Howard's Reviews > Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book

Stan Lee and the Rise and Fall of the American Comic Book by Jordan Raphael
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Mar 04, 08

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Biography of Stan Lee, and through him, the history of, primarily, superhero comics; evenhanded and readable, despite a (possibly unavoidable) fannish, tempest-in-a-teapot, feel.

In 1940, 18-year-old Stanley Lieber, smart, ambitious and raised in poverty, went to work at cousin Martin Goodman's Timely Publishing (later, Marvel). Goodman had moderate success imitating the pulps and comics of market leaders, and Lieber, now Stan Lee, was soon running the comics division. An accomplished and well-liked hack, his hucksterish self-promotion was smiled at until characters like Spiderman and the Fantastic Four became hugely popular in the early sixties. Lee revived the anemic superhero genre using the "Marvel Method." Working with now legendary artists Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Lee supplied outlines instead of detailed scripts, and the artists freely changed plots and characters, leaving Lee to write in dialogue afterward. Everything appeared under the rubric "Stan Lee Presents," and Lee often took credit, no matter who thought of what; in the small world of comics, years of controversy ensued. As "the Marvel Universe" became a money-making machine, Lee wrote less and promoted more, company policy making him their sole public representative (he was management and the artists were freelancers; it was in Marvel's copyright interest to have all characters credited to Lee). Spurgeon and Raphael fondly but firmly supply all the details, correcting some of Lee's own accounts, assigning credit to others where due. On Lee's watch, the comics gained a self-aware sense of humor, and superheroes revealed feet of clay--genuine innovations--but seen here in context, he was more manager than talent, more huckster than genius.

While alternative comics are shortchanged, and European and Japanese comics don't even exist in this Marvel-centric account, this will probably stand as the definitive history of this particular slice of American popular culture.

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