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  1. #1
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Default Revelations about Stan Lee in Riesman's biography

    I made a post about Riesman's biography (https://community.cbr.com/showthread...-True-Believer) in the Spider-Man forums mainly about the stuff dealing with Ditko and (the little) stuff that pertains to Spider-Man in that story. I said there, that I thought it was the best book on Marvel Comics anyone has yet written and I'd like to reiterate that here. There's been some scuttlebutt about this especially given Roy Thomas' response so I wondered if I should read it but I read it and there's a wealth of new material that hasn't been reported or covered yet, and a collating of stuff that either I had read or known before or introducing some stuff I didn't know and contextualizing others.

    PROS
    It does what I've long insisted comics scholarship do, look at documentary evidence as much as possible, trawl through archives and reconstruct the narrative and find the version that makes the best sense. Riesman's book has finally brought a good level of professionalism to comics history which otherwise has been lacking. The comics business has too long been too incestuous, comics sites depend on the industry for interviews and access, and in turn the industry gives comics journos a platform for internships and working in the comics business directly.

    CONS
    Are there issues with it? Yeah there are, all books of scholarship are written with the aim that they will be overcome down the line. Riesman's book has weaknesses in his lack of critical interest in the comics and stories themselves, likewise his perpetuation of the black legend on Jim Shooter, and also for his tunnel-view on the issue of credit over everything else. I guess Riesman wrote this book with the idea of mainstreaming stuff known more among comics aficionados to a wider audience, hence he wrote a book that's fairly short for a biography (some 335 pages) and doesn't discuss comics continuity stuff and comics stories that most people wouldn't get.

    In terms of what this biography argues or contributes:
    -- The debates about Lee and Kirby and who came first is well-known in these boards. Roy Thomas argued in his review of the book that Riesman neglected stuff to exculpate Lee but he mis-states Riesman's views in the review. Thomas claims that Riesman's entire argument rests on a rumor by Kirby's associate but that's not the case. Riesman simply points out that the synopsis is just not a clincher and that there's no smoking gun, and that it's unlikely that the synopsis was written before the meeting between Kirby/Goodman/Lee that most sources agree is when the idea for a comic (that became Fantastic Four) came out. The interesting thing for me is that as Riesman documents thoroughly, Stan Lee himself never cites this synopsis as the basis for his claim that he came up with the Fantastic Four. He gave legal deposition (during which he tellingly admits that Kirby created some "secondary characters" without specifying who they are, all by himself, implying that the collaboration between them wasn't proportionate down the line).
    -- The stuff that shocked me is the Wally Wood and Dick Ayers stuff. Wally Wood and Dick Ayers both report meetings where they went to Lee to "discuss" and Stan said nothing waiting for them to start first and that led to Wally Wood leaving in rage. Basically the empirical evidence and the most plausible explanation tips the scales to Kirby and Ditko and not to Lee.
    -- Larry Lieber is the real heartbreaker of this book. I heard of him of course but I never cared enough to know more but wow. Stan Lee certainly wasn't "my brother's keeper" in any sense.
    -- One weird thing that surprised me is that apparently Fantastic Four #66-67 was supposed to be a parody of Ayn Rand by Kirby, but Stan bowdlerized it because it offended his pro-business fiscal conservative views. Blake Bell's biography of Ditko revealed that Stan was the one who introduced Ditko to Rand, and now here we have it recorded that Stan censored Kirby's Rand-satire. So it seems that Lee and not Ditko was the real Randian ideologue of Marvel'60s.(Page 157).
    -- Stan Lee defenders often bat away claims of Lee's credit-stealing by saying he was a co-creator and he felt he created the characters but in this book there are many examples of Lee claiming credit for stuff that didn't involve him. A particularly disappointing one was that in the 1940s, Lee tried to write a book about the origins of comics in a way to make money, and in that he claimed outright that he created Captain America, not Joe Simon and Jack Kirby but him, Stan Lee (Page 70). Stan Lee's constant involvement in union busting is documented right through, as is the level of nepotism involved in his career. And to be honest, I always tried to give Lee the benefit of the doubt but I really do think that he was the one who fingered Kirby and Simon and got them fired in the 1940s.
    -- This isn't just a biography of Stan Lee but a biography of Marvel Comics as a company in part because Lee was at the center of stuff between management (Martin Goodman the man who founded Marvel) and the creative (Kirby mostly). One that comes across is that Martin Goodman just wasn't very good at his job. He was successful and capable but until 1961, barring Captain America, Timely produced no major durable comics and titles. They just weren't among the best on the lot: not as popular and iconic as DC, not as beloved as Fawcett's Comics Captain America, as weird as Quality Comics' Plastic Man, and not a candle to anything by Eisner, or at EC Comics. Kirby and Simon meanwhile after being fired from Timely went on to create Young Romance and then work at DC comics. It's a comics publication whose early years are stunningly mediocre compared to every other contemporary publisher.
    -- At one point, Roy Thomas was privy to a conversation between Stan Lee and Carmine Infantino where both of them plot out "price collusion" or "price fixing" which is a financial crime. Lee and Infantino decided to control uppity artists asking for pay by trying to make a deal whereby both of them always inform the other about the rate they are paying each other. Roy Thomas is a mixed figure, on one hand he is a Stan Lee loyalist who always took his side against Kirby, on the other hand he did stand up to Lee and defended Gerry Conway when Lee was tossing him to the wolves.
    -- The stuff about Lee's cameos are interesting. Lee was paid a pittance for these appearances and even if he got an executive producer credit never made real money off the movies. Sam Raimi is on record for opposing Lee doing cameos in the Spider-Man movies saying, "I know Stan, he can't act!".

