I was born around the same time that Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and Marvel Comics revolutionized the comic book world with the introduction of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Hulk and Thor, characters that would go on to become pop culture icons. I literally cut my literary teeth on those comic books and I’ve been a lifelong fan of the stories and the man who created and/or drove the creation of the Marvel universe. So last Sunday at the International Horror and Science Fiction Film Festival I was thrilled to see With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story, a long overdue full-length documentary film about the life of Stan Lee.
“Stan the Man” hardly needs an introduction; at 90 years-old he is probably the most inspirational living person on the planet in terms of the vast and beloved empire he created, which grows bigger every day, and the influence it has held over popular culture for the past 50 years. Generations of kids have grown up learning lessons of life, love and the heroic power of good over evil in the pages of Stan Lee’s Marvel Comics.
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story is the documentation of a truly unique American success story and it combines new interviews with historical photos, audio and video to tell how Stanley Lieber (Mr. Lee’s real name) went from humble beginnings to the sometimes not-so-humble (but always lovable) “idol of millions” he has become. While telling the story of Stan Lee the film also captures the history of Marvel Comics and the comic book industry as well.
I’ve read several books about Stan Lee and I’ve seen a few other biographical short films and interviews with the man, so a good portion of this new film seemed like old news to me, as it might for many who are already familiar with the legend. But newcomers to The Stan Lee Story will be amazed by this good-natured mogul and the empire he created, with accomplishments that rival and in many ways surpass those of Walt Disney.
For me the best parts of this film were the interviews and the fresh look at Stan’s relationship with his wife Joan and her influence on her husband of 65 years. Watching these two geriatrics lovingly jab at each other was like being in the presence of beloved grandparents. There are many fans, who grew up inside the pages of Marvel Comics and reading Stan Lee’s Soapbox letter to them each month, who consider this man family, like an eccentric Uncle you could relate to better than anyone else in your family.
The movie treads lightly but does address some of the creative conflicts that Mr. Lee has had with the likes of his co-creators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. I believe at this point in history most people who care know how much Kirby and Ditko contributed to the making of many of Marvel’s characters, and this film leaves no doubt that Stan has completely acknowledged their contributions and has great affection for these people. Unfortunately, business has ruined some of the greatest creative teams in history, and it’s a shame that happened here as well.
Director Will Hess was present for Sunday’s screening of With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story and he stuck around after the show to talk to fans. His team has spent the last five years working on this documentary and they shot over 480 hours of original footage for the project which includes interviews with Nicolas Cage, Jon Favreau, Brett Ratner, Patrick Stewart and comic book greats like Joe Quesada, Frank Miller, Dick Ayers Gene Colan and John Romita. Director Hess said the fact that he was able to gather so much talent to step-up and talk about Stan Lee is a testament to the affection felt for the comic creator.
The production culled the Marvel archives for gems like audio recordings promoting the Merry Marvel Marching Society (M.M.M.S.) and they were also given free rein with Stan’s personal collection of documents and memorabilia. Hess recalled how Stan opened up his home attic and told the director, “Go get whatever you can find.”
Mr. Hess is also working on a dramatic biopic about Stan Lee that he envisions being in the same vein as Bobby, the 2006 historical drama that tells politician Bobby Kennedy’s life story from the perspective of the people whose lives he changed. Hess has already completed a 130-page script for the film tentatively titled “Man of Marvel” and he should have no problem gathering material for this film as Stan Lee has positively changed the lives of legions.
With Great Power: The Stan Lee Story only had the one screening at the IHSFFF last weekend, but you can follow the film as it gears up for a limited theatrical release and its full video release (that the director promises will be packed with bonus features) by liking it on Facebook.