COMICSCENE REVIEW – TRUE BELIEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF STAN LEE (A RIESMAN)

Stan Lee, it has to be said, isn’t the easiest figure to write a book on. It was easy for HIM, sure, but Stan’s own diatribes on his life are about as reliable as all those girls that are in my area (honest) and want to shag me.

Enter Abraham Riesman, a man who knows a heck of a lot about Stan Lee, as evidenced by the 35 pages at the end of the book corroborating his sources for quotes and the like. It’s a heck of a lot of work to do in service of a man you really didn’t like.

Didn’t like? Oh yes, indeedy. It’s very clear from the start that Stan Lee’s unofficial biographer didn’t have much love for his subject, and as a result this book is being widely regarded as a hack job. The biggest bugbear for many is the age old He Said/He Said war of words between Stan and Jack Kirby. Whilst it is undeniable that both men lied at various times and the truth sits in the middle somewhere, Stan gets quite a savaging throughout whenever Kirby’s name comes up. There’s many other instances where Riesman basically slaughters Stan for things he would give others the benefit of the doubt. Hmmmmm.

As a biography, it’s pretty good but no more than that. As someone who has a good knowledge of Stan already, I only really learned anything of interest when it came to his post Marvel escapades, such as POW entertainment, when it seemed that everything he touched turned to shit. This section is again pretty good, but there’s a lot of legal confusion, as well as Riesman basically accusing Stan of lying as usual and committing fraud. It’s kinda grubby. Throughout, Riesman provides many, many quotes from interviews, and has no doubt done a ton of research. Even so, there’s zero mention of the big TV series “Stan Lee’s Lucky Man”, which I find odd, even if, as with many Stan Lee presents type things, all he did was throw a loose idea that others made work.

So what we have here is a detailed look at Stan Lee’s life, including many mentions of the fact his wife and daughter (who is painted as insane) spent everything he earned as soon as he made it. Huge focus is put on people like Kirby and Ditko, who didn’t like him, with much smaller mentions of those he worked with who thought he was a wonderful, supportive, creative and great boss. Stan Lee has his faults, and changed his stories often, but at heart seems to have been a man who wanted to help others, to his detriment in later life. The real Stan Lee can be found somewhere between this and his own puff pieces, but at least Stan’s papering over the cracks doesn’t leave quite the taste of sour grapes that this does.

If you really want to know the absolute truth of what Stan and Jack said about each other, I thoroughly recommend “Stuf Said”, which uses just about everything they ever said about each other and lets you make your own mind up.

One comment

  1. I haven’t read this book, and looking at the review I don’t really intend to. I had great respect for both Stan and Jack and have been a fan of their work for over 50 years. In fact I often say that Stan Lee and Rupert the Bear taught me to read, and Jack Kirby showed me that a Comic Page was capable of being true art.

    I doubt either man was a Saint, but together they produced the greatest comics of their era, combining Stan’s florid and witty dialogue and Jack’s ultra futuristic artwork. If you look at their careers following their break-up, you still see Stan in full flow with artists like Buscema and Romita with long running series. Jack on the other hand in his solo career at both DC and on his Return to Marvel in the mid seventies, produced some astonishing concepts like the New Gods and The Eternals, but did not seem to have the same grasp of character and dialogue, hence these auteur series were cancelled after a few issues. I would go so far to say that even Jack’s earliest co-creation, Captain America, did not find its true voice till Stan started writing him in the Avengers. It is a shame they could not keep their collaboration going a little longer, imagine what other wonders they could have produced.

    Like

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