True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I only knew of Stan Lee through the cameos in the Marvel films--I didn't really start reading comics till a few years ago. I knew very little of Marvel's history, and indeed the history of the comics industry in general. So in that sense, this biography was a revelation. Stan was a complicated character, by turns a generous visionary and a calculating bullshitter. He was hailed for creating Marvel's stable of iconic characters, but this book makes a convincing argument that most, if not all, of the classic 60's Marvel characters were created by artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Personally, he had a happy marriage, but his daughter and only child was apparently bipolar, and he had to work his entire life, well past the point where he should have been able to retire, to support his wife and daughter's profligate spending. He made questionable business decisions, to say the least, and embroiled countless people in get-rich-quick schemes and endless boasting Hollywood film/tv/movie/animation projects that never came to fruition. At the same time, the last year of his life was terribly sad: after the death of his wife, he was exploited, abused, ripped off and manipulated by both his daughter and various venal hangers-on. The last chapter made for a bit of depressing reading, let me tell you. This book is well written and paced like a novel, and exhaustively researched and documented. If you're not fond of discovering just how much crumbling clay is in your heroes' feet and legs, you probably shouldn't read this.
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