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Stan Lee: The Man behind Marvel Hardcover – September 15, 2017
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Meet Stanley Liiber: movie fan, adventure-story fan, budding writer. Young Stanley started in the comicbook business as an assistant to Timely Comics’ head writer, Joe Simon, and to artist Jack Kirby. Along the way, as he graduated from assistant to writer, he became known as Stan Lee and wound up revolutionizing the comic-book business: in partnership with some of the great artists (Kirby and the legendary Steve Ditko, among others), he created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and other familiar superheroes. What made Lee’s creations special was his insistence on giving them recognizable human traits and flaws; these weren’t idealized superheroes but real people with special abilities. This is a solidly researched and written biography of Lee (who is in his mid-nineties now).... [Lee] is a hugely entertaining story, and the author tells it well. (Booklist)
This unauthorized biography by cultural historian Batchelor (Mad Men: A Cultural History) is as much a history of Marvel Comics and the comic book industry as it is of Stan Lee, the man largely credited with transforming the comic book industry into a pop culture colossus. Batchelor begins with Lee’s childhood in New York City during the Great Depression, to which he attributes Lee’s strong work ethic and ambition. A workaholic from an early age, Lee joined the comic book industry at its infancy, learning the ropes from writer Joe Simon and artist Jack Kirby, who were his mentors at Timely Comics (later renamed Marvel Comics). By age 19, Lee had already taken over as editor-in-chief. Aside from the first chapter on his childhood, the book mainly glosses over Lee’s personal life, focusing primarily on his career. Batchelor shows how Lee led his team of writers and illustrators with a can-do spirit, working with his staff in employing snappy dialogue and colorful graphics to concoct a dynamic new medium. Introducing racial diversity, serial storytelling, current events, and emotional conflict, the boastful Lee and his team devised a marvelous universe of new characters, who connected strongly with readers by displaying emotional weaknesses that equaled their physical strengths.... Batchelor successfully shows how this dreamer and risk-taker perfectly captured the cultural zeitgeist and assisted in creating 'fairy tales for grown-ups.' (Publishers Weekly)
As a cultural historian, Bob Bachelor has evidently done vast and in-depth research of Stan Lee and his path to becoming a central figure in American pop culture, as well as the birth and evolution of the modern day comic book industry.... [It's] a pleasant read.... [I]f you want a heavily researched book that gives a solid analysis of the comic book industry and the man that heavily influenced its transformation, then this book is for you. (Word of the Nerd)
Bob Batchelor has done a very professional and well researched job.... If you want to understand the principal creator of the Marvel Universe, this new biography could serve as a one-stop shop.... Batchelor clearly knows what he’s doing, being the author of cultural studies on subjects ranging from Mad Men ... to The Great Gatsby. If you want someone to provide an objective, outsider’s analysis of the life and work of Stan Lee, then it would be hard to find a cultural historian more qualified than Batchelor. This is especially true for readers who haven’t dived into the story of Marvel comics before. For all fellow baby boomers—remember how Stan the Man used to sign off all those Soapboxes—Excelsior! (Bookpleasures.com)
Bob’s Batchelor’s Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel provides an insightful look into not only the titular man himself, but also the complex and captivating world of Marvel Comics growth and evolution over the years.... Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel is an exceptionally well researched book and even for those who are not prone to reading non-fiction it will still engage you through the well written prose. You also get to see some great photos of Stan Lee in his younger days. I highly recommend this book to comic book fans, regardless of your publisher preferences, and to anyone who enjoys the Marvel Cinematic Universe and Netflix series. You will come away with so much knowledge and a better understanding of how Marvel has prevailed throughout the years through the exceptional Stan Lee. (TheNerdyGirlExpress)
[Bachelor] does a great job with the obviously meticulously researched information he provides so if you’re something of a newbie to Marvel or don’t recognize him beyond his name and the cameos he makes in his movies then this would be a good book for you.... Bachelor is well-known for his unbiased analysis in cultural studies of popular works and figures so you’d be hard-pressed to find a better work done. (Artistic Bent)
How did Mr. Batchelor tell a story that all comic book aficionados know in a new way and how did he make a comfortably mundane life interesting? The author took a step back from the protagonist of the biography and described the world and conditions that shaped Mr. Lee, allowing the reader to explore their own understanding of the character.... Mr. Batchelor offers us a book worth reading because he does more than distill Mr. Lee’s many interviews. Stan Lee teaches us that powerful writing comes out of adversity. Without the restrictions and worries that surely influenced Mr. Lee’s work, our shared cultural heritage would be different. Perhaps most importantly, the author doesn’t skimp on the parts of Stan Lee’s life that you really want to know about. We get detailed tellings of the creation of the Fantastic Four, of Mr. Lee’s working relationship with Jack Kirby, and his somewhat unfocused later years. (Where do you go when you become a living legend by your fifties and live into your nineties?) Whether or not you’re a comic book person, Mr. Batchelor’s book is a worthwhile chronicle of a writer’s life and offers other writers the opportunity to see what it’s like to have your creative dreams come true in ways you didn’t expect. (Great Writers Steal)
There is a lot of content in this book. I think it will be a valuable resource for enthusiasts, students of ephemera, and future historians. I appreciated the incredibly detailed footnotes and reference sections. Amazingly thorough job. (Nonstop Reader)
About the Author
Bob Batchelor is a cultural historian who has written or edited more than two dozen books on popular culture and American literature, including books about John Updike, The Great Gatsby, and Mad Men. Batchelor lives in Oxford, Ohio and teaches at Miami University.
Top customer reviews
Stanley Leiber (as he then was) had drifted into the field in which he would make his mark by taking what he thought would be a temporary job as a general dogsbody at Timely Comics, aged 17. He soon began to fulfil his creative urges by writing for the comics, adopting the name ‘Stan Lee’, which he later made his legal name.
A significant break came when the departure of editors Joe Simon and Jack Kirby for DC Comics, left him in charge, although the next two decades, as editor and chief writer, were professionally unfulfilling as he fairly slavishly followed instructions to follow market trends. It was when he contemplated quitting after being instructed to emulate DC’s ‘Justice League of America’ in 1961 that Joanie fatefully intervened. Why not, she asked, create a comic book which conforms in outline with the brief given but actually make the contents as you’d truly like them to be, as the worst that could happen is that you could be sacked instead of quitting?.
What actually happened was that The Fantastic Four turned out to be a runaway success and over the next ten years Stan Lee followed success with success, revolutionizing comic books, creating a Marvel Comics superhero stable (assisted by talented artists such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko) which included The Incredible Hulk, the X-Men, and The Amazing Spider-Man (a character readers could crucially identify with, rather than just fantasize over), among many others.
In 1972 Lee effectively began a new and equally successful career, leaving the comic book end of the business to oversee production of cartoons and films based on Marvel characters.
This is the story which Bob Batchelor tells in ‘Stan Lee’, a workmanlike no-frills rather than warts-and-all biography. Lee, like Steve Jobs, is often accused of a genius for self-promotion which resulted in him taking the credit for the work of others. Batchelor acknowledges this debate without addressing it in any great detail – although, to be fair, in the nature of comic book creation it is often difficult precisely to assess an individual’s precise contribution.
In short, Batchelor’s is the best available biography of Lee, although his efforts to assess the cultural significance of the comic book phenomenon and explain the enduring appeal of the superhero genre are not terribly profound.
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 stars!