Bob Batchelor’s ” Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2017) takes the reader through the life and struggles of the most well known comic book creator in Pop Culture in a wonderful read.
The book starts off walking the reader through the early childhood of the comic legend, from his parents struggling with ways to make money to support the family, especially his father, who was many times unemployed. This family background leads to Lee’s incredible work ethic throughout his life. Lee’s love for reading early on, especially the classic works like Shakespeare, helped form his writing skills that inspired many of his comic creations. The book mentions that Lee’s love for “Frankenstein” and “Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde” helped created The Hulk, and his love for Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, and Alexandre Dumas influenced creating the character Thor, along with Howard Hughes and the Cuban Missile Crisis inspiring the Iron Man/Tony Stark character.
After graduating high school, Lee began his writing career, starting off as an office boy for Timely Comics, which was geared to be a men’s magazine. The book covers the years Lee worked his way up from a gofer to ending up being the head of Marvel Comics, and his relationships throughout the years with the staff, freelancers, and artists in the company, including other comic pioneers Joe Simon and Jack Kirby.
Batchelor’s book is not just a date to date biography, but has plenty of interesting storied added to in that keeps the reader engaged. One interesting story from 1977 (when comic sales were down) is when Lee had to be convinced to take a chance on doing a comic tie in with a science fiction movie, called “Star Wars,” which not only became a cultural phenomenon itself, but also saved Marvel from bankruptcy.
Bankruptcy is a common theme throughout this book as well, which was educational for this reader who was not familiar with all of the different bosses, mergers, and bad deals that occurred throughout Lee’s and Marvel’s history. The business undertone in the book makes the text more than just about a man who wrote comic books. Many people may have thought that every creation Lee made was a success, but the book takes the reader through characters like Savage She Hulk, The X-Men, and other titles that did not sell well at first, or was only in limited runs due to an early business deal which Marvel was only allowed to produce a certain number of titles per year. Bad business deals also put the company in trouble several times, including the famous attack on comic books in 1954, which involved Frederick Wertham attacking comic books for its contents. This Senate hearing ended up with the creation of the Comic Code Authority, which put limits on what could and could not be placed in the books, which affected the industry and caused many writers and artists to be fired.
Even throughout the bad business deals and attacks on the industry, Batchelor paints Lee as a person who perseveres throughout his life, including the fact that Lee wanted to be seen as a “credible” writer by his peers, besides comic books, and worked on the men’s magazines and had dreams of being a novelist, but was seen as a comic book writer. The reader gets a nice heart-filled touch to what may be seen as just a fact based book.
“Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” is not just a basic biography where the author presents a lot of research material (although it is very well researched), but it presents themes of The American Dream of a man who wanted one goal, but embraced another that turned him into a legendary figure in publishing, even through down turns, such as sales plummeting, canceled series, and numerous bad business deals and multiple bosses. The easy to read chapters makes this 204-page book an educational read for many who love comics, or just want to know more about the man behind many of the great comic book creations.
(A Special Thanks to Rowman and Littlefield for the Reading Copy of this book).
“Stan Lee: The Man Behind Marvel” (Hardback ISBN: 978-1-4422-7781-6 and ebook ISBN: 978-1-4422-7782-3) is available at http://www.rowman.com. Or order at 800-462-6420
My introduction to the world of comic books started when I was a kid growing up in the 1980s. I started collecting comics as a reward when my grade school would have Read-A Thons, where you would pledge to read so many books at a certain time, and the solicited pledges would pay you so much money per book. At the end of the session, you could get prizes, including comic book subscriptions, along with another school project where the student would sell subscriptions of magazines at a discounted price. It was at this time I had subscriptions to Marvel’s Star Wars and GI Joe comics, and I remember my brother having the Conan The Barbarian series (Yes you could get comics sent to your mailbox). I also would buy certain issues like The Transformers and DC Comic’s digest books, which had titles like “Batman The Brave and the Bold”, “Superboy”, and “The Legion of Superheroes”.
