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The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, an artist and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost. Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—is one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as editor in chief of Marvel Comics for three decades and, in that time The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, an artist and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost. Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—is one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as editor in chief of Marvel Comics 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. But Lee's unprecedented career was also pitted with spectacular failures, controversy, and bitter disputes. Lee was dogged by accusations from his long-time collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko over who really created Marvel's signature characters—icons for whom Lee had always been suspected of taking more than his due share of credit. A major business venture, Stan Lee Media, resulted in stock manipulation, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. 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, issuing cryptic video recordings as a battle to control his fortune and legacy ensued. Abraham Riesman is a veteran culture reporter who has conducted extensive new interviews and research, turning up never-before-published revelations about Lee's life and work. Lee's most famous motto was: "With great power comes great responsibility." True Believer chronicles every triumph and every misstep of an extraordinary life, and leaves it to readers to decide whether Lee lived up to the responsibilities of his own talent.


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The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, an artist and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost. Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—is one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as editor in chief of Marvel Comics for three decades and, in that time The definitive, revelatory biography of Marvel Comics creator Stan Lee, an artist and entrepreneur who reshaped global pop culture—at a steep personal cost. Stan Lee—born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922—is one of the most beloved and influential entertainers to emerge from the twentieth century. He served as editor in chief of Marvel Comics 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. But Lee's unprecedented career was also pitted with spectacular failures, controversy, and bitter disputes. Lee was dogged by accusations from his long-time collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko over who really created Marvel's signature characters—icons for whom Lee had always been suspected of taking more than his due share of credit. A major business venture, Stan Lee Media, resulted in stock manipulation, bankruptcy, and criminal charges. 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, issuing cryptic video recordings as a battle to control his fortune and legacy ensued. Abraham Riesman is a veteran culture reporter who has conducted extensive new interviews and research, turning up never-before-published revelations about Lee's life and work. Lee's most famous motto was: "With great power comes great responsibility." True Believer chronicles every triumph and every misstep of an extraordinary life, and leaves it to readers to decide whether Lee lived up to the responsibilities of his own talent.

30 review for True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee

  1. 4 out of 5

    AltLovesBooks

    "There is no more unreliable narrator of a person's life than that person." I read this biography as a comic fan, and also as someone who was peripherally aware of all the controversy surrounding Lee's name much later in life. I knew some details in broad strokes, but nothing in the sort of detail presented in this book. While eye-opening (and sad, in the later chapters), it didn't surprise me much. People are complicated, and I think Stan Lee embodied that. I think he was complicated, he was ego "There is no more unreliable narrator of a person's life than that person." I read this biography as a comic fan, and also as someone who was peripherally aware of all the controversy surrounding Lee's name much later in life. I knew some details in broad strokes, but nothing in the sort of detail presented in this book. While eye-opening (and sad, in the later chapters), it didn't surprise me much. People are complicated, and I think Stan Lee embodied that. I think he was complicated, he was egotistical, he was ambitious to an unrealistic degree, and he always seemed to struggle to come to terms with who he was. Complicating matters of his life, he seemed to also unwittingly surround himself with people just like him, muddying the waters a bit in terms of what was truth and what was fiction in the early days of Marvel. Without going into detail here on my thoughts of the Kirby/Lee debacle, I think the truth is somewhere in the middle of what the two men each claimed. Having said all that, a life led full of ambition, avarice, and wealth does not mean that you earn whatever comes next. Whatever wrongs Stan committed to get where he ended up do not justify his treatment at the hands of all the leeches that came out of the woodwork in his later years. He didn't deserve any of that treatment at the hands of people he initially trusted, people that were by blood or by friendship family to him. This biography was extremely engaging, and clearly well researched by the author. The notes section in the end is extensive, and the author mentions at multiple points the sources of information used to write the different chapters. I enjoyed this book immensely, even if the subject is not the perfect person a lot of people expected him to be. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    John Adkins

    This well written and extensively researched biography of Stan Lee stands apart from most other books on the topic by not being a thinly veiled hagiography of Saint Stan. The book casts doubt on many of the long held "truths" about the history (mythology?) of the founding or Marvel Comics. Riesman builds on extensive interviews to paint a story of an ambitious Stan Lee who never truly felt comfortable working in the comics industry. Stan the Man in parts appears as a highly effective manager but This well written and extensively researched biography of Stan Lee stands apart from most other books on the topic by not being a thinly veiled hagiography of Saint Stan. The book casts doubt on many of the long held "truths" about the history (mythology?) of the founding or Marvel Comics. Riesman builds on extensive interviews to paint a story of an ambitious Stan Lee who never truly felt comfortable working in the comics industry. Stan the Man in parts appears as a highly effective manager but also as a person who was always ready to take all of the credit for himself. He is shown as a brilliant self-publicist and a person who was bullied early on by the financial desires of his wife and daughter and later by the business partners he looked to to finally get him what he felt was his due. By the end of his life the reader feels sorry for all that has happened to Stan but in many ways cannot help but think that some of it is justice for his treatment of fellow creators, most notably the Great Jack Kirby. This book was provided to me as an eArc by NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

    Much more than a fan's, or a former fan's, notes — a thorough examination of one of the oddest American success stories of the 20th century, about how a guy with the soul of Willie Loman inadvertently became a pop culture revolution and then spent the rest of his sad life not quite knowing what to do with/about it. Terrifying. Much more than a fan's, or a former fan's, notes — a thorough examination of one of the oddest American success stories of the 20th century, about how a guy with the soul of Willie Loman inadvertently became a pop culture revolution and then spent the rest of his sad life not quite knowing what to do with/about it. Terrifying.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Tim Joseph

    A candid tale of the creation of Stan Lee, as he often referred to himself, the Man, the Myth, the Legend. This unvarnished look at a Giant name in the pop-culture world may shock some, but its deeply humanizing tale, more than anything, makes you hurt for the sufferings he went thru time and again in his life. A decent story, but with some unfortunate editorializing that colors the work. Fans of Stan and Marvel, though, will be quick to point out the man thrust of the work: without Stan Lee, th A candid tale of the creation of Stan Lee, as he often referred to himself, the Man, the Myth, the Legend. This unvarnished look at a Giant name in the pop-culture world may shock some, but its deeply humanizing tale, more than anything, makes you hurt for the sufferings he went thru time and again in his life. A decent story, but with some unfortunate editorializing that colors the work. Fans of Stan and Marvel, though, will be quick to point out the man thrust of the work: without Stan Lee, the world would be a much different looking place. One with less hope, wonder and the one thing that typified Stan, a drive for excellence. EXCELSIOR, Stan!

  5. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    DNF the audiobook, and to be honest I barely started it. The flamboyantly dramatic narrator starts out by calling Lee a liar and his friends, family and associates thieves, then detours through a genealogy deep dive on Lee's ancestors, including breathlessly informing us that the birthplace of his paternal grandmother (or maybe a different relative; I don't recall because this is not information that is meant to be remembered) is unknown. We then get an excruciating history lecture on 19th-centu DNF the audiobook, and to be honest I barely started it. The flamboyantly dramatic narrator starts out by calling Lee a liar and his friends, family and associates thieves, then detours through a genealogy deep dive on Lee's ancestors, including breathlessly informing us that the birthplace of his paternal grandmother (or maybe a different relative; I don't recall because this is not information that is meant to be remembered) is unknown. We then get an excruciating history lecture on 19th-century Romanian anti-Semitism (Lee, as you may recall, was born in the 20th century in New York City). At this point I gave up, feeling like Bruce Banner when one too many frustrations pile up. Who is this book for? Not me.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Luka Lalosevic

    Shame on you Abraham Riesman , shame on you ! Dirty leacher , I hope after you are gonna people are gonna talk and remember what a dirt bag you were in your life ! And everything you have done , and that is nothing ! Filth .

