A Stan Lee Biopic Would Pretty Much Rip Every Norm Of The Genre To Shreds
Everyone likes superheroes, and everyone likes pretending to like biopics, so it's only a matter of time before Hollywood makes a movie about the only comic book creator most people can name: Stan "The Man" Lee. Hell, the internet may have already memed Bryan Cranston into taking the role. But the thing is, an accurate movie about jolly ol' Stan's life would end up being even more sordid than that TV show Mr. Cranston is already known for. (Remember, there was a lot of child neglect on Malcolm In The Middle.) Think about how ...
He Started Calling Himself "Stan Lee" Out Of Shame
When 18-year-old Stanley Lieber started working in comics, it wasn't out of a passion for writing stories about flying bodybuilders in tights. He was looking for any writing-related job, and his cousin happened to be married to Timely (later Marvel) Comics publisher Martin Goodman. So he scored the gig using a superpower called "nepotism." But since he dreamed of becoming a novelist and didn't want anyone to know he had anything to do with "these shitty little comics," as he called them, he started going by "Stan Lee."
At first Lee was basically an errand boy they let write filler stories. At the time, comics needed a certain amount of text pages per issue so they could be distributed as magazines, and the editors knew no one read that crap. So when he wasn't filling inkwells or getting everyone lunch, they let young Stan put whatever in there.
Then, when Timely Comics' main editor quit in 1941, Goodman promoted 19-year-old Lee to the job and kept giving him more and more responsibilities, since the kid turned out to have a head for business. Ah, and that's when Lee finally started making the comics he's known for, right? Nope! Not even close. Before that was a whole lot of grief.
He Only Made It Big At Age 39, And Was Utterly Miserable Before That
By the early '60s, Lee had been working at Goodman's company for two decades, and he fucking hated it. In his own words, he was "so bored and really too old to be doing these stupid comic books." Most aspiring comics writers spend their 20s and 30s dreaming about being Stan Lee. Stan Lee spent his dreaming about quitting.
But then something magical happened: Goodman saw the sales figures for DC's Justice League Of America and went "Goddamn, gotta get me some of that." He commanded Lee to rip off DC and come up with his own superhero team -- an idea Lee had exactly zero interest in. But since he'd already decided to quit, Lee's wife encouraged him to just write whatever he wanted. Fortunately, instead of a comic titled The Amazing Eat Shit Martin Goodman I Quit, the result was Fantastic Four, a comic about superheroes who hate being superheroes almost as much as Stan Lee hated writing comics.
And that's how Lee had his first hit, at age 39 and right after coming dangerously close to quitting the industry and going back to writing obituaries. Of course, there's someone else who deserves kudos for the comic's success: the guy doing most of the work.
He Let The Artists Do Most Of The Writing And Took The Credit
In December 1965 alone, Stan Lee was credited as the writer for Amazing Spider-Man, Avengers, Daredevil, Fantastic Four, Journey Into Mystery (feat. Thor), Sgt. Fury And His Howling Commandos, Strange Tales (feat. Doctor Strange), Tales Of Suspense (feat. Iron Man and Captain America), Tales To Astonish (feat. Namor and Hulk), X-Men, and of course, Millie The Model (feat. Millie the Model). How did he write so many comics at the same time? Easy, he didn't!
For Lee, "writing" meant "doing a short synopsis, letting the artist figure out most of the story, and adding snappy dialogue." He's the most famous comic book writer in history, and often he didn't know what was happening in his own comics until he saw the pages. As he once admitted, "Some artists, such as Jack Kirby, need no plot at all. I mean I'll just say to Jack, 'Let's let the next villain be Dr. Doom' ... or I may not even say that. He may tell me. And then he goes home and does it." You can see that on Kirby's pages, which are full of annotations telling Lee what the hell was going on.
Like he says, sometimes there wasn't even a synopsis. Amazing Spider-Man artist Steve Ditko didn't even talk to Lee for the last year he was on the comic. Millie The Model artist Stan Goldberg claims he'd give Lee one-sentence plots like "Millie loses her job" while they were in the car, and Lee would say, "Great! Give me 25 pages." Naturally, the artists weren't too happy with the whole (as Daredevil artist Wally Wood put it) "writing the comic but not being paid for writing" thing, especially when Lee's perpetual self-hype machine led the media to hail him as the sole genius behind Marvel.