When I hit junior high school, another collecting habit started for me, along with a new love; Professional Wrestling. Many of my school mates followed wrestling (it was a huge thing in the 1980s as opposed to the product now), and my local newsstand carried several of the famous Stanley Weston owned magazines, like Pro Wrestling Illustrated, The Wrestler, Sports Review Wrestling, and even the WWF had their own magazine (along with some other non remembered knock off brand mags). I started trading off my comic books for the wrestling magazines, which also helped me in writing my own wrestling fanzine at the time. The comics were worn out and had writing in them, so they weren’t worth anything, and at that age, we didn’t think of keeping them for future use. Even though I still have my magazines, the few comics I have left are also worn out and were water damaged due to a basement issue, but I still enjoy reading some favorites like DC’s “Shadow War of Hawkman”, and the few Avengers issues, one where they battled on Mount Olympus.
Being a wrestling fan is not that different from being into comic books. Both have outrageous characters and villains, and the good vs evil story is always present. In the 1980s, comic books were not considered “legitimate “reading from our teachers, and neither was wrestling magazines, with the exception of one teacher I had, who encouraged me to read my wrestling magazines. When I started teaching high school English, I encouraged my students to read comics, graphic novels, magazines, Magma etc. Now comics are considered the norm and popular from the successes of movies to TV Shows. Many pro wrestling personalities are comic book people, from Jim Cornette and Jerry Lawler (who actually owned a Batmobile), to wrestlers like The Rock (GI Joe) and Batista (Guardians of the Galaxy) are used in the films. Former wrestler CM Punk and the late Ultimate Warrior also had their own comics or have written for comic companies.
I was brought into the comic world in the mid 1990s when my brother created his own comic, which was featured as AR Comics, and had a premier issue that took him to many comic conventions. His cover had a hologram cover, which you could move the book back and forth that made the characters jump out at you (A few years ago DC used this method- maybe my brother was too early for that to catch on). He also created a comic strip for the Kent State University daily paper, called “Hunt”, which featured my likeness as a weasel animal that wears a KISS shirt. The comic was popular among the students and was right on the same page as Peanuts and the other national comics.
Some of my favorite characters growing up in the comics was Batman, Superman, Thor, Dr. Doom (although I hated how he was used in the movies), The Joker, and Hawkman (once again, not a fan of how he was used in the few episodes I have seen on TV of “Legends of Tomorrow”). I was a big fan of a short run series from Marvel called Team America, which had the heroes riding motorcycles. I was also a fan of The X-Men’s Beast, being a mutant that read books (which is ironic now since most people don’t read anymore, and are considered mutants if they do).
A few years ago, I started getting back into the comics, and became a fan of the DC’s New 52 series “The Birds of Prey”. I’m sure purists have their problems with the New 52 series, but I really liked the story and the artwork. Right when I started to get into the series (I started in issue #28), the series was shut down. I also would get some novelty issues from Kiss and Alice Cooper, but the storyline wasn’t that exciting to me. I then started collecting for a Christmas gift the reboot of Marvel’s Doctor Strange for a friend of mine who was a huge fan of the character (this was before the Marvel movie came out). I didn’t think the artwork was that great (it seemed he had no face).
It wasn’t until recently I went to a local comic store for the “Free Comic Book Day” and picked up a few comics, like Dr Who and Wonder Woman, that I started to like where some comics were heading. There are two titles that I want to review that may peak your interest that I found very interesting.
X-Men Blue (Marvel Comics). This series just started in 2017 (As of the writing it is on issue #6), so there is plenty of time to get hooked on this series. As I mentioned earlier, I was a fan of The Beast character, and when researching the character, I found out that in one storyline, he leaves the X-Men to be a professional wrestler. This story involves the members in their younger selves in a separate timeline and the group teams up with their normal villain Magneto. The group is led by Jean Grey, and involves The Beast and some other pop up villains and characters in the X Men Universe. According to the Issue #1 front page, the storyline states :
Fearing a war among the mutants was on the horizon, Hank McCoy, A.K.A. The X-Man known as Beast, pulled the Original X-Men, including a younger version of himself, forward through time. Now they are trapped here. Separated for a while, Marvel Girl, Cyclops, Iceman, Beast and Angel have been reunited and are determined to show the world that they are the heroes they were always meant to be.
