Monday, April 15, 2024

Between Books - True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee

Book cover for True Believer showing a profile of an older Stan Lee

I think it’s impossible for a biographer to not develop a bias. As you spend enough time with a figure, the time really needed to chronicle a life, you either come to put them on a pedestal or despise the thought of them. I think that Abraham Riesman came to despise Stan Lee while detailing the Marvel legend’s life. It could have been due to choosing a side in the Marvel creator wars, everyone needs to side with either Stan or Jack right? Or maybe the drama and messiness in the final decades of Lee’s life was too much. But it is clear in with commentary often found in the text, Riesman has little to no admiration for Lee.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is an extremely depressing tale. The biography provides the major steps of the Marvel legend’s life from birth to death to legacy. The story, without summarizing every milestone, is one of creative frustration, professional duplicity, familial strife, and business criminal charge. Lee is portrayed as a man who was an excellent marketer with questionable creative skills. As a man who disliked confrontation, he failed to always share the full story and allowed myths to build up around himself. This trend also allowed unscrupulous people, including family, to surround him and take illegal actions often in his name through Stan Lee Media and POW!, which were both accused of several criminal financial offenses in Lee’s name. Finally, in his final years, Lee was a victim of elder abuse by business partners and his daughter who all saw him as a financial cash cow.

Let me start with Riesman’s writing. It is riveting, engaged, and brings a reader into the sad story. But Reisman also clearly as an anti-Stan bias. This leads to commentary within the text that takes the opportunity to tear down the Marvel editor even when it’s unneeded. There is definitely a view that says Stan Lee was all bad while others, like Jack Kirby, were all right. And while Kirby may have some of the higher road in this story, I think we cannot automatically argue that Lee brought little to Marvel’s greatest creations. I think the clear bias is what leads me at times to question all of the story as fact. For example, in Lee’s senior years, it comes off as Riesman wants Lee to be involved in the illegality done in Lee’s name versus what he claimed which was ignorance. It’s not impossible to believe that Lee has some level of confusion and deniability to these acts due to his age, financial pressures, and series of bad choices of those he put around himself. For me, I can see the Lee was bad story but I can also see the Lee was a senior citizen who made bad choices about those he trusted. Lee the marketer was a manipulator, and I can see Lee being manipulated.

I will also admit I have a bias too. I am generally pro-Lee thanks to early exposure to him in media like Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. I enjoyed his public persona. And I have come to believe that Lee and Kirby were better together than apart. This left me feeling combative at times to the author and definitely made me feel queasy.

Here is for me the real value of Riesman’s book. Stan Lee’s life was not as marvelous as we may want to believe. He was creatively frustrated. He produced less than he wanted to and never felt creatively accepted. While he was in a marriage full of love, it also created financial strains that would always put pressure upon him. Even more sad, his relationship with his own daughter was broken beyond repair. And while in his final years we saw the public smiling Stan at premieres and in videos, he was surrounded by people who really only wished to use his name for their own purposes. It is a life less excelsior than any of us would wish for another human.

True Believer: The Rise and Fall of Stan Lee by Abraham Riesman is not a happy book. Readers should be warned. It is well-written and interesting but is also clearly anti-Stan. The picture that the reader walks away from is sad, will make you question your heroes and mad about how we can treat each other. In the end, Stan Lee’s life was as real as those he attempted to create in the pages of his comic books. 


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Monday, April 8, 2024

Between Books - Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean

Book cover to Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean with cute pirates on a boat approaching a fort.

I like fun…you like fun. And pirates like to have fun! Shouldn’t kids have fun too?

Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean with music by George Bruns, lyrics by Xavier Atencia, and illustrations by Mike Well walk young readers through the classic attraction. The images are homages to the Disneyland Park version, which made me miss it as it’s been years since I have ridden it. Wells’ images are paired with lyrics and lines from the slow-moving boat ride and are generally fun-natured. Overall, it’s a colorful fun romp through the ride.

Wells’ images highlight this book. They are fun and light-hearted. They also do a great job providing a tribute to the attraction. However, I do need to say I think Wells gave Carlos a glow-up! The mayor hasn’t looked so young with flowing hair for years. Also, pirates are stealing actual treasure from the housewives and not food!

I am outspoken! I prefer kids' attraction books that use the actual lines and lyrics. So no complaints here. Yes, it would be tough to create a kid's book that uses all the lines from the cocktail party that is Pirates! The ones here have been carefully chosen and do a great job preparing kids for what’s to come or what they remember from the classic.

I think the most difficult piece at the moment is this book, which provides a tribute to a past version of the attraction is out of print.  I personally could not recommend spending $40 plus on the secondary market to get a copy for a kid! 

Disney Parks Presents Pirates of the Caribbean is fun. And despite the fact I don’t know if I can even play the accompanying CD anywhere but in my car, reading through the book led to me singing the theme out loud! And that is nothing but winning. 


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Monday, April 1, 2024

Between Books - 3D Disneyland: Like You've Never Seen It Before

Book cover for 3D Disneyland  with the TWA Moonliner rocket in 1950's era Tomorrowland


Do kids use Viewfinder's anymore?  For me, growing up in the Midwest they were one of the few ways I could experience faraway places, like Disneyland!  Maybe I could immerse myself in animals long gone, like dinosaurs!  I loved my Viewfinder, and as an adult I recaptured a little of that magic recently.

3D Disneyland" Like You've Never Seen It Before by David A. Bossert shares the stereoscopic, 3D photography, of Disney animator Ted Kierscey.  The photos in Kierscey's personal collection cover two distinct time periods, 1955 to 1958 and 1980.  Additionally, there are some additional photos from Patrick Swinnea that cover more recent years.  The pages follow a simple pattern.  On the left side, the page is largely intentionally left white with a caption taking a small bit of space towards the bottom left of the page.  The right side is 3D photo centered and taking the majority of the page.  The photos, all of Disneyland, flow geographically from Main Street USA to Tomorrowland, with different eras mixed in with each other.  The book is all about the photos and displaying them for easy reading with the enclosed 3D glasses. 

Let's jump back to childhood.  About once a year, one of the local TV stations would have a older monster 3D movie promotion.  They would hand out 3D glasses through gas stations and spread the joy of 3D.  It may have been the poor definition of my TV, but it never worked.  So I was a little worried these fuzzy pics, pre-glasses, would fail for me.  This fear was not false.  The photos work great!  Yes, I had to ensure enough and proper lightening to get my best experience, but the glasses worked wonderfully.  The older photos may not have been as immersive as the newer ones.  But there are quite a few that I felt drew me in and took me to a place, just like the old Viewfinder.

3D Disneyland" Like You've Never Seen It Before by David A. Bossert showcases the stereoscopic photograph collection of Ted Kierscey.  It is a delight, and took me to a place that I love often in eras that I beyond my ability to travel in time in visit.  The read is all about images, and can be quick and breezy.  But I recommend a slow read, in the morning sun, with coffee so you may enjoy every moment and image!


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