Saturday, July 25, 2020

A Marvelous Life by Danny Fingeroth

A Marvelous Life: The Amazing Story of Stan Lee: Fingeroth, Danny ...

Why I Read It: My 8-year-old son is a Spiderman nut, and his mania for Marvel Comics has started to rub off on me.

Summary: A biography of Stan Lee.

My Thoughts: The biggest takeaway from this book for me was the author's reluctance to say that the Baby Boom played a very large role in the success of Marvel. He chalks it up more to some nearly inexplicable nexus of creative genius and audience identification, to the wonders of the mind of Stan Lee and his ability to connect to readers.

But then there are just sheer numbers. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko created the world's first standalone teen-age superhero at the precise moment that there were more teenagers in existence than at any time in the history of the United States. Teenagers drive popular culture fincncially, and long have, from music to movies to comic books to video games and more. Beatlemania was driven by teenage girls, at almost the exact same time that the core Marvel characters came to prominence. Lee and Ditko hit the right nerve at the right time. Spiderman has been riding the wave ever since. Those Baby Boomers are still here, and have passed down their love of Spidey to their kids and grandkids.

There's also a moment in the book, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when publisher Martin Goodman is vilified for dumping full-time staff for freelancers. The author does a wonderful job of navigating the vilification of comic books themselves during those days, but misses a major moment of American post-war economic instability that may have been the cause of the turmoil, rather than a Machiavellian turn by Goodman.

The author was an acquaintance of Lee and works in the comic book industry, and while it may seem that those facts would perfectly set him up to write a sympathetic book about the man, he is fair. He does delve into the relations between Lee and Timely/Atlas/Marvel's top artistic talents and does not choose to side with Lee at all times, instead laying out the facts of who said what and when, and letting the reader decide.

Lee's character comes through very clearly in this book, and his voice is as recognizable in his quotes as it is in his movie cameos. He certainly had a style all his own as a writer and speaker, and a creative streak the likes of which most of us will never come close to achieving. I came away with a greater understanding of the history of Marvel, of comic books in general, the story of Stanley Lieber, and the origin stories behind each character's origin story.

Fingeroth creates a beautiful portrait of a man who became a legend in his own time.