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bob

    I made my peace with Stan Lee--or at least the well-cultivated image of Stan Lee--in 2010 at the San Diego Comic-Con. And the reason was that he was entertaining; he motivated me, and made me feel good. Stan could do that, and he probably earned more than a few second chances with people that way. ___ You can read my account of that Comic-Con appearance here: https://www.salon.com/2010/07/26/comi... _____ Now you see, Jack Kirby was my idol in my teens and into my twenties--maybe even way sooner t I made my peace with Stan Lee--or at least the well-cultivated image of Stan Lee--in 2010 at the San Diego Comic-Con. And the reason was that he was entertaining; he motivated me, and made me feel good. Stan could do that, and he probably earned more than a few second chances with people that way. ___ You can read my account of that Comic-Con appearance here: https://www.salon.com/2010/07/26/comi... _____ Now you see, Jack Kirby was my idol in my teens and into my twenties--maybe even way sooner than that. This adulation probably went back to mind-blowing splash pages in Devil Dinosaur or Kamandi in the 70s. Kirby was the far-less heralded co-creator (at least) of The Fantastic Four, The Incredibly Hulk, the X-Men, Iron Man, the comic book version of Thor, and so many others--the very foundations of the Marvel Universe itself. Two other essential pillars--Spider-Man and Doctor Strange--were created or at least co-created by the warped genius of Steve Ditko, another artist with a penchant for mind-blowing imagery. I was convinced that Jack and Ditko were the real geniuses behind those characters and all of their supporting super villains, and that Stan just put word bubbles filled alliterative phrases into Spidey or Ben Grimm's mouths at most while taking all the credit for those artists' labors. But my harsh assessment started to change while listening to Stan at the 2010 Comic-Con tell the origin story about his transformation from Stanley Martin Lieber into the beloved media figure called Stan Lee and the travails of a middle-aged man writing romance comics aimed at 12-year-old girls. Stan just had the gift of gab, I thought. He was the one that reporters wanted to talk and so they assigned him all the credit for collaborative works. As a reporter myself I knew how this could happen. It's so much easier to write that Stan was the creator of Marvel Comics instead of explaining the more complex collaborative process. This happens to me all the time where I struggle to explain something to the reader concisely but with accuracy. You can twist yourself into knots trying to do that on tight deadlines, and to writers who didn't care or understand, they just didn't bother, leaving Stan with a moral quandary that he was never up to dealing with. This reassessment of mine was bolstered by the book Stan Lee Conversations, a 2007 collection of transcribed convention and media interviews with Stan. In several of them, he pushes the interviewers to include Kirby in the retelling of the Marvel creation myth, often to no avail. "Maybe we've all been too harsh on Smilin' Stan," I thought. But now, Abraham Riesman's True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee is here to tell us that we probably weren't. Riesman is one of the best journalists covering comics today and his biographic reassessment of the Stan and his oversized image details how hogging all the credit wasn't an accident of history, blockbuster movie cameos or sloppy journalism. It was all by design, but the truly sad part--and this is a very sad book--is it wasn't so much due to avarice at first, but because of Stan's senses-shattering insecurities. The pattern, once established, is later (but not too much later) motivated by the expensive tastes of his wife Joan, a woman with 50s fashion model good looks that Stan truly adored but only exacerbated his sense of inferiority. Eventually, Stan gets to the point where Marvel is paying him a million dollars a year to do nothing and that's still not enough. True Believer depicts Stan as a man who always looked down on the comics field he was relegated too but never put in the work to break into more literary or journalistic fields. As Riesman details his own journeys through the Stan Lee archives with descriptions of decades of terrible and half-baked ideas, we are left wondering if Stan was even a good enough idea man for the four-color industry he found himself stuck in, the one he privately denigrated. We are returned to Kirby and Ditko's version of events that they were the creative force behind what's now part of Disney's inescapable media leviathan. Riesman also shows unflinchingly how Stan's jokes at his artists' expense may have seemed like gentle ribbing to me reading them in Marvel Comics letters pages and credit lines, but were terrible slights to the overworked, underpaid and under appreciated men on the receiving end of them. It's easy enough for me, a mere fanboy, to make peace with Stan, but not Kirby, Ditko and even "Dashing" Dick Ayers while they were going blind, and risking carpal tunnel to draw all those panels and, yes, plot all those stories, only to receive no royalties due to the comics industry's exploitative work for hire standards of the time. These guys didn't even get their artwork back. Riesman makes you feel this pain and anger. At best, Stan was the producer of these comics to use cinema terms and Kirby et al were the directors. And while the producer is the one who takes home to Best Picture Oscar, the directors are generally the ones credited with the work (much to screenwriters' dismay, but that's a different industry). True Believer becomes an out-and-out Shakespearean tragedy by the time you get to the 1990s and the 21st Century where Stan becomes the figurehead of new media companies that are little more than stock manipulation schemes financed by check kiting. Like a gripping film noir, you see plenty of opportunities for Stan to right the ship and go legit, but he never does. He could have mentored young talent to create a new generation of heroes and worlds, but he had spent too much time selling himself to anyone who would listen as the great idea man that the Kurt Busieks of the world are relegated to struggling to make Stan's terrible ideas work--a truly Sisyphean task if ever there was one. Things go from bad to worse and worse from there as Stan is plagued by ruthless hangers on and his own abusive daughter until he's propped up at the head of autograph lines until nearly his dying day. In the subtext of True Believer is Riesman's own shattered image of Stan, a figure he has admired for most of his life but could no longer do so after being confronted by so much evidence of malfeasance and cell-phone videos of Stan "The Man" as a waning figure spouting racial slurs. The latter is a little easier for me to look the other way at as those videos were taken by the people who tormented and exploited him during the painful last months of his life. Stan wasn't at his best, but I didn't see the videos either. I just read transcriptions of them in cold text. I bought True Believer last Sunday and finished it on Thursday. That has to count for something, so I'm giving this book a rare (for me) five stars. It is also a tremendous work of research that I can only admire and envy. But be warned, this is a sad, sad book where the highs of Stan's rise never feel all that fun or meteoric as the author never turns away from making us painfully aware of the rotten foundations of Stan's success. Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (2013) is a much more fun version of these events, but Howe wasn't stuck wading through Stan Lee's secret self-loathing. Howe gets to focus on Chris Claremont or Marv Wolfman for a while, making it easier to for him to portray the bright side of Marvel's pulpy publishing empire. Through his research for this book, Riesman's view of Stan would never be the same, and for this, he couldn't help but make sure that ours won't be either. Marvel Comics: The Untold Story

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Schultz

    Read if you: Want a fair investigation into Stan Lee's life. Even casual pop culture followers know that Stan Lee was the creator of iconic Marvel characters. But what was the real truth behind that, and are claims that his influence/work are overstated true? This is a thorough, sympathetic, but not idolizing look at Lee's work, his inconsistencies with telling the truth, his difficult relationships, and more. Librarians/booksellers: Purchase if biographies on pop culture icons are popular. Many Read if you: Want a fair investigation into Stan Lee's life. Even casual pop culture followers know that Stan Lee was the creator of iconic Marvel characters. But what was the real truth behind that, and are claims that his influence/work are overstated true? This is a thorough, sympathetic, but not idolizing look at Lee's work, his inconsistencies with telling the truth, his difficult relationships, and more. Librarians/booksellers: Purchase if biographies on pop culture icons are popular. Many thanks to Crown and Edelweiss for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Grant Erickson

    Wow. This book. In American pop-culture, Stan Lee is a titan among men. A post-war, mid-century "Rags-to-Riches" tale. From humble beginnings as the son of Romanian Jews, Lee took a somewhat corrupt fledgling company (known more for creating sketchy shell corporations than quality comics) and delivered some of the most striking and complicated characters American fiction has ever produced. Working with storied artistic talents such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee piloted Marvel Comics on a cr Wow. This book. In American pop-culture, Stan Lee is a titan among men. A post-war, mid-century "Rags-to-Riches" tale. From humble beginnings as the son of Romanian Jews, Lee took a somewhat corrupt fledgling company (known more for creating sketchy shell corporations than quality comics) and delivered some of the most striking and complicated characters American fiction has ever produced. Working with storied artistic talents such as Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee piloted Marvel Comics on a creative streak so extraordinary and successful, it became known as the "Silver Age of Comic Books". Characters such as Spider Man, The Hulk, Black Panther, and more told nuanced, complicated stories, putting to bed the notion that comics were an inherently frivolous medium. With the massive success of the Marvel Universe under Disney, Stan Lee seemed to take on an almost immortal status, sure as ever to pop in for a cameo in whatever Marvel film is in theaters. Is that the whole story though? Is a character like Stan Lee so beloved, that he can do no wrong? Is he even human? This book, perhaps for the first time ever, seems to tell the true story about Stanley Lieber, the man who, with bombast and hubris, transformed himself into the larger than life "Stan Lee". While the author gives equal time to Lee's virtues, he is unafraid to show the negative side, the almost toxic ambition that would eventually be his tomb. It becomes apparent after finishing this book that Lee's narrative was almost entirely shaped by him, with any negativity glossed over, which makes the difficult parts of his life stand out more. To a hardcore fan of Lee, this book might seem like a "kill your idols"-type hit piece, but that would be too simple of a analysis. It gives us the most critical look we've seen yet about Lee, and in the process, we see past the symbol, and find the humanity within him. There are details in this book that are almost shocking in their candidness. Stan Lee wanted to be famous, to be known, and would have done anything to succeed. Stan Lee appeared to not even be a fan of comic books, actively contemplating other career paths even at the height of his success, such as textbook publisher or talk show host. His father, an observant Jewish dress cutter, disdained Stan's accomplishments and despaired on his son marrying outside of the faith. We hear from his younger brother, Larry Lieber, living in a small studio in New York City, more or less ignored by his brother, and given scraps of work to survive on. As time goes on, Stan tries to pivot to other areas of entertainment, and is dismayed by his irrelevance in Hollywood. His post-Marvel ventures, "Stan Lee Media" and "POW! Entertainment", are quickly outed as corrupt entities, used almost entirely for financial crimes. Stan's culpability in these crimes as shown to be somewhat suspect, but he emerges from these disasters almost without a scratch. One of the biggest, and more than likely the most damning aspect of this book is his actual role in the creation of his fabled collection of characters. Using a collaborative scripting style dubbed the "Marvel Method", the artist would create most of the story beats, and the writer would provide dialogue later. Sometimes the writer would provide a outline, but these tended to be flimsy and broad, allowing the artist the freedom to design the story as they see fit. This type of collaboration makes identification of who created what difficult, and not made easier by Stan or those who worked with him. As Lee's esteem grew, his role in the creation process grew larger and larger until he became almost the sole wellspring of these ideas. This hubris was resented and denounced in interviews with Ditko and Kirby, but we find that these artists are almost as unreliable as Lee. Jack Kirby, in particular, constantly inflated his role in everything, proclaiming himself the sole genius in Marvel, and Stan Lee just a hack. While these less than savory accounts of Stan Lee's life are sobering to read, his last years alive are uniformly awful, and make for some hard reading. His innately trusting and personable nature prove to be his undoing, allowing con men and charlatans to surround him and bleed him dry financially. His daughter, Joan Celia (JC) Lee, proved to be his worst nightmare. Implied to have some sort of personality disorder, JC lived entirely off her parents, and only wanted more. Verbally and physically abusive to her parents, the treatment of her father once her mother died becomes infinitely more violent and greedy. Cut off from friends, utterly heartbroken from the loss of his wife, and subjected to a parasitic "support network", Stan Lee quickly deteriorates, and finally passes away. While his death was from natural causes, the role of JC in his death is speculated upon. As one of the untold millions of kids to fall in love with Marvel, this book produced a lot of mixed feelings in me. It's easy to read this book and be like "wow, fuck him!", but this book provided a more nuanced version of the man that I sincerely appreciate. At one point, someone mentioned that Stan was a better editor than a writer, and should be recognized for that, an assessment I tend to agree with. Even if his role in the creation of these beloved characters is overblown, his constant promotion of all things Marvel helped popularize comic books to a larger audience. So, in the end, I would highly recommend this book to everyone, but especially for those who grew up and loved Marvel and comics in general. However, if you're a diehard Stan Lee fanboy (to the degree that he could shoot you in the leg and you'd still love him unconditionally), you should avoid this book entirely.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sheldon

