of Lee's life with historical facts and critical insights in his portions of "Excelsior!" which frame the lengthier excerpts from Lee. Mair is especially good when he points out how some example from the early year's of Lee's career translated into a principle he applied while running Marvel. Ultimately, Mair makes the case that Lee "created a new mythology for the twentieth century" by putting "the human in the superhuman." I rather like this approach, which allows a subject to tell their story in their own words and also provides a way for biographical assessments by another party. The book is illustrated with mostly family photographs, although rather sparsely at times, especially during the Marvel days.
I do not know if readers of Marvel Comics who came to Spider-Man and the rest after Lee's tenure as writer/editor will be as interested in this as us old-timers, but I would think Lee's stories about how comics changed would be worth reading. His chapter on "Seduction of the Gullible," dealing with the efforts of Dr. Frederic Wertham that resulted in the creation of the Comics Code, provides a much different perspective on those times than you get from reading Bill Gaines's thoughts on it all. This is by no means a major look at the life and work of Stan Lee, but it does have its shares of worthwhile insights. `Nuff Said.
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on May 15, 2002
4.5 stars, really, I wish there were more examples of his work.
I am one of those people who loved the Marvel Age of Comics. While many people say they read Spider-Man, the Hulk or the Fantastic Four, even as a kid in the sixties, I would say I read Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko...and a few others. When they left, I left.
Though the years I had heard about and read about many behind the scenes stories about Marvel. It was hard to give credence to many of them and I always wanted to find out Stan Lee's story. Here it is.
Here Stan Lee tells his story. And what an enjoyable story it is. Mr. Lee tells of his early years, his years in the service during WW2, how he meet his wife and how he started working for Martin Goodman, owner of Timely (later Marvel) Comics.
The major part of the story is the creation of the Marvel Age of Comics.
Stan Lee, born Stan Lieber, describes how he almost left the occupation of writing comic books. An occupation that was not well respected. But Stan stayed and broke the conventions of book characters. Stan discusses such stories, how he "snuck" his first Spider-Man story into Amazing Fantasy #15 after the publisher turned it down. We learn what was in his mind when he created the Fantastic Four, Hulk, and Thor.
For me the most important parts involved the Marvel Method of creating comics and his relationships with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. For years I have heard stories that, frankly, cast Mr. Lee in a bad light. Here, Stan Lee describes how he came up with the character of Spider-man and, at first, gave it to Jack Kirby to draw. Dissatisfied with Kirby's take, Stan turned it over to Steve Ditko. Stan goes out of his way to give co-creative credit to the artist. But Ditko though that Stan just came up with an idea and that he, Ditko, came up with project. I also learned that Jack Kirby was offered administrative positions at Marvel, but turned it down.
A reality to me is that nothing Lee, Kirby and Ditko produced separately equals what they did in partnership for those ten years.
If you are a fan of the Marvel age, this book is a must read. I couldn't put it down. The parts that are not about Marvel are still entertaining and Mr. Lee does not dwell on anything for too long a time.
`Nuff said
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on May 8, 2002
Stan Lee, the world's most well-known comic book writer, is truly one of the most inventive minds of the 20th century (and shows every sign of being so in the 21st!). And now, at last, we get a look into what shaped that inventive mind into the force it is today.
"Excelsior!" is peppered with Stan's trademark wit as he relates humorous stories and anecdotes from his life, such as the way he single-handedly won World War II. Sandwiched inbetween are factual paragraphs by George Mair, professional biographer. Mair is quick and to the point, knowing that what readers really want is more of Stan (it's almost impossible to refer to him by his last name), so he gets the facts out there and then he gets out of the way as fast as he can. Very professional.
This is a must-read for any comic book fan, anyone who wants to see how a "bio-autography" (as Stan calls them) should be written, or for anyone who's just looking for an amusing tale of a creative genius's life.
Highly recommended!
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on February 26, 2011
4-1/2 stars. With all that's said about Stan Lee, it's nice to see his personal perspective in print.

Here we get Lee's perspective on 80 years(!) of his life: from 1922-2002. Amazing indeed. Stan's writing, with the help of George Mair, is entertaining, personal & filled with details.

His formula for successful comicbook writing as printed in 1947's Writer's Digest: have a provocative beginning; use smooth continuity from panel to panel; concentrate on realistic dialogue which leads to good characterization; maintain suspense throughout; and provide a satisfying ending. This certainly sounds good to me.

Marvel in the 60's is easily a highlight here. Topics include: Lee's longtime relationship with Martin Goodman; Fantastic Four & Hulk by Lee & Kirby; Spider-Man by Lee & Ditko; Thor; Daredevil; X-Men; Avengers; the Marvel Method; MMMS; No-Prizes, and much, much more. These elements are explained from Lee's viewpoint. Kirby & Ditko fans will probably feel Stan needed to say more here about these phenomenal artists, but he does give us significant information about these relationships, and this *is* primarily Stan Lee's life story. And he does say nice things about all the creative talent he worked with.

Whether anyone feels Lee received too much credit for Marvel's success or not, it's nice in my eyes to be able to read his side of the tale. Why rely on secondhand information?