    Stan Lee's final years are definitely sad and incredibly so.

    On the whole this is a pretty dispiriting look at the comics business, and as Kirby said, "Kid, comics will break your heart"

  2. #2
    Sun of the Mourning Montressor's Avatar
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    Long live King Kirby.
    Read my free superhero webcomic, The Ill!

    http://theill.thecomicseries.com/comics/540/

  3. #3
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    For better or worse, there is a reason the big two have stand ins/expires/likeness of Stan on the satanic end of their cosmologies (Marvel - TOBA in Immortal Hulk taking on Stan’s face and being a multi-faced, body (credit) stealing monster tangentially involved in Spider-Man’s creation, DC - Flashman, and the heavy implication that the Just Imagine characters are a 5th column for darkseid)

    Everyone in the industry pretty unambiguously leaned on Kirby/Ditko’s side; but Lee marketed himself/Marvel far too well to denounce him (or, as it turned out, for Lee to distance himself from Marvel)
    Last edited by king of hybrids; 04-03-2021 at 04:11 AM.

  4. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by king of hybrids View Post
    For better or worse, there is a reason the big two have stand ins/expires/likeness of Stan on the satanic end of their cosmologies (Marvel - TOBA in Immortal Hulk taking on Stan’s face and being a multi-faced, body (credit) stealing monster tangentially involved in Spider-Man’s creation, DC - Flashman, and the heavy implication that the Just Imagine characters are a 5th column for darkseid)

    Everyone in the industry pretty unambiguously leaned on Kirby/Ditko’s side; but Lee marketed himself/Marvel far too well to denounce him (or, as it turned out, for Lee to distance himself from Marvel)
    Can you explain how the Just Imagine characters are a fifth column for Darkseid?

  5. #5
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Evans View Post
    Can you explain how the Just Imagine characters are a fifth column for Darkseid?
    I've not heard of that. Being a "Fifth column" for Darkseid would be weird because Jack Kirby, creator of Darkseid, introduced his own fifth columnists like Glorious Godfrey to serve that function.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Will Evans View Post
    Can you explain how the Just Imagine characters are a fifth column for Darkseid?
    In the pre-Metal/Death Metal MultiUniversal plan, Just Imagine is the closet universe, and linked to, the True Apokolips; whereas Kammandi’s earth (wherein dwell some of Kirby’s kirbiest guys) is not only closest to New Genesis, it is where godheads of the New Gods of New Genesis reincarnated after Final Crisis.

    Fifth column os probably too strong a term, more that as Lee’s creations, the Just Imagine guys will be Darkseid’s patsies as surely as Funky Flashman is

  7. #7
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by king of hybrids View Post
    In the pre-Metal/Death Metal MultiUniversal plan, Just Imagine is the closet universe, and linked to, the True Apokolips; whereas Kammandi’s earth (wherein dwell some of Kirby’s kirbiest guys) is not only closest to New Genesis, it is where godheads of the New Gods of New Genesis reincarnated after Final Crisis.

    Fifth column os probably too strong a term, more that as Lee’s creations, the Just Imagine guys will be Darkseid’s patsies as surely as Funky Flashman is
    In Tom King's MR. MIRACLE series, Funky Flashman is redone as a tribute to Stan Lee and appears in a more forgiving light, so I guess there are issues with everything.

    Anyway, that's DC stuff.