    This is a fascinating book and Riesman has done a great job of collecting various viewpoints, bits of opposing evidence and presenting them here in one place. For anyone that only follows the Marvel via the MCU I am sure that a lot of the bombshells dropped here will be a surprise and the polar opposite of what they have come to expect from Stan Lee, however it's very familiar territory for anyone who has followed comics or even read the wonderful 2012 book "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" by S This is a fascinating book and Riesman has done a great job of collecting various viewpoints, bits of opposing evidence and presenting them here in one place. For anyone that only follows the Marvel via the MCU I am sure that a lot of the bombshells dropped here will be a surprise and the polar opposite of what they have come to expect from Stan Lee, however it's very familiar territory for anyone who has followed comics or even read the wonderful 2012 book "Marvel Comics: The Untold Story" by Sean Howe (highly recommended follow-up reading if you have not!). Even as a teen in the 1990's I wondered why on earth each Marvel Comic had "Stan Lee Presents.." on the opening page when Lee was not included anywhere else in the credits; evidence enough that Lee was only happy to have his name against something he creatively had nothing to do with. It's staggering how many comics that Stan Lee see signed that had nothing to do with himself either, even on characters he didn't claim to create. As a life-long Spider-Man fan I had previously heard a lot of the pieces that involve the creation and evolution of the web crawler. In 2007 Jonathan Ross made a UK documentary called 'In Search of Steve Ditko' (it often gets uploaded to YouTube) which highlights the battle of credit for who should be called creator and in his interview Stan Lee begrudgingly accepts Ditko's claim to be called co-creator however he immediately follows it up with that he considers whoever dreams up the idea to be the creator which was himself. Hmmm.. Blurred lines between writer and artist is nothing new either, Bill Finger only received the co-creator of Batman in 2015 from DC, prior to that Batman charlatan "Bob Kane" had the audacity to publicly claim credit for everything whereas in fact everything you know and love about Batman was created by Finger. It's appropriate that Riesman notes that Stan Lee liked to be compared to the comics world version of Walt Disney as both men have a very public persona as a friendly, caring, creative genius and a darker business side; both Stan and Walt were pro-business and anti-worker rights, Walt was anti-union and handled himself extremely poorly throughout the animators strike, firing as discriminating against many including star animator Art Babbitt effectively tarnishing his career. Anyone expecting this to be one prolonged attack on Lee will be happy to be proven wrong, Risemen walks the tightrope of narrative well, including both points of view when there is one and comes across fairly well balanced (to continue the analogy!). The details of Lee’s later life are heart-breaking as much as hearing about Jack Kirby being overlooked and you cannot help but have sympathy for all parties here. Even his prodigal and wily daughter JC. Both Walt and Stan equally leave a shadow over their career, however their accomplishments cannot be, and in the case with this biography by Risemen is not, denigrated. Without Lee's imagination, his salesmanship, his persona you could easily argue that the media landscape would not be the same as it is today. Lee was not a perfect man, but no one ever is. Did I believe that the "Marvel Method" of comic book creation was purposefully used to obscure just how much those bullpen artists did in the early days of comics? Absolutely. Do I believe that Lee is responsible for less than he actually is? Absolutely. However that will never change the fact that the man is the co-creator of a universe beloved by many, a universe that sparked the imagination of kids and adults for decades, a universe that helped inspire many children to pick up a book and read, a universe that continues to dominate the TV screens (for good or bad) and entertain the world over. There will never be another Stan Lee.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Dan Seitz

    If you grew up loving comics, you probably grew up loving Stan Lee. And, to this point, to the extent Lee's life has been probed at all, it's been done by friends or fans. Even though the controversy around whether Lee or Jack Kirby can claim the most credit for Marvel's creations has been out in the open for a while, Stan's still been "Stan the Man," beloved cameo artist and figurehead. Riesman (who, full disclosure, I'll be interviewing shortly after this review runs) takes a more neutral stanc If you grew up loving comics, you probably grew up loving Stan Lee. And, to this point, to the extent Lee's life has been probed at all, it's been done by friends or fans. Even though the controversy around whether Lee or Jack Kirby can claim the most credit for Marvel's creations has been out in the open for a while, Stan's still been "Stan the Man," beloved cameo artist and figurehead. Riesman (who, full disclosure, I'll be interviewing shortly after this review runs) takes a more neutral stance, focused entirely on Stanley Lieber as he works his way into a publishing job and, by degrees, becomes Stan Lee, glib and delightful public speaker and character. It's not entirely shocking that Lee's self-presentation as a doggerel-spouting cheerleader is something of a front; the man would have to have been painfully simple-minded for that to be his actual personality. Still, what Riesman brings out is a far more complex and sometimes unpleasant person than Stan allowed fans to see, and curiously what often emerges is that Stan's everything-sunny-always behavior covered not just Stan himself but many of the people around him, including those he wronged. Kirby, for example, is often treated as a martyr to creator's rights in the industry, but while Stan doesn't come off well when Riesman discusses it, Kirby's less-than-tasteful treatment of those in Stan's orbit, Roy Thomas in particular, doesn't exactly cover him in glory. There are even some discussions of Martin Goodman here, hardly somebody held in esteem by comics nerds, that make it clear Stan covered for his boss and relative long after he really shouldn't have. Interestingly, perhaps Riesman's best point is that Stan was never a particularly great writer (and even the most generous fan in touch with reality will admit this), but he was a great editor and manager, and the great tragedy of Stan's life is that he could never accept this skill as enough. There's a funny moment where Stan, late in life, takes apart the plot structure of a comic he's being pitched and has a great point. All that said, the final section will be a tough read. Just how much Stan exploited others versus how much he was exploited or used to exploit others we'll probably never know for sure, but it makes for tragic, ugly reading, pocked with some fairly bizarre characters. In the end, what comes out of this book is that Stan Lee was a character, being played all the time, and the man behind the character was not the saint we comic fans might prefer. If you're a fan of the comics, or just curious about the man, it's a must-read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    ManOfLaBook.com

    For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is a biography of the famous writer and editor, mainly concentrating on debunking many of his claims over the past decades. Mr. Riesman is a journalist writing mostly about culture and arts. I have been a fan of comic books for many years, its American mythology for better or for worst. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman reinforce For more reviews and bookish posts please visit: https://www.ManOfLaBook.com True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is a biography of the famous writer and editor, mainly concentrating on debunking many of his claims over the past decades. Mr. Riesman is a journalist writing mostly about culture and arts. I have been a fan of comic books for many years, its American mythology for better or for worst. True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman reinforces many of the rumors, as well as innuendos which were roaming around the comic book universe. Much of the book focuses on the creator credit of many beloved characters, especially his very public and litigious fight with Jack Kirby. Indeed many fans which believe Stan Lee is the creative genius which the Marvel empire was built upon. These fans may have issues with the book. On the other hand, nothing in this book is Earth shattering, or something that hasn’t been invoked previously, but is packaged in a concise, well researched package. The book asserts that Stan Lee was a loving husband, doting father, an excellent boss, knowledgeable editor, certainly creative, and a genius self-promoter. On the other hand, he is a credit hog (which we all knew), prone to attract con-men which took advantage of him in his late age, and it seemed that his creative genius peeked in the late 60s, and he spent the next six decades trying to recapture that magic. Stan Lee gets full credit in this book for being decades ahead of his contemporaries. Mr Lee, after all, conceived the interconnected fictional universe now knows the Marvel Universe. These days it seems obvious, but that innovation of having a shared, overarching story-line were admired characters can interact and team up cannot be overstated. Mr. Riesman is attempting to tell the truth, let alone staying away from rumors and innuendos and states so when possible. In all honesty, I thought that the author actually erred on the side of scholarship than fandom. The author furthermore sees Stan Lee as a remarkable, talented man with a vision not many people have, or even understand. Stan Lee is indeed responsible for getting the Marvel brand out, selling it, and making it cool.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Chuck

