Stan Lee… A name which, nowadays, is as commonly recognizable as any of ones own family members. If asked, nearly everyone would tell you that it is a name they have heard multiple times. And of the many who know the name, more people would be able to tell you the source of its familiarity than people who couldn’t or might struggle to make an association.
Growing up I was never directly exposed to the world of comic books. I was the eldest of 3 children who spent most of his time playing sports or doing homework. I had mostly only been exposed to superhero narratives via reruns on TV (Na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na Batman!) and the occasional film (Christopher Reeve as Superman mostly). Yet, despite my lack of exposure to the vast and pervasive world of comic books, I’m certain that had someone quizzed me with images during that period of my youth, I could have easily named Iron Man, Spider-Man, Thor, Captain America, Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and X-Men (among a few others). Somehow, I had subconsciously always been aware of them despite not actively pursuing the medium in which they were most prolifically presented. All of this is a clear testament to the legendary status of both the man who called himself Stan Lee AND the world changing entertainment which he helped evolve. This self-titled retrospective biographical documentary (available on Disney+ June 16th, 2023) is an amazing look at the journey of how Stan Lee came to be such an iconic tent-pole of modern pop culture.
This documentary is chalk full of fascinating details about a number of different aspects of the life of Stan Lee, the comic book industry, and some of the most famous characters that Marvel has created/developed over the decades. For instance, did you know that Stan Lee is actually a pen name? I was not even remotely aware of that fact until now. The use of archived interview footage, home video found footage, and vintage radio interview recordings help to infuse this presentation with riveting historical significance. The production team uses detailed diorama set pieces throughout the narration which give the narrators stories a visual boost. They are a beautiful meta artistic choice. Stan Lee’s voice itself is already quality enough to hold the viewers attention, yet these dioramas echo perfectly the story of the people revolutionizing the approach to creating comic panels. The only blemish I noticed on the overall experience of watching this was the repetition of one particular piece of information several times. It reappears twice in such a way that seems like an editing/continuity oversight. Although clearly noticeable, the repetitions are very quick in passing and barely affect the enjoyment of Stan Lee’s narration.
For anyone who has followed the life of Stan Lee, you may want to spend the time to watch this in honour of our late comic industry hero, but I doubt there is much here that you don’t already know. It mostly feels like information that probably has already been disseminated over the years, but wrapped up in a nice little package. For those who loved the Marvel comics, TV shows, and/or films but never looked beyond the borders of their frames, this could prove very insightful. For the few who have never heard of Stan Lee or his work, you should definitely give it your attention… if for no other reason than to learn about a human being who changed the lives of millions in every corner of the planet.
There is no doubt that Stan Lee’s legacy of bettering the minds of humanity with entertaining storytelling will continue to be remembered in the hearts and souls of countless many. And this 86 minutes is a fitting tribute.
R.I.P. Stan Lee.