    At one point in Riesman's biography he talks to a guy who is managing "Stan Lee Media" (a company that Lee started that became essentially a massive financial fraud which Lee may or may not have been complicit in) who says that they ultimately want Stan Lee Media to be divorced from Stan Lee the way Disney is from Walt the man. They use the name but don't talk about him.

    So I think that might be Marvel's attitude going forward especially now that Lee has gone. Whereas Jack Kirby going forward is someone Disney more and more will embrace, albeit with the greatest hypocrisy imaginable.

  8. #8
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    It was a good idea to write this book because, as you say, the things that comics buffs know will come as a surprise to the wider public, which thinks of Stan Lee as a kindly old genius.

    It's pretty obvious that he was not a creative genius. I think he had some talent as a writer, if only because so many people have tried to imitate him and failed (I'm thinking in particular of his way of inserting humor into unlikely places). And because Kirby became his own scripter and editor in the '70s, it's easy to see what Lee brought to the partnership. I'm not going to argue that Kirby on his own is worse than Kirby/Lee, but it's different.

    I don't know if he mentions this in the book, but Stan Goldberg, the Marvel colorist who also drew "Millie the Model" after Dan DeCarlo left, once also said that Lee expected him to come in with story ideas. It seems pretty universal across the line. It meant that when he was working with someone who was good at drawing but not plotting (i.e. not Kirby or Ditko) the plots are very limited. "Silver Surfer" has gorgeous art, but John Buscema needed a plot, and I don't think Lee gave him much.
    Last edited by gurkle; 04-03-2021 at 08:49 AM.

  9. #9
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gurkle View Post
    It was a good idea to write this book because, as you say, the things that comics buffs know will come as a surprise to the wider public, which thinks of Stan Lee as a kindly old genius.
    Yeah, the biography targets a non-comics audience so that's why there's no mention of the comics stories or continuity stuff that would otherwise be hard to explain to a wider audience.

    I think he had some talent as a writer, if only because so many people have tried to imitate him and failed (I'm thinking in particular of his way of inserting humor into unlikely places).
    Well people have written humor comics that are better than his and other writers after him and before him balanced humor and action pretty well. After all the most influential humor comics were EC Comics' MAD magazine or Walt Kelly's Pogo, and not anything by Stan Lee.

    And because Kirby became his own scripter and editor in the '70s, it's easy to see what Lee brought to the partnership. I'm not going to argue that Kirby on his own is worse than Kirby/Lee, but it's different.
    That's something that Riesman repeats in his book but I also think he's mistaken. I recently read Kirby's THE ETERNALS and on reading it I found the dialogues and caption writing there to be pretty good. Kirby was obviously new to writing dialogue and stuff but he wasn't bad, after a while he got going and got good. Kirby's Captain America story "Madbomb" and The Eternals have good and sometimes great dialogue.

    I think Stan Lee had a good sense of writing dialogue that feels distinct and unique for his characters and that's not a small thing but I don't think he was irreplacable on that front either.

    I don't know if he mentions this in the book, but Stan Goldberg, the Marvel colorist who also drew "Millie the Model" after Dan DeCarlo left, once also said that Lee expected him to come in with story ideas. It seems pretty universal across the line.
    I don't think Goldberg specially is mentioned but there are numerous instances that Riesman documents. Lee's interactions with Denny O'Neil are especially shocking in the book and illustrative of Lee's tendency to whitewash history.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Revolutionary_Jack View Post
    That's something that Riesman repeats in his book but I also think he's mistaken. I recently read Kirby's THE ETERNALS and on reading it I found the dialogues and caption writing there to be pretty good. Kirby was obviously new to writing dialogue and stuff but he wasn't bad, after a while he got going and got good. Kirby's Captain America story "Madbomb" and The Eternals have good and sometimes great dialogue.

    I think Stan Lee had a good sense of writing dialogue that feels distinct and unique for his characters and that's not a small thing but I don't think he was irreplacable on that front either.
    No, as I said, I wasn't saying Kirby without Lee is worse. But he's different. Even if you take away the dialogue and just think of it in terms of plotting and story choices, they are not identical to the Lee/Kirby comics, because Lee's taste (or lack thereof) influenced the stories Kirby told.

    So the point is not that Kirby needed Lee creatively, just that Lee/Kirby comics are not the same, even in visual choices, as Kirby comics.

    Well people have written humor comics that are better than his and other writers after him and before him balanced humor and action pretty well. After all the most influential humor comics were EC Comics' MAD magazine or Walt Kelly's Pogo, and not anything by Stan Lee.
    I actually think a lot of writers had trouble balancing humor and action quite as well, or at least his particular blend of humor, action and self-pitying angst. Roy Thomas's jokes are almost always the weakest part of his comics. It's not as easy as it looks.

