cover image True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee

Abraham Riesman. Crown, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-13571-6

Journalist Riesman unpacks the minutiae-gnarled debates swirling around comics writer and producer Stan Lee (1922–2018) in his eventful, myth-dispelling debut, while also telling a story that will resonate even for those who don’t know Spider-man from the Red Skull. With the caveat that reports of Lee are “where objective truth goes to die,” Riesman does his best to separate fact from hype. Lee, raised by Jewish immigrants in New York City, grew into a hustler and tall-tale-teller, and Riesman breaks down Lee’s life into three epochs. Pre-1961, he ground out stories for his cousin-in-law’s publishing company. In the 1960s he helped launch the series (Fantastic Four, Spider-man, X-Men) that redefined the comics genre. Lee became Marvel publisher in 1972, and Riesman characterizes him as perfecting the chipper “Stan Lee character” displayed in his “Stan’s Soapbox” column, where “he’d pontificate and rile up his base with slogans and jittery word-jazz.” Riesman delves into controversies about whether Lee—who never missed an opportunity to slap his name on a product—took credit from artists like Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. Later chapters detail Lee’s unhappy Hollywood sojourn, marked by subpar output, horrific family dysfunction, and scandals (two of Lee’s companies collapsed in potential criminality). This detailed, clear-eyed examination pulls back the curtain on one of America’s great storytellers and is sure to reignite debates over Lee’s legacy. Agent: Ross Harris, SK Agency (Sept.)