Sunday, March 27, 2016

Amazing Fantastic Incredible by Stan Lee, Peter David & Colleen Doran

When a book is entitled Amazing Fantastic Incredible, Stan Lee must be involved. That is the title of Lee’s graphic novel memoir, co-written with Peter David with art by Colleen Doran, about his long career in comic books.

Lee has a career in comic books going back the Golden Age. He started working in comics soon after they became a popular medium. Few people have had a career in comic books as long as Lee’s, partly because he is still working. No one has been the public face of comic books, or a spokesman and promotor for the medium, as much as Lee.

Because Lee’s career in comics is well known, at least among fans, some of the more interesting parts of the memoir deal with other aspects of his life. He depicts himself as being crazy in love with his wife, Joan, even after decades of marriage. He recalls himself as a lonely kid during the Great Depression, who took refuge in books and the world of his own imagination. He retelling of his army service during World War II, mostly serving as a writer stateside, is mostly humorous.

I suspect Lee’s humor has a lot to do with his popularity. He comes across as self-aggrandizing with a self-deprecating wink.

Even so, Lee’s status as a comics celebrity has sparked criticism in some circles. He was the face of Marvel Comics, and so has taken the heat for the way the publisher treated the artist who worked for him (comics publishers treated artists shabbily for decades). Maybe he could have done more for the artists who worked for him, and maybe he would have been unemployed if he tried. Lee doesn’t get into this matter much, but when he does he shifts the blame to publisher Martin Goodman.

Lee addresses some of his most famous characters and the artists who co-created them. Some might see his recognition of co-creators as a defense against detractors who say he has claimed too much credit. I think the book presents the situation the way Lee would like to remember, and the way he would like others to remember it. I think he genuinely liked and admired many of the people he worked with. Throughout the book, Jack Kirby is depicted as handsome, powerful and dynamic, almost like a superhero, even when there was a rift if their personal and professional relationship.

This is a memoir, not an autobiography. Lee and his collaborators do not attempt to independently confirm memories, though they straightforward about some memories being fuzzy. A few scenes a clearly constructed to present information in a manner more interesting than direct exposition, though they may have had some root in an actual event. Lee’s conversations with his boyhood self are plainly fictional; I thought they tended to be the weakest parts of the book, though they were functional.

Fans of Lee will probably enjoy the book. Someone who wants a brief and easy history of comics, and isn’t too concerned about the lopsidedness that would naturally come with Lee’s perspective, might also like it. Lee would know, he was there.

Stan Lee also wrote Spider-Man with Steve Ditko. Peter David also wrote Writing for Comics with Peter David.

If  you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Lee, Stan, Peter David & Colleen Doran. Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir. New York: Touchstone, 2015.