    He was not a great humor comics writer, though Millie the Model and Patsy Walker were among the better humor comics of their era (because I was more interested in humor comics as a kid, I grew up thinking Stan Lee's pre-1961 resume was more impressive than Kirby's, though I no longer think that) -- mostly because of Lee's skill in deploying artists, though, because Dan DeCarlo and Al Hartley probably did the best work of their long careers working for Lee.

    But what he sort of accidentally stumbled on was the fact that by writing superhero comics with a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of ironic contempt for the genre, something new could happen. That's the kind of combination that the Batman TV series would help to bring into the mainstream later in the '60s. He didn't have to be a great writer to find that combination; if he was a better humor writer he could have just gone on publishing mostly humor comics.
    Last edited by gurkle; 04-03-2021 at 10:54 AM.

  11. #11
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by gurkle View Post
    No, as I said, I wasn't saying Kirby without Lee is worse. But he's different. Even if you take away the dialogue and just think of it in terms of plotting and story choices, they are not identical to the Lee/Kirby comics, because Lee's taste (or lack thereof) influenced the stories Kirby told.
    There are many others reasons for that, chiefly that Kirby in the '1960s wasn't the same as Kirby in the '1970s.

    So the point is not that Kirby needed Lee creatively, just that Lee/Kirby comics are not the same, even in visual choices, as Kirby comics.
    Again differences in decade time and also technology. In terms of visual choices it must be noted that Kirby's work in the 1960s was inked by the notorious Vince Colletta who erased a lot of his backgrounds, while in the '70s, Kirby had more control and awareness of his inking and worked more closely with them.

    Roy Thomas's jokes are almost always the weakest part of his comics. It's not as easy as it looks.
    Comedy is hard as the saying goes.

    But what he sort of accidentally stumbled on was the fact that by writing superhero comics with a certain amount of humor and a certain amount of ironic contempt for the genre, something new could happen. That's the kind of combination that the Batman TV series would help to bring into the mainstream later in the '60s. He didn't have to be a great writer to find that combination; if he was a better humor writer he could have just gone on publishing mostly humor comics.
    The fact is that with Stan Lee there's a series of question marks and that's gonna be forever. It's unclear and ambiguous how much he actually contributed to the comics of the '60s and how decisive he was in the Marvel explosion.

    To me it breaks down to two questions that have a yes/no answer:
    1) If Stan Lee and Marvel were open and honest about credits right from the get-go: would we still have reason to celebrate or remember Stan Lee?"
    My answer to that is yes. We would remember Lee as a great editor/publicist and dialogue writer who was a great collaborator and patron of writer-artists like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. He would be remembered the way Gaines at EC Comics is remembered/valued. People still value EC comics for the pioneering work by Kurtzman, by Krigstein, by Wally Wood among many others as creators of their own work and they value Gaines as an editor who organized it all.

    2) If Stan Lee and Marvel were open and honest about credits right from the get-go: would Marvel have still been just as successful?
    My answer to that is yes.

    So fundamentally the lies and the myths and the false rumors deployed for his benefit was no benefit or important metric in terms of the Marvel Universe. It was all to serve Stan Lee over his collaborators and the Marvel Universe as a whole.

  12. #12
    Latverian ambassador Iron Maiden's Avatar
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    Thanks for the detailed anaylsis of the book. To tell the truth I still don't think I will buy this one. I like Sean Howe's Marvel: The Untold Story and I probably need to read that again if I change my mind and buy this. The one thing I take out of most of these works is that both Stan and Jack had terrible memories by this time. Not all of it due to their ages but it was the hectic pace at which they worked back then. At one point in the fifties Stan was just about it running the store for Goodman.

    Meanwhile, Kirby had started to pick up work at DC but not for long. Kirby was approached to work on a new syndicated comic strip called Sky Masters and before long a dispute arose out of the percentages given to a National/DC executive named Jack Schiff. Kirby thought Schiff he was asking too much since Kirby as paying his own inker from his cut. The dispute was taken to court and Kirby lost the case. He had testified that Schiff made him agree to the cut under duress. The story goes that Jack Schiff would see to it that Kirby would not get another project at DC. The strip was dropped in 1961 and Kirby went to Marvel seeking work. Kirby later would leave Marvel for DC now that Schiff had retired. But he would once again return to Marvel. Does the book cover this?