    “True Believer” is a comprehensive overview the life of a man that pop culture has come to adore. Conducting interviews with a wide range of individuals, from those who knew Stan best, to those who toiled alongside him for so many years, to those who were with him in his final years, the author presents an honest and often unflattering view into the complicated life and career of the man many have compared to the “Walt Disney of Comic Books.” Not everything covered in this biography will be reve “True Believer” is a comprehensive overview the life of a man that pop culture has come to adore. Conducting interviews with a wide range of individuals, from those who knew Stan best, to those who toiled alongside him for so many years, to those who were with him in his final years, the author presents an honest and often unflattering view into the complicated life and career of the man many have compared to the “Walt Disney of Comic Books.” Not everything covered in this biography will be revelatory to comic book fans and observers of the medium, however, the authors cumulative presentation of Stan Lee’s personal and professional success’, failures, and inconsistencies, paints a fascinating portrait that is more than worth the readers time and consideration. If you enjoyed Sean Howe’s “Marvel Comics: The Untold Story,” then this book is for you.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Tom

    A simultaneously infuriating and heartbreaking story. Most of the Marvel years are well documented, but his post Marvel years have always been glossed over. In the end, it’s frustrating to see that Stan surrounded himself, whether knowingly or not, with grifters and con men. It’s sad to know that he just couldn’t share the spotlight with his fellow creators and enjoy the adoration. He seems like he was a man who could never be happy and was always running from the industry that gave him his fame A simultaneously infuriating and heartbreaking story. Most of the Marvel years are well documented, but his post Marvel years have always been glossed over. In the end, it’s frustrating to see that Stan surrounded himself, whether knowingly or not, with grifters and con men. It’s sad to know that he just couldn’t share the spotlight with his fellow creators and enjoy the adoration. He seems like he was a man who could never be happy and was always running from the industry that gave him his fame. As we know, he was a master spokesperson, a helluva editor and a jubilant dialogue writer. Rest In Peace, Mr. Lee.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kieran McAndrew

    Whatever the true story is behind Marvel Comics, something Riesman sensibly does not attempt to unravel, there can be no doubt that Stan Lee was there and changed the world of comics forever. Riesman does not shy away from the problematic aspects of Lee's life and career, making this a very readable biography. Whatever the true story is behind Marvel Comics, something Riesman sensibly does not attempt to unravel, there can be no doubt that Stan Lee was there and changed the world of comics forever. Riesman does not shy away from the problematic aspects of Lee's life and career, making this a very readable biography.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Keith

    *Possible Spoilers Ahead* “Let your motto then always be 'Excelsior', for by living up to it there is no such word as fail.” ― P T Barnum, The Art of Money Getting "What was [Stan] like?" . . . It depends on who you talk to at what moment." — Larry Lieber “. . . I know my father's creativity versus Mr. Lee's creativity, and Mr. Lee was an excellent marketer, he was an excellent manager, excellent self-promoter. I honestly don't believe he had any creative ability." — Neal Kirby (son of Jack Kirby) Abra *Possible Spoilers Ahead* “Let your motto then always be 'Excelsior', for by living up to it there is no such word as fail.” ― P T Barnum, The Art of Money Getting "What was [Stan] like?" . . . It depends on who you talk to at what moment." — Larry Lieber “. . . I know my father's creativity versus Mr. Lee's creativity, and Mr. Lee was an excellent marketer, he was an excellent manager, excellent self-promoter. I honestly don't believe he had any creative ability." — Neal Kirby (son of Jack Kirby) Abraham Riesman, the author of TRUE BELIEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF STAN LEE, sidebars his writing to inform us readers of both the mission and the difficulties of being a biographer. The mission being one that sifts through the faulty memories, missing evidence, and tries to slice through it all with an Occam’s razor to find the truth—and in lieu of truth, at least some semblance of a reasonable viewpoint. I don’t know if Riesman has been to law school, but he makes sure to drive this point home to the reader: There is no more unreliable source for a biographer than the subject of the biography himself. This is reminiscent of one of the first things mentioned in both Trial Practice and Professional Ethics classes in law school: Your client will lie to you. This seems counterintuitive, but it is a truism. The client has a vested interest in telling their lawyer whatever they think will help their case and avoiding those facts that might hurt their case. Likewise, when people talk about themselves, the stories they tell tend to morph to fit the audience they are being told to and how the storyteller wants the listeners to think about him or her. Psychologically, this can make the job of an objective biographer quite difficult. Autobiographies can never be objective, because the authors are writing about themselves; likewise the usual celebrity biography that springs forth with the cooperation of the celebrity. These can be well-written and entertaining, but they are basically just opening statements in a case that cannot be challenged or rebutted. It is a narrative crafted by someone who has a vested interest in controlling what is said and how it is said. I am someone who was born about 5 years into the Marvel Age of comics, which is recognized as starting in 1961 with the publication of FANTASTIC FOUR #1 by writer/editor Stan Lee and artist Jack Kirby. So, my childhood on into adulthood was one that tracked along with the ups and downs of Marvel Comics and was aware of Stan Lee many years before I ever took note of who Jack Kirby or (fellow artist and co-creator of Spider-Man) Steve Ditko were. I would wager that I first came to know who Kirby and Ditko were because of repeatedly checking out from the local library a 1974 paperback collection from Fireside Books called ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS that reprinted the first appearances of Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk, and Doctor Strange. Stan Lee was credited as the author and he wrote introductions to the stories in his well-established hyperbolic purple prose. And as was Stan’s pattern over the years, he told the stories of what inspired the characters’ creations, took pretty much all the credit for their conception, then heaped much praise on Kirby and Ditko for bringing his concepts to life on the printed page. And this is the narrative that most people who aware of Stan Lee and Marvel Comics know. Then there are those who, like myself, have always enjoyed a higher level of curiosity about the inner workings of the business and, so, enjoy seeking out and reading a lot of these “inside baseball” type of books and articles about comics history. We are the ones who will go into a book like this with a pretty good knowledge of the many conflicting stories and claims about the creator credits Gordian Knot at Marvel Comics. Even with a pretty thorough collection of information in my own head from decades of exposure to this stuff, I encountered new facts and new information to add to the complicated image of Stan “The Man” Lee. Riesman’s book does a professional job weaving together a comprehensive narrative that spans chronologically from Stan’s grandparents through to Stan’s own death and beyond. He provides no less than 30 pages of extensive citations and notes at the end of the book, which is not anything I’ve yet seen in a Stan bio, and there’ve been plenty. This is a key distinction for Reisman’s book that also helps absolve it of baseless assertions that the author has an “anti-Stan” agenda or is a “hit piece.” There are certainly quite a bit of difficult and dark aspects to the book, but the author makes it very clear that he includes these with personal trepidation. That is, he is not going to avoid including these things simply because he doesn’t like them or because a reader might see Stan painted in a negative light. He lets the reader choose how to weigh the (cited) evidence he is presenting. The writing is engaging precisely because Riesman infuses his narrative with personal feeling and acknowledgment of his own discomfort. As such, he reflects the same feelings that many readers might have. By doing so, he makes it okay by affirming those feelings but also not backing off simply because it gets uncomfortable. To me, the most fascinating voice in the book is from Stan’s younger brother, Larry Lieber, who offers up a lot in both what he says but also in what he intentionally avoids saying. The picture I came away with from this book was a humanized Stan Lee. This is not at all the Stan that Stan himself would want us to know, but it is probably the closest we will get to the true Stan. What becomes clear by tracking along with Stan chronologically through the years is that we begin to see a very clear picture, at least to me, of a competent writer who was a good editor but was Barnum level bullshit pedaler with a severe inferiority complex masked by an over-confident and gregarious character he presented to the world. He was a man who wanted to be famous but was never talented enough to get out of the low-rent world of the comic book business, so he made himself the most famous comic book guy in the world to see where that could take him. You see this throughout the book, that even while working in comics and presenting the face of Stan “The Man” to readers, he was incessantly trying side hustles to get himself the hell out of there. Were it not for the expensive habits of his wife and daughter, he very well may have stepped out and tried something else. Unfortunately, so many of his choices (and life is nothing but cumulative choices) were driven by the need to keep his wife and daughter in the expensive lifestyle that had grown accustomed to. Part of the incongruity in Stan as a human being is that fame and fortune were such massive driving forces in his life choices but at the same time, he was someone who would give you the shirt off his back if he liked you and you needed it. At the same time, he treated his own family (except his wife and daughter) like detached acquaintances at best. Larry seems the most sad about this in that Stan would toss Larry work here and there, but in his own sunset years, Larry seems not very grateful and more resentful that his older brother kind of kept him on a meager fishing line professionally over the years and now Larry recognizes that he lost so many opportunities because of that. And now, in his 80s, he lives alone and is writing his own stories for himself. Stan and his wife, Joan, lived a public lifestyle of excess and she was especially known in their circles for drinking too much and then embarrassing herself and Stan by her drunken behavior. Stan was devoted to her but that inferiority complex in him probably contributed to his submissive support for her outlandish activities and spending. Had they lived in more of a moderate sense, they could have gone into a retirement quite rich and comfortable. Instead, he had to keep working on into his nineties just to keep up with his wife’s needs until her death, and his daughter JC’s even more absurd demands afterwards. The vast success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially after Disney purchased Marvel for 4 billion dollars, was a two-edged sword for Stan. It was the realization of the hype he had been spinning about Marvel since the beginning coming true finally, but beyond his funny little cameos on-screen, he had signed away the profit margins he could have had for a yearly stipend instead. Moreso, he had to bristle a little knowing that back in the ‘90s when Marvel was in bankruptcy, he passed up a chance to actually purchase the company which would have finally made Marvel truly his. Sure, he put on his well-practiced smile for the red carpets, but by all accounts, he never even bothered to watch the actual movies. He liked the attention, but he had little to no interest in the characters or the movies themselves. But that sort of fact doesn’t fit the narrative that people want to read about. Watching the “Rise” of Stan in this book is so fascinating because of reading those years and seeing it in my head alongside my own experience as a child reading the comics and what my perception was. I’m not sure how someone who did not have my own life experience will feel reading those sections, but it’s a bit like reading the diary of someone you thought you knew and discovering that their self-perception and life was nothing like you realized. So much of Stan’s “Rise” was reliant upon artists and writers with much more skill and creativity than Stan himself possessed. But one thing he did possess was the power to spot talent and to hitch his creative wagon to their horse. He also benefited from a natural but well-practiced charisma that served him well while putting his extraverted personality out into public speaking engagements around the country. He was laying the foundation for a particular persona and self-serving narrative that exists to this day. And the book does not present this as particularly malicious or intentionally harmful. This is Stan being Stan and charging through life without introspection and with blinders on so that he doesn’t necessarily see how his words or behavior might be construed (or misconstrued) by others. Stan was incapable of declining credit (there’s that pesky low self-esteem again) and found it difficult even when pressed about it, to acknowledge the other artists as even CO-creators. The one time he gave Ditko co-creator credit for Spider-Man, he could not help himself from saying it in such a way that Ditko could tell he didn’t really believe it. When pressed, Stan said “I have always considered Steve Ditko to be Spider-Man's co-creator.” Of course, Ditko was quick to point out that Stan still did not say Steve Ditko was factually Spider-Man’s creator but that he had always “considered” him to be. The use of that weasel word was enough for Ditko to dismiss it. And this is indicative of Stan throughout his life. He may not be the world’s best writer, but he would give Clarence Darrow a run for his money in choosing his words very carefully when he is speaking on the record. There are two elements of the book that are going to be particularly polarizing to many readers. The first is the inclusion of the crazy stories about Stan’s daughter JC, and the second is the conflict with Jack Kirby over who created the characters in those early days of Marvel. The thing about including the stories about JC is that they are absolutely necessary to any objective biography that deals with the final decade or so of Stan’s life. That last 10 to 15 years of Stan’s life is a minefield of fraud, mismanagement, theft, and abuse. Where Stan’s “Rise” is a fascinating view into how he somehow succeeded in the 80s and onward at making himself the patron god of a business that he had no real involvement in or use for other than as a propellant for his rocket to Hollywood fame and fortune. Stan’s “Fall” is a heartbreaking tale of somebody desperate enough to involve himself with shady and criminal types in scheme after scheme defrauding investors and consumers for years and years. It is a tale of a man who is tired and broken and taken advantage of by those same people, then others, and always his daughter who allegedly was both physically and verbally abusive to him as she would swing from one bipolar episode to another. Stan is even on the record near the end of his life incapable of even confidently saying that his own daughter loves him. If that makes you sick to your stomach to hear, it should. Stan was a human being and by the end of his life, he had been drained of every last drop of life by a circle of vampires, including his own daughter who took him to court to get the controlled trust Stan set up for her broken up so that when he died she could get everything and not have to go through a third-party trustee. Riesman makes very sure that anything he says about JC has sources cited, even if the source is not publicly available (such as the private audio recordings of the two of them that were shared with the author). In any objective biography, the relationship with JC is a necessary component of understanding Stan, so she and their relationship is absolutely essential to this work. The conflict with Jack Kirby, that in and of itself, is a subject worthy of a book. And there have been those as well. In comics fandom circles, there are those who take the position that Jack created everything, those who say Stan created everything, and then there are those who say it was something in the middle. Riesman says that none of those are very helpful to a biographer. A biographer is not comfortable speculating that it must be something in the middle simply because he can’t make the case one way or the other. It is a question that can never truly be answered precisely because at the time those original comics were being cranked out by a hack writer and his stable of fast-drawing freelance artists, they were considered throw-away children’s entertainment. Nobody was keeping records of meetings or notes about plots and very few, if any, scripts. There’s not even a lot of the art around because it was not seen as valuable. They stored the pages away in warehouses where, over the years, much of it was destroyed by water, fire, rodents, or stolen by the occasional employee. It was not until the late ‘80s and early ‘90s that Marvel finally got around to cataloging and returning what art they still had to the artists from the ‘60s. It is notable that Ditko . . . . *Ran out of room. You can read the full review on my blog https://www.profchallenger.com/2021/0...

