Stan Lee: A Review of Rags to Riches and Reckless Abandon.
So, I watched this interesting biography of Marvel Comics' legendary founder, writer and at times motivational speaker Stan Lee A Marvelous Life, which is mostly narrated by Lee himself as he talks about his humble beginnings working within the comic book industry to insurmountable success, as in your typical rags to riches template. Is this just another self-congratulatory hand job about the iconic Marvel writer, turned spokesman when compared to "With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story?"
Well, yes and no. While Lee does often mention his "ideas", he provides more of an insight into his personal life, both triumphs and tragedies told throughout the timelines from the 30’s to the present, prior to his passing. Lee is very magnanimous when mentioning his wife and love of his life Joan, who was the catalyst for Marvel's prominence. With Stan feeling disillusioned about working in the comics field, while contemplating about abandoning his career altogether, she advised him to write one final story that he always wanted to do, and so came The Fantastic Four and Spider-Man along with a few other legendary fictional heroes.
The rest was history. However, some parts of this documentary were historically semi-inaccurate especially when it came to Lee's collaborators Steve Ditko and especially Jack Kirby. Yes, most of us "True believers " are aware of Spider-Man's creation, where it was Ditko who designed Spidey's costume, however, it was also Ditko's ideas of Parker's selfish outlook and looking out for number one, as told in Amazing Fantasy #15.
Ditko was a subscriber of Objectivism, founded by Philosopher, Ayn Rand whose concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute." This philosophy also influenced Ditko to demand being credited and compensated as both the plotter and artist for Spider-Man. Yet, he was not compensated for royalties whether it was merchandising nor other projects like the animated series (plural) or movies.
Lee had briefly described the Marvel Method, which was a procedure implemented out of necessity, where the artists would layout plots and panels where Lee would just add copious amount of dialogue that would flesh out the artist's storytelling much further. This practice serves as a testament of how the artist like Kirby and Ditko contributed as much and at times, more so than the writer when you factor in the elements, and dynamic aesthetics which is more of the standout as opposed to a few captions in word balloons.
This is the biggest flaw of the so-called "Marvel Method," it exploited the artists, who were at times, underpaid for artwork only. Even though they were co-writers!
A primary example would be, Kirby's idea of creating the Silver Surfer and Galactus. The Fantastic Four was regurgitated from a previous book the King worked on, "Challengers of the Unknown " both were a quartet of scientists and explorers however, it was Lee who implemented the dysfunctional family concept that made Fantastic Four more dimensional, thus eclipsing Challengers' legacy While Lee may have had a hand in Black Panther's creation, it was Jack Kirby who proposed introducing a Black Superhero within the ranks of the Marvel Comic Universe. Sure, the name, "Coal Tiger" was a bit condescending, but it was a start to something that would eventually pay off. Black Panther not only matched the scientific acumen of Reed Richards but had the fighting prowess and superhuman capabilities of Captain America and this was during the late Sixties! Therein lies progression. The segment of both Ditko and Kirby's departure from Marvel, was too brief without much explanation of why both Co-creators abandoned the comic publisher. While Lee came across as the perfect spokesperson for Marvel, where Kirby was a bit laid back and as ye ole saying goes, “The squeakiest wheels, get the grease.” Stan was not hesitant to engage the public, or attend speaking engagements, and won the crowd over with his energetic persona.
Throughout the documentary, Lee career, expands from Editor and Chief, Publisher to Chairman Emeritus, as he took advantage of his celebrity status and being the beneficiary of the company’s hierarchy.
Disney's Documentary is more of a celebratory piece of Stan Lee than mentioning any of his faults, benefits of nepotism, or his implicit response when his fellow collaborators were mistreated i.e., robbed of credit and franchise royalties. The segment in which Lee debated with Kirby about who created who, was abrupt and edited in Lee's favor, making Kirby nonassertive. Again, this is more about Lee's personal journey than "Marvel the Untold Story." For a more detailed history of Lee and Kirby's tumultuous relationship, I recommend watching "Misfits of Marvel" courtesy of AMC's The History of Comics. What makes this doc more immersive, is it's elaborate storytelling via model figures with handmade or 3D printed set pieces. Also, there is a good amount of archived footage and recordings of Lee and past Marvel contributors, like Roy Thomas who I codify as the Godfather of Marvel's Bronze age. While I thought the overall documentary was a good watch, and at times inspirational. However, it was less than sincere, and I get it. It would be very disrespectful for Disney to piss on the grave of the Man who helped to build Marvel which became the entertainment giant's cash cow.
Now, I'm not necessarily dogging out Mr. Lee as I always found him to be a "sweet old man" who was progressive when taking a stand against bigotry. Stan had a very down to earth personality even after out of curiosity,when I asked him, why did he and Kirby had a falling out. This of course, was before the discovery of the internet. But from a moralistic perspective, benefitting from the works or others while being complacent as both Kirby and Ditko, died without reaping any well-deserved rewards from their creations and Co-creations.
I still recommend watching this documentary now streaming on Disney Plus, for both fans of Marvel. Just as long as they are not too biased in favor of the Documentary subject.