    We don't know the nature of their conversations while Kirby was at Marvel but for his part Stan did always promote Kirby as the greatest, etc. IIRC Before Stan started doing it at Marvel, none of the comics would provide credits for the artist and inker on the title page. IIRC that would be done only on the magazine formats. I'm not saying Stan was a saint but the nature of the business has evolved quite a bit since then. As for Kirby, IMO he was a blue collar genius whose art continued to evolve even when he was in his 50's and 60's. It was light years beyond what he was doing in the 1940s. It's too bad that he never saw the kind of money he deserved and I guess the settlement from Marvel/Disney was an acknowledgment.

  13. #13
    Extraordinary Member Revolutionary_Jack's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Iron Maiden View Post
    Thanks for the detailed anaylsis of the book. To tell the truth I still don't think I will buy this one. I like Sean Howe's Marvel: The Untold Story and I probably need to read that again if I change my mind and buy this.
    Sean Howe's book is a travesty in terms of covering the Jim Shooter era, and it's a major defect that Riesman (citing How) perpetuates the black legend but aside from that, Riesman's books has tons of new information and new sources.

    Most importantly, Riesman has the most detailed personal interview that Larry Lieber has put on record yet.

    The one thing I take out of most of these works is that both Stan and Jack had terrible memories by this time. Not all of it due to their ages but it was the hectic pace at which they worked back then. At one point in the fifties Stan was just about it running the store for Goodman.

    Meanwhile, Kirby had started to pick up work at DC but not for long. Kirby was approached to work on a new syndicated comic strip called Sky Masters and before long a dispute arose out of the percentages given to a National/DC executive named Jack Schiff. Kirby thought Schiff he was asking too much since Kirby as paying his own inker from his cut. The dispute was taken to court and Kirby lost the case. He had testified that Schiff made him agree to the cut under duress. The story goes that Jack Schiff would see to it that Kirby would not get another project at DC. The strip was dropped in 1961 and Kirby went to Marvel seeking work. Kirby later would leave Marvel for DC now that Schiff had retired. But he would once again return to Marvel. Does the book cover this?
    Yeah the Jack Schiff stuff is covered. Riesman is careful to qualify Kirby's claims and give Stan the benefit of the doubt when applicable but even with all those asterisks, the empirical evidence points against Stan and towards Jack.

    As for Kirby, IMO he was a blue collar genius whose art continued to evolve even when he was in his 50's and 60's.
    Jack Kirby was blue collar and working-class in his origins but calling Kirby "blue-collar genius" although I am sure you do not intend this, implies that somehow Kirby wasn't smart or didn't have ideas of his own. Kirby was in fact far more well-read and far more culturally attuned than Stan Lee was. Kirby was more progressive in his politics and instincts, a much better writer of women than anyone at Marvel in the '1960s and much more intelligent.

    One of the shocking things in the book is that the veil of cultural sophistication that Lee often affected was a put-on. A good example is that Denny O'Neil was an intern at Marvel when the Italian director Federico Fellini visited the offices of Marvel Comics when he was in New York. Stan Lee greeted and gladhandled him and then after leaving he asked O'Neil "who was that guy" and after finding out he spent the rest of his life acting as if he was a big follower of international film when he was fairly unsophisticated in tastes.

    Near the end, when talking about Lee's burst of popularity via cameos in the MCU and other Marvel movies, Riesman notes that Lee attended every red carpet entry but he never sat all the way through on any movie with one associate noting he disliked the superhero movies. Lee liked the limelight but rarely had an interest in the real work.

    It was light years beyond what he was doing in the 1940s.
    Well in the late 1940s, Kirby and Simon introduced Young Romance and Romance comics and some of his stuff there is pretty great. Kirby did great stuff in every decade of his career. I mean people nowadays are finding gems in stuff he did in the 1980s.
    Last edited by Revolutionary_Jack; 04-03-2021 at 02:34 PM.

  14. #14
    Better than YOU! Alan2099's Avatar
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    Near the end, when talking about Lee's burst of popularity via cameos in the MCU and other Marvel movies, Riesman notes that Lee attended every red carpet entry but he never sat all the way through on any movie
    Interestingly enough, in an interview with Bendis, Stan admitted that his vision was so bad he could barely even see the movies, even on the big screen. It doesn't surprise me that he never finished watching any of them. He couldn't see them!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Alan2099 View Post
    Interestingly enough, in an interview with Bendis, Stan admitted that his vision was so bad he could barely even see the movies, even on the big screen. It doesn't surprise me that he never finished watching any of them. He couldn't see them!
    That's a lie, and a polite excuse. Lee's vision was fine enough in his final years.

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