Director: William Lawrence Hess, Terry Douglas, and Nikki Frakes
Stars: Stan & Joan Lee, and just about everyone involved in comics and Marvel Superhero movies
A few facts about Stan “The Man” Lee: he’s been married for sixty-four years; he has one daughter, Joanie; and he has created 534 characters.
Stan Lee came from a poor family during the depression. His parents continually worried how they would pay for food, the rent, and their kids. At an early age Stan knew that he had to work to help the family. One day he answered an advert from Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel, and joined the large staff of Jack Kirby & Joe Simon. Initially an assistant and gopher, Stan was given the responsibility to write the two pages of prose required in comics in order to get a discounted mailing rate–an assignment neither Kirby not Simon cared for. Eventually Kirby & Simon left, and Timely Comics became a one man operation. What follows is as much a story about Stan Lee, as it is about Marvel Comics.
The documentary follows the highs and lows of the comics industry. We are taken from the highs of the 40s to the lows of the 50s with the release of Seduction of the Innocent and establishment of the Comics Code Authority. We are brought back to the highs during the Silver Age with the creation of The Fantastic Four, The X-Men, The Incredible Hulk, The Avengers, Thor, and so on and so forth. We are brought low again with the bankruptcy of Marvel and then brought to new heights with the comics industry today and the successful movie franchises.
Throughout this wide sweeping story we are shown the personal moments in Stan Lee’s life. How it pained him to fire different staffs at different points in his career, during the 50s, during Marvel’s bankruptcy, and during the bankruptcy of his own personal company. We also see how he was affected by strained relationship with Jack Kirby. On the positive side he implemented the policy of giving credit where credit was due. He made sure the writers and artists involved in each comic were not only credited, but prominently so. Stan Lee also engaged his audience. First by creating the Merry Marvel Marching Society and later by doing weekly university seminars across the country.
We also see a little of the personal relationship with his wife, Joan, and her importance in his career. Humorously Stan says he keeps working because she keeps spending. But more importantly, without Joan we would never have had the Silver Age of Comics and all it started. With his creativity stifled by the Comic Code Authority, Stan Lee was going to quit the business. Joan asked him to do one thing before he quit: make the comic he always wanted to. She correctly asked him what’s the worse that could happen? He gets fired? What he created was The Fantastic Four with all their human faults and problems.
But mostly we see Stan Lee the consummate showman and sales man. A person that is always selling, but not revealing. You see little glimpses here and there of the person behind the facade–especially in the more personal moments with Joan–but he never completely opens the curtain.
You will leave the documentary feeling in awe of all he has accomplished and been responsible for, but you will leave not entirely knowing who he is.
On the technical side, the archival footage is brought to life with “pop” and “zoom” effects of comic panels as well as old photos. Interview time is not only given to recent comic writers and artists, but also the old guys from back in the day as well as today’s movie makers. I would have preferred less interview time with actors that have portrayed the superheroes and villains–unless they are admitted comics geeks such as Nicholas Cage–and spent more time on directors such as Joss Whedon and Kevin Smith.
Grade = B-