Kirby and Ditko ended up quitting the company at the height of their artistic powers over these shenanigans. Lee was one heck of an editor, co-plotter, and dialogue guy, and he had a hand in some of the greatest comics ever, but imagine how much more he could have done if his dickishness hadn't pushed his best collaborators away.
After Marvel, He'd Put His Name On Literally Anything
Lending credence to the idea that Lee's artists did most of the work is the fact that all of his post-Marvel creations are total ass. It's widely recognized that his last noteworthy creation was She-Hulk in 1980, and that was mostly to secure the "Hulk with boobs" copyright. After that, his creative process seemed to be 1) Wait for someone rich and/or famous to come to him with a half-baked idea, and 2) Say "I'm in" before they even finish talking.
There's nothing Lee wouldn't put his name on. Nothing. An adult cartoon about Pamela Anderson as a superpowered stripper? Sure, slap "STAN LEE PRESENTS" on that baby. (Note: You'll get weird looks if you play the following video in public.)
Like 90% of the press coverage about Striperella was about how a stripper sued Lee, claiming she told him the idea during a lap dance and he stole it. It only aired briefly in 2003-2004, but by 2011, Lee was still publishing Striperella comics and trying to make a movie happen (we don't wanna know what his cameo would have entailed).
A comic based on his "favorite" Japanese prog rock band? Yep! (There's a 0% chance he'd heard of them before.) A reality show about crazy people who want to be superheroes? Absolutely. During Season 1, a woman with donut-related powers made it to the finals.
Even recently, with all that cameo money in his pockets, Lee was still agreeing to dumb stuff. His final project is the still-unaired Stan Lee's Superhero Kindergarten, a cartoon about Arnold Schwarzenegger teaching superpowered five-year-olds. It's like they took Kindergarten Cop and said, "How can we make this premise even more embarrassing?" And speaking of regrettable business decisions ...
His Business Partner Stole Millions, Fled The Country, And Sued Bill Clinton
The story of Stan Lee Media is more insane than any of Lee's post-Marvel plots. It all started with Fabio's desire to play Thor in a movie in the '80s. Lee met with Fabio's manager, businessman Peter Paul, to discuss this intriguing idea. And although we never got a Mighty Fabio movie, Lee and Paul hit it off and became business partners and jet-setting buddies. It's unclear whether Lee knew that Paul had served time for fraud and drug dealing before he decided to hitch his wagon to this guy.
In 1998, Lee and Paul formed a company called Stan Lee Media and convinced Michael Jackson to try to buy Marvel for them. Jackson couldn't reach a deal with Marvel's owners. Which was a shame, because he would have made a great Loki to Fabio's Thor.
And then things got weird. In 2000, Paul organized a star-studded Hollywood gala in Bill Clinton's honor, and since Clinton was about to have a lot of free time and all, he tried to convince him to join Stan Lee Media. But not only had Paul thrown the event with fraudulently borrowed money, but he'd also been illegally manipulating the company's stock, to the tune of millions of dollars. When exposed, he tried to pin everything on Clinton, but his credibility was undercut by the fact that he'd just fled the country and was hiding in Brazil. Paul was eventually extradited, pled guilty to securities fraud, and went back to jail, though he was paroled in 2014. Hey, Peter Paul 2020, anyone?
His Final Years Were Extremely Depressing
If Lee had a mutant ability, that was serving as a magnet for the shadiest people who have ever lived. He spent his final years surrounding himself with a revolving cast of grifters and getting involved in bizarre scams, especially after his wife died. There was the guy who stole his blood and used it to autograph Black Panther comics, the guys who tried to use his forged signature to make deals with Chinese companies, and the collector who faked reports of an armed robbery at his house. Not a very dignified rogues gallery.
Many of these characters showed up via Lee's daughter, J.C., and the situation was compounded by the fact that he would sign documents claiming he was being scammed one second, then get all chummy with the supposed scammers the next. He even released a video defending one of his good pals from vile accusations by, uh, Stan Lee.
The same "friend," Keya Morgan, was arrested for elder abuse after Lee's death. Among other things, he would wheel the elderly Stan to conventions and have him sign stuff for hours (this when he was like 23% dead already). Contrast the energetic character from our collective imagination to this sad old man being told how to spell his own name:
But if there was one thing that gave Lee joy during this time, it was those dumb cameos. Some actors hate standing in front of a green screen so much that they end up in tears. Lee ate that shit up. Even two days before his death, he was still talking about doing more cameos, somehow. Hopefully the joy of haunting movie sets for eternity makes up for the sadness of his twilight years.
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