From fifth grade up until some unremembered point in high school, my goal in life was to draw comic books. That's hardly unusual for someone at that age, when nearly any distant prospect seems attainable. My fantasy was more specific than most, as I didn't want to just work for any comic company. I wanted my imagined talents to be put to use at the House of Ideas, Marvel Comics. I collected as much of Marvel's prodigious output as my meager allowance would allow, and with the sort of zeal and passion that I now direct primarily towards film. I was a Marvel Zombie for much of my childhood and teenage years, refusing to dignify the work of their Distinguished Competition and independents with so much as a casual glance. It was around the genesis of Image that my interest in Marvel and comics as a whole waned, coinciding with the realization that I can't draw very well. I haven't bought a Marvel comic book since 1992, but I still pull out stacks of issues of "The Fantastic Four", "The Amazing Spider-Man", and "The Uncanny X-Men" from my closet and devour them. Before anyone asks, no, not literally.
Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels is a feature-length collection of two discussions between comics' best-known figure and filmmaker Kevin Smith. The interviews were conducted this past February at, appropriately enough, Hi De Ho Comics in Santa Monica, California.
"Creating Spider-Man" runs a hair over forty minutes. As the title suggests, Stan talks about the origins of one of the most loved superheroes of all time and his considerable involvement with the series. Stan touches on some of the webhead's supporting cast and rogue gallery, noting that irascible editor J. Jonah Jameson was modeled after him and that he wasn't fully aware of the plans to kill off Gwen Stacey in one of the series' most unforgettable moments. With the silver screen incarnation of Spider-Man shattering box office records and racking up hundreds of millions of dollars, discussion of Spidey's exploits in other mediums is a natural topic. Stan also takes Kevin through a brief tour of his home.
The second feature, "Here Comes The Heroes", takes a detailed look at Stan's career from the beginning and the evolution of Marvel from the humble beginnings of two-man operation Timely Comics. Stan talks about a number of his creations, including the Fantastic Four, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and the X-Men, along with the science fiction elements that inspired them. Kevin also prompts discussion on what sets Marvel apart from other companies, particularly their realistic approach to fantasy and the unique collaborative process dubbed the Marvel Method. Among numerous other topics, Stan also discusses his understandably short reign as Marvel's president and his interaction with fans.
Stan Lee comes across as a really wonderful guy, and I can't begin to describe how much I appreciate his work and the indelible influence he has had on the industry. Kevin Smith is a natural choice for the host, as he is not only a fan of the medium, but the writer of quite a number of comics himself. Kevin had also directed Stan Lee in Mallrats, his sophomore effort as a filmmaker. He seems uncomfortable in the role of an interviewer, interjecting innumerable monosyllabic responses that quickly become tiresome. I'm quite a fan of Kevin Smith's work as a writer, director, and actor, but his talents are better put to use elsewhere. The discussion is very Marvel-centric, and aside from DC's "Just Imagine" series, Stan's work outside the company goes unmentioned.
I think the passion I once had for Marvel Comics may have lessened my enjoyment of this interview. I used to devour every morsel of information I could dig up on Marvel and its characters, and I was familiar with virtually everything covered in these discussions in at least some capacity. There were a few exceptions -- the pronunciation of 'Mjolnir', the record sent out to charter members of the Merry Marvel Marching Society (Stan even sings part of the M.M.M.S. song!), and the rivalry between DC and Marvel not being quite as intense as letter column responses would suggest -- but by and large, most of what's mentioned will be familiar territory for Marvel Zombies.
Video: Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels is attractively presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and enhanced for widescreen televisions. Both features were shot on high-end video, and as a result, the usual laundry list of film-related flaws I'd rattle through isn't necessary. The material is compressed well, lacking any visible artifacts. The quality of the equipment used contributes greatly to the documentary's sharp, crisp presentation, which is free of any color smearing or really any other issues I can think of off the top of my head. Try as I might, I have nothing negative to say.
Audio: As this is a documentary centered around a conversation between two men, there's obviously little use in delving in-depth into the minutiae of the audio. Every utterance from Kevin Smith and Stan Lee is easily discernable, though their discussion sounds as if it may have been mastered at too high a volume. This mild annoyance is present throughout on both discussions, and it was very noticeable on my home theater system and my desktop computer.
Supplements: Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels kicked off with an anamorphic widescreen trailer for theatrical juggernaut Spider-Man, setting the proper tone for the documentary.
Clocking in under two minutes, the behind-the-scenes featurette is too brief to offer anything substantial, but it does given Stan and Kevin the opportunity to gush about each other's body of work. Joan Lee has just as great a personality as her husband, and she's the focus of a seven and a half minute interview where she talks about how she met Stan and their life together over the past 54 years. The somewhat deceptively-labeled "Bonus - the never released Fantastic Four movie" consists of little more than a few sentences about the widely bootlegged 1994 film. These three supplements have been letterboxed to maintain a widescreen appearance, though they are not 16x9 enhanced.
On a more personal note, a collection of short, silent vintage home movies of the Lees have been provided, and Stan also recites his poem "God Woke" for the first time in thirty years. Finally, there are length and well-written biographies for Stan Lee, Kevin Smith, and Creative Light Video, as well as a link to the ACTOR Comic Fund website (now The Hero Initiative).
An article on the DVD from Zap2it mentioned "Easter egg surprises", but if any are present, I've been unable to discover them.
Conclusion: Anyone who enjoyed the big-budget theatrical release of Spider-Man ought to find Stan Lee's Mutants, Monsters, and Marvels at least worth a rental. 'Nuff said. Recommended.