As a Lee & Kirby fan, I also recommend: Kirby: King of Comics, and Marvel Visionaries: Jack Kirby. Lee & Kirby made a truly amazing team.
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on January 3, 2016
Good for kids who love their comics. My son was 14 when I bought it and he is in love with Stan Lee. Not too many pages but for th price it I worth it I think. Good quality too actually. It does not look cheap.
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on December 10, 2015
If you are interested in the Marvel universe or comic publication in general, this is a must read. Entertaining, easy to read, full of amusing comments by Stan Lee and insight into the evolution of the superhero comic world. I remember my grandmother paying me to get rid of all my comics and promise not to read anymore some 55 years ago (that only lasted about a year) and was interested to see that coincided with a public campaign against comics which fortunately was not successful. This is the text version, not the new graphic formatted and more recently updated version recently released.
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on July 20, 2010
I am an immigrant and when I came to the UK with my family way back in the early 1960s my love for reading and for the English language began with Marvel Comics and the work of Stan 'The Man' Lee. I learned to appreciate great writing, irony, alliteration, puns and Shakesperian references not just in the four-colour adventures of The Fantastic Four, The Amazing Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk etc. but also through Stan Lee's editorial pages and responses to readers' letters.

So I came to this semi-autobiography with a strong sense of expectation and I was not disappointed. What I found was the story of a man who had significant lessons to teach me about the hard work and habits that underlie success.

The book follows Stan Lee's life from his beginnings as the child of impoverished parents in Queens, New York City to his current standing as the Publisher Emeritus of Marvel Comics and the man overseeing the realisation of his superhero characters as among the most successful products in Hollywood.

The book is written in the easygoing and mildly self-ironic style that is typical of Stan Lee's work, but in amongst the witty asides and self-deprecatory humour there are some valuable lessons to be learned for even serious businessmen. The three things I learned most from this book are:

Be true to your vision
Stan Lee entered the filed of comic book writing almost by accident but found that it became a steady, if not always lucrative, source of income. However in the early 1960s he was on the verge of quitting the struggling comics industry when his wife Joan (a Brit!) urged him to follow his own vision (that of creating comics characters who had distinct personalities and complex personal lives) rather than live his life wishing he had at least tried to do things his own way. Well Stan Lee put his vision into action with The Fantastic Four # 1 and with that comic he both revived a struggling industry and found his niche in the world.

Work hard and consistently
Stan Lee came from a poor family and remembered his father struggling to find work during the Great Depression. This left him with a strong work ethic and he tended to work as many jobs as he could at one time in order to pay the bills and enjoy a lifestyle which his father had only dreamed of. This work ethic remains with him today and his tendency to make cameo appearances is only in part due to his love of showboating, more importantly he loves to keep working. His success is down to working hard and consistently, persisting when colleagues around him might have just given up or eased back on their work rate.

The importance of disciplined creativity
Stan Lee does not believe in notion of 'writers block'. He says himself that though he has worked in a creative industry, the need to keep producing material has demanded that he keep on writing. He believes strongly that creativity must be tempered with discipline, after all he had sometimes dozens of comics per month to fill with dialogue and character development. This means having to make yourself be creative even when 'the muse' seems to be absent.

There you have it. A very personal book choice for me but one which I think you will find offers some salient observations on just what it takes to be the author of a worldwide success. As Stan himself would say, 'Excelsior!'
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on September 25, 2010
This book was an interesting read, not controversial, and personable in a way that I suspect mirrors Stan's real life persona. All good, but as a comics fan for 40 years, I knew most of Stan's history already. I guess I should've expected that I wouldn't come across any new juicy nuggets. I'm pretty sure I knew Stan's life story (to that point) back in the 1970s when I think he was the main feature story of an issue of Marvel's FOOM magazine.

Stan's certainly been portrayed as the creative mastermind behind many of Marvel's best characters, and he's been the figurehead that's represented the entire comics genre even as it's expanded into other media ventures. Stan is generally complimentary to all of the talented writers and artists that he's worked with through the years. His histories with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko are documented, and I would imagine more complicated than he suggests in this book. Seems Stan's willing to look past these issues, but Ditko and Kirby weren't.

Overall a nice, casual read, and with a good deal of appeal for a comics fan, particularly one interested in Marvel's history. It's a decent account of Stan's life, and I must admit he's appealing to most comics fans, as I always enjoy his interludes on DVDs of Marvel's animated series and motion pictures. I even enjoy his movie cameos. I just wish the book had a little more substance.
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on January 28, 2014
I purchased this book for my father who is a huge Marvel fan. He loves it. I was happy to find it in paperback. The hardcover version of this book is selling at very high prices. Great book for anyone that is interested in the history of how Marvel was born. Stan Lee should be considered as an icon of American history.
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on August 23, 2014
This was a really easy-to-love read which mixed Lee's plain language speaking style with a high-points, chronological trot though the man's life. While is seems to skim over the juicy stuff at times, this is a matter of fact look at the life of an influential & iconic figure in Americana.
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