Stan Lee Disney+ Documentary Review
Stan Lee is a new documentary about the life and work of Stan Lee, the creator or co-creator of many of the Marvel Comics stable of superheroes. The documentary begins with Stan’s birth on December 28th, 1922. He was born Stanley Lieberman to immigrant parents in New York City.
Though the documentary does not give us anything new in the life of Stan Lee, there are no great revelations, and most of the material can be found in two biographies and one autobiography; it is unique in the fact that Stan himself tells the story. I don’t know how many tape-recorded and video interviews the producers had to go through to produce a single storyline where Stan covers his entire life. Still, it must have been an amazing amount of material.
Stan started in comics at the very beginning of the industry. Marvel was known as Timely then and Stan got his first job there through family connections and basically never left. He started as an office gopher but eventually was given the task to write short stories in prose which comic books were required to do back in the 1940s. Soon he graduated to writing comic stories himself, often teaming up with Jack Kirby who was the resident artist at the time.
When WWII came along Stan enlisted, but when they found out what he did for a living, he was given the job of turning army manuals into comic book formats to make them easier to understand and to get the men into much-needed positions as quickly as possible When Stan’s time in the armed forces ended, he returned to Timely and continued to work on comic books.
Stan talks about his time after the war of his meeting and Marrying Joan his wife whom he remained with until her death in 2017. They had been married 69 years. He talks about the birth of their daughter and the different places they lived in and around New York City. Of course, Stan eventually settled in California but for most of his career, Stan was a New Yorker.
Throughout the rest of the 1940s and 50s, Stan churned out whatever comic book the public wanted to see. Sometimes Westerns, silly animal books, and sometimes monster stories, whatever was selling at the moment. Superheroes had all but disappeared due to the political climate of the 1950s. Very few remained as the comic book medium was attacked as a source of juvenile delinquency and homosexuality. During this time, Stan was becoming discontented with his work and was ready to leave comic books behind forever.
In 1960 Stan’s boss, Martin Goodman, discovered a new book at DC called The Justice League of America, which consisted of a team of superheroes. Stan’s boss asked him to create a superhero team book. At this time, he had a monumental discussion with his wife Joan. He was ready to quit. Joan urged him to try it and put everything he had into this last assignment. Stan took Joan’s advice and wrote a comic book he would like to read. Teaming up again with Jack Kirby, the two created the Fantastic Four, and comic books would never be the same.
It’s interesting to note here that Stan took all of the credit for the creation of the new Marvel characters. He believed if you thought it up, you created it and didn’t give credit to the artists and other writers that helped him. This is surprisingly emphasized in this documentary using Stan’s own words and his own voice. It felt odd hearing him defend this position which was a bit unreasonable.
From that point on Stan never looked back again. After The Fantastic Four came Ant-Man, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and finally Spider-Man. Spider-Man was the hero that began some of the problems of Marvel. Stan couldn’t keep up writing all of these books and Jack Kirby couldn’t keep doing all the art. Stan gave Spider-man to Steve Ditko, and Ditko never felt he was credited for being part of Spidey’s creation. Ditko would eventually leave Marvel as would Jack Kirby.
The documentary discusses the Marvel way of making comics. In the Marvel World a story is come up with, the artists draw out the story and then hand over the finished artwork to the writers who fill in the dialogue and other prose work. The goal in those early days was to get out two books a week.
Stan didn’t stay a comic book writer. Eventually, he became an editor and then the publisher. These new jobs allowed him to travel nationwide to promote and explain Marvel Comics. Stan was on talk shows, radio shows and spoke at college campuses. Stan was the face of Marvel Comics—the PT Barnum of comic books.
The documentary had a unique look. Where there isn’t film or still photographs to use with the narration, the makers decided to use computer-generated figures that look like the things that go with train sets. People, animals etc… Some items even have bases attached to them. I wouldn’t say I liked the look at all. I think period photos of the times they talked about would have had a better impact. These were distracting from the story as opposed to adding to it.
Overall, this is more a celebration of the life of Stan Lee. It is not a critique or even a thorough account. It’s enjoyable and even a bit fun to watch but it doesn’t delve deeply. Because Stan tell his story in his own words, we only know what Stan wants us to know. Stan Lee died on November 12th, 2019, at the age of 95. There is no doubt an era died with him.