  17. 4 out of 5

    C. Adam Volle

    Yeah, read it—but it may be pretty tough, if you're a big fan. Yeah, read it—but it may be pretty tough, if you're a big fan.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Robert Saucedo

    Between Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Harvey, and this past week’s winter storm, Houston has really callused me against the fact that the weather, like a house cat, will 100 percent try and kill you if it gets big enough. Three days without electricity, five without water. This past week in Houston was certainly an experience - but not necessarily a catastrophic one for me, personally. Despite experiencing some inconveniences, I can’t, in any right state of mind, complain because there were folks who Between Hurricane Ike, Hurricane Harvey, and this past week’s winter storm, Houston has really callused me against the fact that the weather, like a house cat, will 100 percent try and kill you if it gets big enough. Three days without electricity, five without water. This past week in Houston was certainly an experience - but not necessarily a catastrophic one for me, personally. Despite experiencing some inconveniences, I can’t, in any right state of mind, complain because there were folks who had it much, much worse than I. In fact, I almost found the past week to be a mini-vacation. Cut off from the internet, I was forced to take time away from work and instead read. A lot. The best thing I read this past week was Abraham Riesman’s biography TRUE BELIEVER: THE RISE AND FALL OF STAN LEE. Like a lot of folks my age, I grew up correlating Lee with Marvel Comics and its creation, right or wrong. In fact, when Jack Kirby died in 1994, my father told me over breakfast that “the creator of the X-Men has passed away” and, when I realized he wasn’t talking about Stan Lee, I told him he didn’t know what he was talking about. Who was this Kirby guy? Woof. Riseman’s warts-and-all portrait of Stan Lee does not shy away from the controversy surrounding Lee and Kirby's contentious relationship. Who was the rightful creator of Marvel Comics’ most famous superheroes? Was it Lee, who claimed to have dreamed up each hero from scratch and given the blueprints to the artists to illustrate, or was it Jack Kirby, who claimed that he created the heroes and plotted every story, with Lee only providing dialogue to the finished product? We’ll probably never know the truth. What’s indisputable, though, is that Stan Lee took more credit than he earned and, intentionally or unintentionally, helped obscure the real work that collaborators like Jack Kirby or Steve Ditko had in creating Marvel’s roster of superheroes. Riseman spends just as much time on Stan Lee’s post-Marvel life as he does with the prolific writer in the heyday of his time with the comic book company. It’s easy to look at the success (or, specifically, the lack thereof) that Lee experienced once he stopped collaborating with Jack Kirby as proof that Kirby was the true brains behind the operation. Characters like Striperella and Ravage 2099 never achieved the type of immediate success that Lee and his team won in the early ‘60s. The Marvel Universe would probably have existed without Stan Lee but would they have succeeded with only Jack Kirby? Riseman’s book paints a portrait of a man who exists in a moral grayscale. He can be cruel and uncaring - especially to his own brother, Larry Lieber. He is self-serving, with the primary focus of his career being his own self-promotion. He’s a micro-manager, a blow-hard, lacking in empathy, and a fabulist of the highest degree. He was apathetic to, if not downright disdainful of, the industry that made him famous. He’s part Michael Scott, part Saul Goodman. To paraphrase a quote about Lee from Riseman’s book - he’s a good guy, not a great guy. If Lee were just getting started in the industry, he would have been “canceled” for a myriad of reasons. And yet… and yet… it’s impossible to consider a scenario where Marvel Comics makes the level of cultural impact it made without Lee. Kirby may have come up with the concepts and designs - maybe even the stories - but Lee’s characterizations for the heroes are just as memorable as their costumes and their fights. We love Spider-Man for who he is, just as much as what he can do. More so, Lee was an ambassador for the comic book industry during the lean years - he was the jovial, smiling grandfather that made fans feel like part of a club. He kept the industry moving ever forward and, like Moses who led his people to a promised land he himself could not enjoy, Lee tapped out just before Marvel’s comic book creations hit peak cultural impact. I’m fascinated by the idea of morally questionable people who do good in the world. Lee was, by all rights, prone to misdeeds and ill behavior, but should that negate all the good he did? What is the balance we accept? Where do we look past someone’s bad choices and recognize their achievements? Lee’s final years were, by all accounts, hell. Riseman spends many a page detailing how the man, who had built a career out of taking advantage of people, was himself taken advantage of time and time again. It’s painful at times to read about the emotional and physical trauma Lee was put through in the last years of his life - by less than scrupulous business partners, by members of his own family. Lee suffered and maybe it’s possible to say “what goes around, comes around” but I refute that as well. I can’t help but feel our society has, prompted by the great injustices seen every day around us, become obsessed with the idea of people getting what they deserve. Fuck around and find out indeed. I saw that this week with folks on social media talking in almost gleeful tones about how Texas’ hardships were the result of its voting history. Forget baseball, justice is America’s new favorite pastime. Where does this lead? I can’t help but feel this focus on comeuppance will lead to some dystopian future - the kind that Lee might have written about in his comics. The world isn’t fair and I’m all for pivoting society back towards something more closely resembling fairness but I do not want to live in a world where the world spends its off-time patrolling culture, a pitchfork and torch in its back pocket, like a vigilante mob ready to dish out justice at a moment’s notice. Bottom line, read Abraham Riesman’s TRUE BELIEVER, it’s a fantastic portrait of a complicated man. You’ll read things that will make you consider Stan Lee in a different light, but don’t let those revelations completely shatter your image of the man. He did bad, but he also did so much good as well. Lee succeeded in the comic book industry because he gave superhumans the ability to make mistakes and to learn from those mistakes. Let’s never forget to let humans make mistakes too.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    True Believer is as the subtitle indicates: the story of the rise and fall of Stan Lee. I've been a comic fan for about 40 years now. I originally encountered Stan Lee as the narrator of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. In the years since, my opinion of him has evolved into thinking of him as a huckster used car salesman and glory thief. This book did nothing to enhance his reputation in my eyes. The book chronicles the life and death of Stan Lee, from his birth as Stanley Lieber during the Gre True Believer is as the subtitle indicates: the story of the rise and fall of Stan Lee. I've been a comic fan for about 40 years now. I originally encountered Stan Lee as the narrator of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. In the years since, my opinion of him has evolved into thinking of him as a huckster used car salesman and glory thief. This book did nothing to enhance his reputation in my eyes. The book chronicles the life and death of Stan Lee, from his birth as Stanley Lieber during the Great Depression to the sad shit show his life became after the death of his wife. People criticize Abraham Riesman's take on Stan Lee but I've read other books that paint him in a similar light so I don't really see why this book is getting the attention it does. Maybe because the Marvel movies are so huge and Stan's death is fairly recent? Anyway, Riesman puts it all out there, every shitty thing that Stan has done, every lie that he's been caught in, from the possibility of getting Simon and Kirby fired from Captain America in the 1940s to hogging all the credit for the creation of the modern Marvel universe in 1961 to being a millionaire who couldn't be bothered to help out his brother Larry Lieber at all during his lifetime. Maybe some people are panning this book because it destroys the myth of Stan Lee being a jolly grandpa that loves comics. There are a lot of similarities between Stan Lee and Vince McMahon. Both of them achieved their greatest successes when attached to the best talents of their generation and coasted on their reputations and promotional skills the rest of the time. Both of them claim to be self made but each of them