True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee, the recent book written by Abraham Riesman, is an eye-opening look into Stan Lee’s life.
This book marks the 29th book I’ve read during the pandemic. Riesman’s book is a substantially different book than that of A Marvelous Life by Danny Fingeroth. That’s not to take anything away from Fingeroth. Working in the industry gave Fingeroth the chance to get to know Stan Lee. I think both are solid books in their own right. Did Stan Lee exaggerate the truth or flat out lie in some areas? This is debatable–some will say one thing, others will say something different.
The whole relationship between Lee and Jack Kirby in their later years is so complicated. Even when the media came to reporting on it, they would leave certain things out or fall just short of verifying information. I’ve spoken with Danny Fingeroth about this in the above-linked interview. Following the publication of this book earlier this year, Roy Thomas–one of the final people to see Stan in person–offered his own thoughts. Riesman seems to side with Kirby in the book. At least, this is the way I view it. Please correct me if I’m wrong. Again, the relationship is so complex. The only people that can tell us what really took place in that room are both dead. When it comes down to who is telling the truth, I personally do not have the answer. I’ll leave it with that.
You can also argue complications in the relationship with Steve Ditko. Ditko refused to do interviews in later years but he certainly had his way of providing his side of the story. Riesman, thanks to both archives and information available, goes in-depth on these relationships. The same, too, with Larry Lieber. I think there’s more in this book about Stan’s younger brother than in Danny’s book. In reading this book, you can’ help but feel bad for Larry. The two didn’t have the best relationship and it got worse some time after Stan married Joan.
Regardless of relationships, Stan had a huge impact on popular culture. There’s hardly a Marvel film that doesn’t have Lee appearing in a cameo since the dawn of the new century. But these cameos weren’t truly satisfactory for the man. Lee always wanted more lines! Unfortunately, directors always had the reign him in if you know what I mean. Spider-Man director Sam Raimi speaks of the time he shot the Stan Lee cameo in the 2002 film. There were two scenes filmed but if you ask me, Raimi was wise to cut the second one. There was no MCU at the time so an X-Men reference would have just been weird.
For whatever highs may come during the final three chapters, they are also among the saddest chapters in the book. It isn’t a fun section at all. I do not want to put the blame on Stan. However, the people who came into his life had their own agenda. I would rather not discuss the relationship with his daughter. Honestly, it’s best if we don’t get into it right now. Peter Paul was the first of them and this led to the creation of Stan Lee Media. Suffice it to say, SLM was a straight-out disaster. There was an SEC investigation and ultimately, Stan was cleared but you can’t just believe he didn’t know what was happening behind the scenes. Following the SLM failure, POW! Entertainment was formed. This was supposed to be a new creative venture for Stan. However, hardly anything ever came from all of the media announcements.
People came into Lee’s life in those final years had no business being around him. You can certainly make an argument about some of them being paranoid. I mean, who would set up recording devices and not let people know. Or who would call the cops when Adult Protective Services came to investigate? Stan’s friends and former co-workers were in the right to be worried. The likes of Neal Adams, Ron Friedman, the list honestly goes on and on. Even as fans, we had every right to be worried. Take a few years ago, for instance. Did Stan really have pneumonia or was it his inner circle just fighting? Some of the social media messages were…well, just not Stan.
True Believer is a worthy contribution to the Stan Lee biography canon. But again, it goes without saying that Stan Lee and Jack Kirby had a complicated relationship.