Stan Lee: Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvellous Memoir
Writers: Stan Lee and Peter David
Artist: Colleen Doran
Stan Lee is the man who co-created iconic comic characters such as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Dr Strange and the X-Men. So, what better way for you to find out just how Stanley Martin Lieber, aspiring writer from a poor family, became Stan Lee, arguably the most famous comics creator in the world, than through a comic book?
This is of course, not the first time Lee’s story and memoirs have been put on the page. In 2002, he published Excelsior! The Amazing Life Of Stan Lee, in which he tells the story of his life, how he grew up in a poor family, how he got into comics, and how he created the characters we all know and love.
If you’ve read that book, then Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir probably won’t have many surprises left for you. It’s pretty much the same story, told in comic-book format. Heck, many of the more memorable quotes are completely replicated in the newer book.
That’s not to say this is not worth getting if you’ve already read Excelsior. Just think of this as a comic-book adaptation of the earlier book. The writing is unmistakably Lee’s – brimming with enthusiasm and joy, especially when he is talking about how he created all those iconic characters.
The book dwells on his early and personal life for about a quarter of the way, going from his upbringing in a poor family during the Great Depression, his stint in the military, to his succession of odd jobs that eventually led to his fateful employment by Timely Comics, the precursor to Marvel Comics.
One good thing about the format this book employs is that the story doesn’t have to follow the strict chronology that Excelsior! did. Hence, the story manages to interject exposition about all the pivotal moments and events in his life at random.
Case in point: the part about the Comics Code Authority, and how he challenged it with his Spider-Man anti-drug story comes way before he even talks about creating Spider-Man. There’s even a part where his present self talks to his younger self and tells him about how comics are made. There are also impressive full-page splashes dedicated to some of the comics giants he has worked with – Jack Kirby, his brother Larry Lieber, Steve Ditko, and so on.
The book really gets going once it starts talking about what we REALLY want to know about: how he came up with all those amazing, fantastic and incredible characters. While most of these stories are already well-known, it’s still a hoot to see Lee on the comic page, gushing excitedly about how he created Spidey, Hulk and the rest of the gang.
The art by Colleen Doran (who has worked on Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman as well as DC’s Wonder Woman and Teen Titans in the past) gives the entire book a light-hearted feel.
Though most of it features Lee enthusiastically bounding about like a hyperactive kid, there are panels where she manages to convey the sadder parts of his life effectively through his expressions.
For example, when the subject turns to the death of his second daughter a mere three days after her birth, you feel the sadness from the black panels and Lee’s wordless, sad expressions.
On the brighter side, she also manages to pay homage to some of the most iconic panels in Lee’s comics, such as parodying Mary Jane Watson’s famous “Face it, Tiger, you just hit the jackpot” panel for the moment Lee met his wife Joan.
If you’re looking for more insight into Lee’s life, however, you’ll be disappointed. This book merely skims the surface of his personal life, outlining the major events before moving on. It mentions major issues like the falling out with Kirby and Ditko and his ill-fated Internet-based Stan Lee Media, but never really dwells on these issues.
By the end, when the book essentially becomes a big shout-out to all the famous people he has met and his cameos in the Marvel Studios movies, you feel as though there is still a huge chunk of Lee’s life that he doesn’t share with the world.
As far as memoirs go, Amazing, Fantastic, Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir is a fun, entertaining book about one of the most iconic figures in pop culture, and is still very much worth a read. But if you want something with a bit more depth, try reading Excelsior! instead.