were given a leg up by their relatives. Both of them don't actually seem to like the business they're in and would rather be making movies. In the Wizard of Oz, the Wizard is also called Professor Marvel. I find this amusing because that's who Stan Lee wound up reminding me of the most. Behind the Stan Lee public curtain, there's a hack writer named Stanley Lieber who toiled in obscurity for twenty years before he had the opportunity of a lifetime dropped into his lap. When that opportunity came, he squeezed the shit out of it for the next 50+ years. The last section of the book was a sad grotesque shit show of manipulation, fraud, and elder abuse. Was it karma for the way he treated Kirby, Ditko, and the others? If it was, karma is a real mother fucker. If you already dislike Stan Lee, this book adds plenty of fuel to the fire. It probably would feel like a personal attack if you think he's some kind of creative genius. I think he was a great self promoter but I don't know if he had much creative talent. I have to think if he did, he wouldn't have spent 2o years toiling for Martin Goodman writing mediocre material. If you have Jack Kirby writing and drawing six books a month and all you have to do is script them, it has to be hard to fuck up something like that. It's telling that he was never again able to catch lightning in a bottle after he no longer had Kirby and Ditko at his disposal. The fact that he avoided giving them even a little credit at times speaks volumes about his character. I'm giving this four stars. It was a powerful, eye opening read but I can't exactly say I enjoyed reading it.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mark Mellon

    When I was a boy, Marvel comics reigned supreme. Stan Lee was a familiar friend. The snappy dialog, the upbeat attitude, and most of all the amazing characters like Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and Dr. Strange, made an indelible impression. Over time, Lee remained an inescapable media presence, especially with his frequent cameos once the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise took off. Abraham Reisman has written a thorough biography of Stan Lee. Reisman is also a comic book geek who counts meeting L When I was a boy, Marvel comics reigned supreme. Stan Lee was a familiar friend. The snappy dialog, the upbeat attitude, and most of all the amazing characters like Fantastic Four, Spiderman, and Dr. Strange, made an indelible impression. Over time, Lee remained an inescapable media presence, especially with his frequent cameos once the Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise took off. Abraham Reisman has written a thorough biography of Stan Lee. Reisman is also a comic book geek who counts meeting Lee in his youth as a big thrill, yet doesn’t allow being a fan to affect his journalistic objectivity, no matter how badly anyone ends up looking. And Lee did some stuff that comes across as shabby. While his own genius was a constant refrain, Reisman notes how important luck was in Lee’s career. He joined what would become Marvel through nepotism (an in-law was the publisher) and then worked with some of the greatest comic artists of the Silver Age, e.g., Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. With the debut of characters like Spider-Man in the early ’60’s, Marvel took off, becoming popular with college students and an object of interest to the mainstream media, opportunities Lee capitalized upon with his gift for marketing himself and his product. Marvel fans will enjoy learning how characters like Captain America, the F4, and Spider-Man were created. Also fascinating, but depressing, Reisman’s bio provides probably the best, most accurate, single account of Jack Kirby’s bitter dispute with Lee and Marvel over who created those characters. This alone leaves a black mark on Lee’s reputation, his unwillingness from the start to share the credit and glory. Lee’s actual working connection to Marvel ended early in the ’70’s, but he still served as THE spokesman for the Marvel brand, promoting the characters’ film and TV possibilities to anyone who’d listen. Unfortunately for Lee, Hollywood producers still regarded comic books as “kids’ stuff” and were averse. As a result, Lee toiled in the wilderness for almost two decades until the MCU finally took off. After that, with cameos and personal appearances, it seemed like Lee was fixed, but his spendthrift wife and a daughter Kevin Smith described as “the worst f^&king human being in the world,” drained him of money. Questionable business associates, some of whom undoubtedly ripped Lee off, only made his troubles worse. Lee’s real problem though, was his bad business judgement. He settled with Marvel over creative rights for $10 million, a seemingly large sum, but peanuts compared to a slice of the MCU pie. Lee also regularly developed projects that bombed simply because they were bad (i.e., “Stripperella”). That Lee generated so many punk ideas solo is strong evidence in my opinion that Kirby really was Marvel’s creative force. Lee’s last few years were sad. In the clutches of manipulators, including his own daughter, they simply used him for what they could get, a miserable yet ironic fate for someone who built his career on others’ unacknowledged work. I recommend this book to pop culture fans, comic book fans in general, and most of all, members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society. ‘Nuff said!

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Montgomery

    A solid and thorough biography of the Marvel Comics legend, with a journalistic edge to it given that Lee remained in the news up until his last days, and many of the legal battles in which he was involved continue to this day, with participants living and wrangling in their interviews with Riesman to sell him on their side of the story. Some bits of the book are completely new, including what might be the first-even English-language account of a pogrom in Romania that swept up Lee's ancestors, A solid and thorough biography of the Marvel Comics legend, with a journalistic edge to it given that Lee remained in the news up until his last days, and many of the legal battles in which he was involved continue to this day, with participants living and wrangling in their interviews with Riesman to sell him on their side of the story. Some bits of the book are completely new, including what might be the first-even English-language account of a pogrom in Romania that swept up Lee's ancestors, archival material, and private recordings of Lee tumultuous final years. Other bits have been publicized before — that there are disputes about whether Lee or artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko created famous characters like the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man, and the sordid allegations of elder abuse in his final days — but get a full and expanded retelling here. In general, Riesman shows how "Stan Lee" the comics genius was as much a creation as Professor X or Iron Man, that at the very least Kirby, Ditko and others played a major role in the characters for which Lee would often claim primary or sole credit. Lee's later years, without creatives like Kirby and Ditko, where he spitballed a never-ending series of bad-to-mediocre ideas, most of which never went anywhere (including, in the book's funniest through-line, Lee's unshakable lifelong belief that his next big break would be picture books with funny captions), are certainly strong arguments that Lee was solely responsible for any of these groundbreaking characters. But if Lee emerges from this telling a diminished, manufactured man, Riesman also chronicles Lee's true talents: crackling dialogue (whether between characters or between him and fans), relentless promotion that a medium in constant search of respectability desperately needed, and even — this one is more mixed — some genuine talents as a manager of creatives. For every Kirby or Ditko who clashed with Lee, Riesman cites other examples — a Marvel editor who "was Stan without the charm — and, as such, was living proof of how crucial Stan's charm was to his success"; or writers who say that sure, Lee's Marvel was exploitative, but so were DC and other comics jobs at the time; Lee was at least a fun and friendly boss. The book's final chapters cover Lee's messy final decades — failed companies trying to capitalize on Lee's name, lawsuits, a series of hangers-on with dubious pasts — dragging Lee repeatedly through the mud even as he, and his characters, finally reached the cultural peaks he had always wanted, most emblematically in his iconic movie cameos. It was all, Riesman argues, continuations of threads that ran through Lee's entire life, just with more mixed results than his 1960s heyday: he desire for respectability as a creative, his trust in others, his constant need for money to support the spending habits of his family, and — it's there in the title — Lee's ceaseless belief in Stan Lee.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Pete Fernbaugh

