This Week’s Book Review – Stan Lee: A Life in Comics

Looking for a good read? Here is a recommendation. I have an unusual approach to reviewing books. I review books I feel merit a review. Each review is an opportunity to recommend a book. If I do not think a book is worth reading, I find another book to review. You do not have to agree with everything every author has written (I do not), but the fiction I review is entertaining (and often thought-provoking) and the non-fiction contain ideas worth reading.

Book Review

Stan the Man and How He Transformed Comics

By MARK LARDAS

May 24, 2020

“Stan Lee: A Life in Comics,” by Liel Leibovitz, Yale University Press, 2020, 192 pages, $26.00.

Comic books started out in the mid-twentieth century. Originally they were “kid stuff.” As the twentieth century ended they had become a major cultural influence. No man was more responsible for that transformation than Stan Lee.

“Stan Lee: A Life in Comics,” by Liel Leibovitz explores Lee’s life in a biography revealing the man and his influence.

Born Stanley Martin Lieber in 1922, Lee grew up in New York City. Good with words, Lee grew up a reader, retreating into books and writing as his father’s career collapsed during the Depression. After high school, deciding to become a writer, he shortened his name to Stan Lee. Comics were not adolescent Lee’s main interest. He read and enjoyed the newspaper comics, but his real love was literature.  Shakespeare and movies fascinated him.

Lee drifted into comics. After high school, following series of unsuccessful jobs, he asked an uncle for help. His uncle sent Lee to Timely Publications, owned by another relative. Timely published pulp – anything that sold. The newest hot seller was comic books. Lee became errand boy for comic book illustrators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon.

Leibovitz shows how in the 1930s comic book publishing was a Jewish ghetto. Antisemitism was accepted. WASPs dominated publishing’s prestigious niches. Jews were tolerated in popular yet seedier corners of publishing, like comics.

Comics remained low prestige for decades as Lee rose to an editor’s slot at Timely. Even during World War II, when Lee was in the Army, he worked on comics. Working with men like Charles Addams Theodore Geisel, and William Saroyan, Lee churned out comic book training manuals.

By the early 1960s Lee wanted out. Comics were at a low point. Pornography was more respectable, especially after psychiatrist Frederic Wertham denounced comics as endangering the mental health of America’s youth – and was believed.

Then lightning struck. Lee’s boss asked him to create a comic around a superhero team.  Lee’s creation was the Fantastic Four. Borrowing themes from Jewish myth and religion for the plot line, Lee gave them frailties and insecurities. It proved a massive hit.

Lee introduced new superheroes like Spiderman and the X-Men, and recast old one like Captain America in this new template.  They struck a chord with America’s youth.

In “Stan Lee” Leibovitz reveals Lee as a mythmaker. He shows how Lee created myths about himself and Marvel Comics (Timely’s new name), and eventually transformed American culture.

Mark Lardas, an engineer, freelance writer, amateur historian, and model-maker, lives in League City. His website is marklardas.com.

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2 thoughts on “This Week’s Book Review – Stan Lee: A Life in Comics”

  1. Stan Lee offered hope and triumph against odds…requiring personal investment and at a price.  The Welfare State had not yet been borne.

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