I’ve spent the last few days binge-listening to the new book, True Believer: The Rise & Fall of Stan Lee, by Abraham Riesman.
Stan Lee, the beloved face of Marvel, does not come out looking too good in this biography. Some of it I knew, such as the long, messy dispute with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko about who really created some of the best known characters to go from comic book pages in the 1960s to the silver screen in the 2000s, raking in billions.
A lot of his story, though, I didn’t know, and it’s genuinely making me sad. From the publisher’s site:
Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—was one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as head editor of Marvel for three decades and, in that time, launched more pieces of internationally recognizable intellectual property than anyone other than Walt Disney: Spider-Man, the Avengers, the X-Men, Black Panther, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Thor . . . the list seems to never end. On top of that, his carnival-barker marketing prowess more or less single-handedly saved the comic-book industry and superhero fiction. Without him, the global entertainment industry would be wildly different—and a great deal poorer.
A major business venture, Stan Lee Media, resulted in stock manipulation, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. A second one, POW! Entertainment, has been repeatedly accused of malfeasance and deceit. And in his final years, after the death of his beloved wife, Joan, rumors swirled that Lee was a virtual prisoner in his own home, beset by abusive grifters and issuing cryptic video recordings as a battle to control his fortune and legacy ensued.
… Lee’s most famous motto was “With great power comes great responsibility.” Stretching from the Romanian shtetls of Lee’s ancestors to his own final moments in Los Angeles, True Believer chronicles the world-changing triumphs and tragic missteps of an extraordinary life, and leaves it to readers to decide whether Lee lived up to the responsibilities of his own talent.
Ultimately, it is up to readers to decide on the book. In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Riesman makes a point that I have had to keep reminding myself over the past few years, especially in the wake of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements:
At the end of the day, we’re all humans, and we all fall short- Stan Lee and… me.