The comic is a great storyline, written by Cullen Bunn, having the younger versions of X Men battle people and encounter things that they know from the future. The artists, Jorge Molina and Matteo Buffagni, have some great work-better than some of the other comics out there. The book keeps you turning page after page, and unlike some books out there, keeps the reader wanting the next issue. Keep in mind that Beast is his younger self, not the furry blue creature seen in the movies, but that does not hinder the storyline. As mentioned before, the series is still new in the series, so finding them should not be a problem, and like many DC and Marvel Comics, a collection of the issues 1-6 should be out soon, if you want it in one collection.
If you are fans of other X-Men characters, there is also an X-Men Gold series that also is pretty new, with Colossus, Nightcrawler, Logan, Storm, and Prestige, with Kitty Pryde as the leader. I haven’t seen this collection or know what it’s about, but X-Men Blue is my pick for someone who likes the characters (of course there is the normal X-Men comics out there too), and would like to have an original story.
Deadman : The Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love (DC Comics). I think sometimes DC Comics gets a bad wrap on its characters. Some people think of the characters like Batman from the 1966 TV Series (which I loved and wrote a blog here that you can find in the archives, with contributor comic creator Chris Yambar), or the Batman vs Superman movie (go see Wonder Woman movie and it will change your mind). There are some really cool characters from DC, and Deadman was one for me.
I first discovered Deadman in the 1980s from the previous mentioned “The Brave and the Bold” Digest series, where he teams with Batman. The character has recently been used in the DVD Movie “Justice League Dark,” along with Swamp Thing and John Constantine.
Deadman, whose name is Boston Brand, was a trapez artist who was murdered during a performance by a person called “The Hook.” His spirit is given power to possess any living being to search for the murderer. His debut was in 1967, so he is not a new character, but is not used that often (maybe the creators used the Dick Grayson family story to create a new character?)
“Dark Mansion” is a 3-issue series where Deadman is trapped in a mansion, along with female Berenice, who has the skill of being able to communicate with the dead. She has a complicated relationship with her boyfriend Nathan, who is a writer that hides in an office in the house while trying to write a book. The spirit in the house, named Adelia, along with another dark spirit shows up at the house. When the spirits show up, Nathan starts experiencing bad headaches. It is up to Deadman and Berenice to unravel the spirit, the health of Nathan, and find out why Adelia is trapped in the house.
This comic has an old gothic feel to it, from writer Sarah Vaughn’s plot, to artist Lan Medina’s wonderful work. The artwork is so good that it looks almost like paintings, which also helps the gothic dark look of the series. The glossy pages are just as wonderful that add to the comic. This book series has a Dark Shadows type feel to it, or a throwback to the early horror comic days. This is only three issues long, so the tale is wrapped up nicely without having the reader run back for a 20 issue arc before seeing how the mystery is unraveled. This was a wonderful comic series that had me spending a lot of time just staring at the artwork and taking my time getting through the book. Seek this out if you are a horror/mystery fan.
These two titles made me see that there are some good comics out there, besides the normal titles of Batman, Wonder Woman, and The Avengers titles. If you have not considered comic books lately, or are not sure what comics to look at, maybe these titles can help you start. Also, go to your local comic store. I’m sure they would be happy to help you out-that’s how I found out these titles-by visiting a local comic store, in my hometown of Columbiana, Ohio, called WatchTower Heroes, and just talking to the owner. Unlike some other comic book stores in my area, the owner was pleasant and very helpful in my choices. It is at WatchTower that the owner recommended me to these choices, which lead to me writing this page (for more information go to http://www.WatchtowerHeroes.com, check out their facebook page, or @WatchtowerHeroesComics)
Comics books have grown with many unique story lines and characters, not just the good guys and bad guys (there are still those out there), but there are many books out there that there is something for you or for gifts. Search them out and you may find something of your liking.