    Heart-Wrenching, If Imbalanced Bio of a Restless, Dissatisfied Company Man I honestly don't know how I feel about this book. In some ways, I think Riesman tries to compensate for the obnoxious hagiography of Stan throughout his life by going too far in the other direction. Everything Stan ever did is treated with skeptical disdain and minimizing language. The restlessness of a creative professional who wants the "more" that America promises, who longs to ascend to creative heights of prestige, is Heart-Wrenching, If Imbalanced Bio of a Restless, Dissatisfied Company Man I honestly don't know how I feel about this book. In some ways, I think Riesman tries to compensate for the obnoxious hagiography of Stan throughout his life by going too far in the other direction. Everything Stan ever did is treated with skeptical disdain and minimizing language. The restlessness of a creative professional who wants the "more" that America promises, who longs to ascend to creative heights of prestige, is depicted with scoffing undertones, as if Stan should have sucked it up, accepted his place and (author-implied) lack of talent, and never tried to be anything other than what he was in the 1960s. With regard to who created which Marvel character and when and where and how much, maybe I'm just tired of the whole inconclusive, boorish debate. The author lets Kirby's ample bullshit slide, while chastising Stan's with aplomb. Although you can't write a Stan or Jack bio without delving into it, I think the creator debate has transcended any possible objectivity. Why not focus on the magnificant content that was created during that time (sadly and increasingly overlooked as the credit cacophony gets louder every year) instead of on circular debates about how the Marvel Method pie should be sliced? The Kirby family is getting the big checks and the big-screen credits now. 'Nuff already! Where this book excels is in laying out the final decades of Stan's life. If you were among those who marveled at the unscrupulous chaos surrounding Stan's final months on this planet, one thing becomes clear from Riesman's book: Stan Lee may have been a bullshitter, but he was supremely susceptible to other people's bullshit. He was also addicted to personal fame and fortune, which either motivated him to hold his nose and dive full-tilt into that bullshit or pretend he was smelling roses and look the other way. I do think that his many creative pursuits are dismissed as being uniformly bad because they weren't Marvel. Stan was often trying new things in his final decades and attempting to forge new paths. Once again, why ignore the substance of the content in favor of the litigious noise? If it wasn't a success, Riesman moves on without examining the artistic merits of the attempt. Ultimately, though, this book is heart-wrenching. Marvel's big-screen Disneyfication of Stan Lee was appealing and pleasant and amusing. You wanted to believe he was the Uncle Walt of the Marvel Universe, even if you had heard or read otherwise. Reisman has forever dashed to pieces the graven image comic book fans and quite possibly the general public had constructed of Stan the Man. Now we know without a doubt he was just a man and not a very honorable one at that.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Joe Kessler

    Drawing on years of archive research and interviews with Stan Lee's closest associates, this new biography is probably the definitive account of the Marvel Comics editor-turned-Hollywood cameo superstar. It also complicates if not contradicts a lot of our established ideas about the man, right down to the claim that he invented many of his company's most famous and beloved properties. (Illustrators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko contend that their hands-off boss often had minimal input over his unde Drawing on years of archive research and interviews with Stan Lee's closest associates, this new biography is probably the definitive account of the Marvel Comics editor-turned-Hollywood cameo superstar. It also complicates if not contradicts a lot of our established ideas about the man, right down to the claim that he invented many of his company's most famous and beloved properties. (Illustrators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko contend that their hands-off boss often had minimal input over his underlings' creations, while Disney understandably favors the interpretation that all contracts stemming from his assertion of copyright are legitimate, but there isn't much solid evidence on either side.) Journalist Abraham Riesman does not flat-out conclude that the genesis of Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the like owed little to Lee's mind, but he presents reasonable arguments to that effect and a mountain of other circumstances where his subject clearly twisted the truth to suit his ends. Most previous biographers and chroniclers of comic history seem to have generally taken the legend at his word on everything, but Riesman is a diligent fact-checker who turns up case after case of verifiable falsehoods throughout the editor's long career. He also stresses that these stories are important for understanding how Stan saw himself and wanted to be seen by others, and so should not be simply dismissed as lies. In many ways, the biggest fiction that he sold to mass audiences was the packaged character of Stan Lee. Overall, this is a thorough and holistic piece of reporting, spanning from the Romanian Jewish roots of Lee's family and how he came to reject that aspect of his life -- a topic that does not appear to have attracted much serious attention before this work -- all through the rising fame to a bitter end amid allegations of betrayal, fraud, and elder abuse. It's perhaps not a great book for those who revere this giant of the industry, but it is certainly an eye-opening experience for anyone who doesn't mind having their illusions shattered. [Content warning for racism, sexism, and antisemitism including violence and slurs.] Find me on Patreon | Goodreads | Blog | Twitter

  24. 5 out of 5

    Robert Greenberger

    I always thought myself in the minority regarding the opinion that Stan Lee's creativity ended when he became Marvel's publisher in 1970. Thankfully, I have learned I am not alone with no biography addressing this as pointedly as Abraham Riesman does in this fascinating biography. There is no question Riesman has an agenda, which seems to be debunking the Stan Lee Myth. We may argue he goes too far in stripping Stan of his creative contributions to the Marvel Universe, but it may be a result of t I always thought myself in the minority regarding the opinion that Stan Lee's creativity ended when he became Marvel's publisher in 1970. Thankfully, I have learned I am not alone with no biography addressing this as pointedly as Abraham Riesman does in this fascinating biography. There is no question Riesman has an agenda, which seems to be debunking the Stan Lee Myth. We may argue he goes too far in stripping Stan of his creative contributions to the Marvel Universe, but it may be a result of trying to balance the scales in a debate that will never end since most of the primary sources are no longer with us. Riesman does a nice job on the early years, right up to Lee going into World War II. But the post-war period, through FF #1 needed more. First of all, many co-workers always said he was an excellent art director and developed a good commercial sense. Al Jaffe recounted on time he attended a cover meeting, expecting it to last all day, but Stan generated a few dozen cover ideas in a matter of hours. There were reports of him dictating full scripts during this period to secretaries so he seemed adept at the plot-first and full-script styles. We have anecdotal evidence that Stan and Jack did kick ideas around, both in the office and in the car rides back to Long Island (courtesy of driver John Romita). So, it wasn't as cut and dried as Riesman makes it out to be. I think Roy's role of mentee and creative contributor during the latter '60s got short shrift. But, the complete and utter failure of Stan to create original works on his own in new media (film, television, webisodes) is sad to contemplate. Because we also know that in the right environment, he still could make valuable contributions. As Mark Waid recently noted on Facebook, Stan read work with his name on it and would make editorial and art comments that seemed more often than not to be spot on. Not mentioned here is the series of How to books bearing Stan's name, packaged by Dynamite and published by Watson-Guptil. I co-wrote the How to Write Comics volume and was handed an outline that Stan clearly had a hand in creating. He answered emails from me about things he wanted to be covered or addressed so he was not always an absentee landlord of his name. The book is a must-read bio, but possibly the best critical analysis of Stan's written work probably remains the volume from Tom Spurgeon and Jordan Raphael.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Malum

    I skipped over the other Stan Lee biographies waiting for one like this; one that pulls the pedistal out from under Lee and gives a more realistic portrayal of the man. I believe Stan Lee was, at best, a very confused low talent busininess man and, at worst, a scumbag and compulsive liar who would cut his own mother's throat in order to get a scrap of money and fame. Riesman, however, also goes into a few things that I didn't know about Lee (and much from Lee's own mouth in recordings that Lee a I skipped over the other Stan Lee biographies waiting for one like this; one that pulls the pedistal out from under Lee and gives a more realistic portrayal of the man. I believe Stan Lee was, at best, a very confused low talent busininess man and, at worst, a scumbag and compulsive liar who would cut his own mother's throat in order to get a scrap of money and fame. Riesman, however, also goes into a few things that I didn't know about Lee (and much from Lee's own mouth in recordings that Lee and others made): He didn't like comic books or comic book movies (it was just a way to make a buck) and he was a bit of a racist. He may also have been a criminal depending on how much you buy into his "I'm just a too trusting old guy who people take advantage of and don't have anything to do with my businesses" schtick whenever any of his companies were busted doing illegal things. He always managed to wiggled his way out of trouble like a greased up rat while everyone around him headed to prison. To Lee's credit, however, Riesman also goes into the fact that more than a few of the comic heavy hitters back in the day seemed awfully confused about the hows and whys of characters that they claimed to have created. Lee wasn't the only one giving multiple (sometimes incoherent or contradictory) accounts about who created a certain character. It's not all Lee bashing, though. Toward the end of his life Lee (and in some cases his wife as well) was abused--physically, emotionally, and monetarily--by a variety of people, including his daughter J.C., and you can't help but feel sorry for him. Riesman had access to recordings of J.C. viciously berating Lee (with Lee many times giving back as good as he was given), with J.C. complaining that Lee didn't support her enough even though she had two houses and an apartment bought and paid for with Marvel megabucks. So, if you adore Stan Lee and think that he created every Marvel comic character ever, then take a hard pass on this book. I don't care for Lee (although his movie cameos were always fun) but he was generally harmless enough that it doesn't make me crazy that people worship him nowadays. If, on the other hand, you want an honest and unflattering account of Stan Lee's life, I recommend this book without hesitation.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Gary Sassaman

