BOOK REVIEW: A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee

A Marvelous Life by Danny Fingeroth (Biography, 2019).

This biography of the man who took a mediocre comic book company, previously known as Timely, and transformed it into the multi-media empire that is Marvel is a fun, bouncy and entertaining, yet honest portrait of one of recent pop cultural history’s most fascinating, sometimes contradictory, occasionally controversial and always surprising figures.

Rather than the usual professional biographer, Fingeroth is a fellow comics’ industry insider. He periodically worked with or for Lee, and knew him well, just as he knew or knows countless other people in the business. This gave him excellent access, which included a number of interviews with Lee over the years.

The author makes a good and convincing case that, by working with and supervising a daring crew of fellow writers, editors and artists Stan Lee did more than anyone else to revive, revolutionize and make the comic book industry into a relevant part of modern culture. He gives Lee his due credit, but doesn’t shy from the conclusion that he sometimes failed to pay as much credit to his fellow creators, including iconic visual artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko.

Overall, what emerges in this book is a fond, but not fawning, picture of a talented man who achieved much, both for the company he worked for for decades, for the often-disrespected industry he excelled in, and for countless fans who benefited from his efforts. The played a key role in making people take superheroes in both comics and film versions at least somewhat seriously, adding human emotions, weaknesses and motivations to these outsized characters.

The author also relates the inside stories of Lee’s family life, his nagging regret of never writing the “serious” novel he dreamed of (and yet, how he came to mostly overcome this frustration and accept the worth of what he did accomplish). He doesn’t shy from examining the last years of the man, including the ways that some around him used Lee for their own benefit.

Altogether, I recommend this book without hesitation.

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