Stan Lee has been a hero of mine for as long as I could
remember. When I was growing up in the
late 60's I loved comic books and though I'd read anything I could get
on, I had a strong preference to Marvel books over DC comics. Marvel has awesome characters, larger than
life situations, and some incredible art work.
I don't exactly remember when I noticed it, but early on I
that my very favorite books, Fantastic Four, Tales of Suspense
Man and Captain America) and Tales to Astonish (with the Incredible
Sub-mariner) were all written by the same guy:
Stan Lee. I've been a fan ever
Stan Lee, with the help of several artists, created the
greatest comic characters of the latter half of the 20th
including (but by no means limited to) The Fantastic Four, Spider-man,
X-men, Thor, The Avengers, and the Silver Surfer, to name just a few. A definitive documentary on the octogenarian
who is still going strong is long over due.
Unfortunately, With Greaet Power, the Stan Lee Story is not that
film. While it is a nice overview of the
prolific writer's life, it is very superficial and skips over just
about all of
the controversial (and interesting) parts of his career and is a bit
The man the world knows as Stan Lee was born Stanley Martin
Lieber in 1922, three days after Christmas.
When the Great Depression came his family had a very hard time
ends meet, and money was a constant worry.
The young, enterprising Stanley, who wanted to be an actor, took
paying job he could get, including working as an assistant-editor at
comics alongside legendary comic creators Joe Simon and Jack Kirby (the
creators of Captain America). He started writing two-page text fillers for
Timely's books under the pen name "Stan Lee" since he was saving his
for the novel that he was going to write (which he still hasn't gotten
to.) In 1941 both Jack Kirby and Joe
Simon left Timely, the publisher asked Stanley
(then only 19 years old) if he could fill in as Editor-in-Chief until
find someone to fill the position permanently.
said "yes," and was stayed in the position until 1972 when he became
During the sixties he supervised Marvel while they
revolutionized comic books and super-heroes.
While DC's formula for comic heroes had not changed
the 30's (though it had evolved) Marvel updated comics.
The characters in Marvel's books were more
natural. It wasn't just the costumed
hero who got the attention, but the person inside the costume was just
important, if not more so. The Fantastic
Four didn't have secret identities; they wanted everyone to know who
they were. Spider-man was a hero, but he
couldn't get a
date and was constantly bullied. Marvel
comics were timely (no pun intended) too dealing with issues such as
and even drug use. And Stan Lee was the
man who wrote them.
While I was very much looking forward to this documentary on
my childhood hero, I walked away generally disappointed.
The film is a bit of a jumble, and it seems
that the directors (maybe that's the problem...) never really had a firm
how to tell Stan's story. It's arranged
chronologically most of the time, but they jump around quite a bit. For example, the heyday of the Marvel Bullpen
(the late 60's) is discussed before they discuss the influence of Dr.
Wertham and Senate hearings into the link between juvenile delinquency
comic books (1954) when the Bullpen really didn't exist.
What's worse than the organization is the fact that the
documentary glosses over a lot of the more controversial parts of Stan
career. Viewers whose only knowledge of
comic history came from this film would assume that Stan Lee and comic
Jack Kirby were always the best of friends when that's not really the
case. They also barely mention
groundbreaking artist Steve Ditko's abrupt departure from Marvel, an
that's still shrouded in mystery.
There are several notable comic creators, historians, along
with directors and actors who have worked on Marvel films who sign Stan
well deserved praises. But it seems a
bit too much. After the 4th
or 5th person says that he's a ground-braking innovator, we
point. And then there's Paris Hilton who
says that... aw, who really cares what Paris Hilton has to say?? There aren't any dissenters either. No one ever says "Stan didn't give enough
credit to the artists." I'm not saying
that's the case, but it is a topic that should be addressed.
Granted with an 80-minute film there isn't time to cover
everything, but did we really need to see Stan at the red carpet
various Marvel movies?
The camera work for the talking-head interviews is fine, but
when they get out of the controlled studio things aren't as slick. At one point they film Stan who walks in
front of an open window with bright light coming through and it ruins
shot. But this part isn't edited
out. That, along with the copious
glowing testimonials from (in many cases) people who never worked with
Stan Lee, makes this movie seem more like a fan-boy's love letter
rather than a
The Dolby Digital
stereo soundtrack isn't going to impress Klaw ("The Murderous Master of
Natch!) but it suits this documentary well.
The dialog is always clear and there aren't any defects worth
Unfortunately, the video is a mess, due to the nonanamorphic
1.78:1 image. Yes, you read that
correctly. In this day when all of the
TV manufacturers have migrated to widescreen panels, they released this
documentary with a nonanamorphic image.
What that means is that on your 16X9 screen the image will only
inside a 4X3 box in the center, the way old TV shows appear. Inside that box you'll get a 1.78:1 image,
with the top and bottom of the image black.
In this day and age, that's totally unacceptable.
While the video image is rotten, there are a lot of extras
included. Most of it is from interviews
that ended up on the cutting room floor, but there are also clips from
appearances that Stan Lee has made in the last few years.
Unfortunately, many of these are edited, like
his appearance with Joe Quesada and Kevin Smith at UCLA.
I would have liked to see the whole thing,
personally. A nothing disappointment is
that the vintage interviews that appear as only brief snippets in the
not included here.
There's also a listing of hundreds of characters that Stan
has co-created over the years. Each
character gets a single page that consists of an image of the hero or
along with their first appearance year and comic issue along with the
who first drew them. I'm not sure why
they included this since it's hard to navigate (each page takes a
load and, as I said, there are hundreds) and it's not very informative. A bio or even a list of that character's
major appearances would have made these more interesting.
If you're looking for a definitive biography of the creator
of such heroes as Thor and Iron Man, you'll need to keep looking. This is a rather disjointed documentary that
only glosses over Stan Lee's incredibly impressive career.
The worst offense, however, is that this
movie was shot in widescreen but is presented in a non-anamorphic
ratio. I would have been disappointed in
that a decade ago, but now it's just unacceptable.
While some of the vintage footage is
excellent, and it is great seeing Stan's wife and her take on her
husband, Stan deserves better than this. Makethis
one is a rental at best.