    I have very mixed emotions about this book. On one hand, it appears to be an open and honest exploration of the life and career of Stan Lee. On the other, it definitely concentrates on the "Fall" part of the title. After reading Danny Fingeroth's Stan bio last fall, which was unremittingly pro-Stan, this is a different side of the story, including the horrifying last few years of his life. I have often thought Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were like the Beatles' Lennon and McCartney: Never better with I have very mixed emotions about this book. On one hand, it appears to be an open and honest exploration of the life and career of Stan Lee. On the other, it definitely concentrates on the "Fall" part of the title. After reading Danny Fingeroth's Stan bio last fall, which was unremittingly pro-Stan, this is a different side of the story, including the horrifying last few years of his life. I have often thought Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were like the Beatles' Lennon and McCartney: Never better without each other. But Lee was also great with Ditko, Romita, and so many others, so there had to be some kind of writing skill there. He was a consummate promoter, making you feel like Marvel Comics in the 1960s was a huge family. Growing up on those early comics and having a front-row seat to the creation of the Marvel Universe was a highlight of my young comics-loving life. But Riesman's book offers a damning view of the "Marvel Method" of creating comics, and shows that Stan without his main artistic collaborators never really did anything else of any substance or stature. So, the circumstantial evidence is there that Kirby, Ditko, et al, are the true creators of the Marvel Universe. But Stan became such a beloved figure in comics and pop culture through his many cameos in the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies and on shows like The Big Bang Theory, that it was hard not to love him. After reading this book ... I'm not so sure how I feel. Yes, he had a major impact on 20th Century pop culture and helped create (AND SELL, and important distinction) a group of characters that have had real staying power. But in this book, Stan comes across as ... well, soulless. Even to his own brother, comics writer/artist Larry Lieber. No matter how you feel about Stan and his career, Riseman's book is a compelling and at times disturbing read that belongs in every Marvel fan's library.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Andy Smith

    Read this for work, since Riesman is a RI author. Probably helpful if you know something about Marvel Comics and who Stan Lee is, or why would you even care? So four stars for those familiar with Marvel/Lee, three for those who don’t. Lee, who died in 2018, was a complicated man, and Riesman does his best to untangle the myths, legend, truths, and half-truths that still surround him. Lee has gotten most of the credit for creating the modern superhero, complete with human doubts and frailties, th Read this for work, since Riesman is a RI author. Probably helpful if you know something about Marvel Comics and who Stan Lee is, or why would you even care? So four stars for those familiar with Marvel/Lee, three for those who don’t. Lee, who died in 2018, was a complicated man, and Riesman does his best to untangle the myths, legend, truths, and half-truths that still surround him. Lee has gotten most of the credit for creating the modern superhero, complete with human doubts and frailties, thanks to such iconic Marvel characters as the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk, etc. But it’s long been debated how much of the credit belongs to Lee, and how much to his artists, notably Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. Riesman takes a deep dive into the question, and gives more credibility to Kirby than Lee. Lee does not come off as a great person in the book, a charming hustler and promoter who has a complicated relationship with the truth. Ultimately, he was a better editor, manager, and salesman than he was a writer, which is precisely the opposite of what he wanted to believe. His later career was sad. He tried to make it in Hollywood, and failed, and became surrounded by shady characters of dubious morals and ability. Even as his fame (deserved or not) as the patriarch of Marvel grew, his business enterprises get bogged down in a welter of bankruptcies and lawsuits. Riesman does a yeoman’s job tryout to untangle things, but it still gets a little confusing. Lee’s final years were unhappy ones. Particularly after Lee’s wife died, he is surrounded by grifters and vultures out to take him for all he’s worth. There are even allegations of physical abuse.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Abraham Riesman unpacks the complicated legacy of the Marvel Comics legend in a way that feels both overdue and overdone. Longtime Marvel followers know Stan Lee had a troubling pattern of keeping the spotlight on himself when it came to claiming credit for creating the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Black Panther, etc., so the revelations in here that he didn't give brilliant artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko their proper due aren't all that groundbreaking. But for those who Abraham Riesman unpacks the complicated legacy of the Marvel Comics legend in a way that feels both overdue and overdone. Longtime Marvel followers know Stan Lee had a troubling pattern of keeping the spotlight on himself when it came to claiming credit for creating the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Thor, Black Panther, etc., so the revelations in here that he didn't give brilliant artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko their proper due aren't all that groundbreaking. But for those who know Lee only as the friendly grandfatherly type from all his cameos in the MCU, this book will be a real eye-opener. At times, Riesman's arguments skew too heavily toward Kirby as the sole creator for many, if not all, of Marvel's remarkable 1960s run of wildly original characters. The arguments are solid at times, but overall not entirely convincing--at least not for me. Stan and Jack were co-creators and it's doubtful anyone will ever be able to prove otherwise, absent any uncovered documentation or solid evidence. What is new is a heartbreaking interview with Stan's younger brother, Larry Lieber, from his tiny Manhattan apartment. Lieber worked for Stan at Marvel and after Marvel for many years, but still wasn't particularly close to his brother and only found out about his death in 2018 when a reporter called for a comment. Larry's memories of Stan and his career and family life are illuminating and gut-wrenching. Equally gut-wrenching are the last 20 or so years of Stan's life, when he was lured into joining two shady business ventures and ended up spending his nineties surrounded by con artists and other grifters. This is an important book for comic book fans, but it's also a flawed one.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eric Haas

    Abraham Riesman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee was an interesting read about the life of Marvel’s Stan Lee. You can tell that the author was a life-long fan of the comics and knows the ins and outs of Stan Lee’s time with Marvel. This led to a biography crafted more for those initiated into the drama of Stan Lee’s life - especially those who have a deep familiarity with the comics that shaped his narrative. The author had access to a lot of information tied to the end of Stan Lee Abraham Riesman’s True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee was an interesting read about the life of Marvel’s Stan Lee. You can tell that the author was a life-long fan of the comics and knows the ins and outs of Stan Lee’s time with Marvel. This led to a biography crafted more for those initiated into the drama of Stan Lee’s life - especially those who have a deep familiarity with the comics that shaped his narrative. The author had access to a lot of information tied to the end of Stan Lee’s life, which makes for a heartbreaking ending to the work - as you realize that Stan Lee was surrounded by vultures. As someone that did not know much about the Jack Kirby / Stan Lee divide, I found the back-and-forth about who was the creator of the iconic Marvel characters a little dull, especially since it never really gets answered satisfactorily. Since both individuals are now dead it will most likely remain one of the great mysteries. Unfortunately, the author does not feel the need to go into the more philosophical ideas that collaborative comic creation makes. Specifically, does the Marvel Method, inherently create conflict, as one person has the story seed that others then create around...potentially taking it into new and better directors than initially presented. However, it still goes to the final editor to has the responsibility if the product succeeds or fails. I recommend this book for those already familiar with Stan Lee’s life and are interested in the torrid tales of the last decade of Stan the Man.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rick Burin

    This warts-and-all biography – which is mostly warts, to be honest – promises a lot but delivers only a fraction of that. It’s pitched as a sort of Death-of-a-Salesman-meets-Kavalier and Clay, with a stunning title, a breathless blurb hinting at some epic exploration of the American Dream, and an opening section that finds the roots of this story in a Romanian pogrom. I wish the book that I'd imagined existed, but I'm not sure Stan Lee could be the subject of it. Perhaps I just wanted Kavalier a This warts-and-all biography – which is mostly warts, to be honest – promises a lot but delivers only a fraction of that. It’s pitched as a sort of Death-of-a-Salesman-meets-Kavalier and Clay, with a stunning title, a breathless blurb hinting at some epic exploration of the American Dream, and an opening section that finds the roots of this story in a Romanian pogrom. I wish the book that I'd imagined existed, but I'm not sure Stan Lee could be the subject of it. Perhaps I just wanted Kavalier and Clay again. The first half of True Believer is hugely readable if curiously paced, skirting over entire decades then drilling down into a particular controversy for a dozen pages. But while Riesman does about as good a job as possible of untangling the disputed genesis of certain Lee ‘creations’, there simply is no smoking gun, which can't help but leave you unsatisfied. After that, the book becomes increasingly shapeless, resembling a rummage through Lee’s personal papers and financial records – augmented by some interviews – before climaxing with a lengthy depiction of the dying subject being held captive in his house by various malign forces. There are fleeting moments of excitement and scandal here, with the author neatly contrasting the cartoonishly avuncular image of Lee with the reality. But that reality is ultimately not very interesting. The portrait of Lee that emerges is of a dull man concerned largely with money and full to bursting with bad ideas.

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