Stan Lee: How Marvel Changed the World, by Adrian Mackinder, is not your typical biography. It's a biography on Stan Lee and Marvel. A journey through twentieth-century American comic history. Stan Lee just happens to be a massive part of that.
The book's prologue sets out what the book is about as well as making it clear that bold questions will be asked. Was Stan Lee himself a superhuman creation, just a mask to protect his true, more complicated secret identity? Just like the vibrant panels of the comics he wrote, Stan’s life, it seems, is never black and white. Will you still look at Stan Lee the same way once you finish? Did he deserve all the success he had or was he really standing on the shoulders of other comic giants?
Looking at the history of Marvel Comics, from way before it was even called Marvel is the real highlight of the story. Little bits of history that can go unknown without proper research. Before reading this I liked to think I was quite knowledgeable about the history of Marvel as I'm regularly asked questions about characters and their histories from friends and family, but boy was I wrong. There was so much that I didn't know, which made reading this book more enjoyable than if it was simply just about Stan Lee - not that Stan is boring, that's probably something no one could say, but adding in so much history of Marvel really added something else to the whole story.
One enjoyable feature is that narrator Adrian takes a neutral position when it comes to Stan Lee. It's a book about him, but not in support of him. Sure, he's a fan as most comic fans are. But it wouldn't be a true history if a side was taken. If it wasn't clear enough from the prologue, it's clear soon enough when you reach his history with Jack Kirby and others. You see why Kirby had a problem with Stan, how Stan positioned and sold himself, and how even though Stan thought up these characters it really was a joint venture as those wonderful artists at the time did so much.
For a book titled Stan Lee, there were times where he was barely mentioned in a chapter, only adding in his bit for a few paragraphs at the end. It's not a complaint as, for the most part, it was essential to tell the story of Marvel or the wider comics world to then understand what Stan was doing or what was happening with him. But you'd expect a book that's titled by his name to feature him a lot more. At least two-thirds of the book is actually the story of Marvel, those who worked there and how it worked on becoming the powerhouse that it now is through all the highs and lows (and the very lows!). There are a lot of tangents taken as you find out what the competition is doing, what certain artists and writers are doing which sometimes don't seem necessary but for the most part are absolutely essential to know why, or even how, Stan got to where he did.
Stan Lee: How Marvel Changed the World is the history lesson I didn't know I needed. Enjoyable, thought-provoking and just a damn good read. If you're a fan of comics, this has become a must-read book. Just know that this is more a history of Marvel than it is Stan Lee, although really they both go hand in hand. Marvel is where it's at because of Stan.
Did it change my opinion of Stan? Not at all. He gives credit where it's due, even though it was a lot later than the artists would have liked. Should credit due to the artists have been given sooner? Absolutely. Although I doubt it would have changed Stans incredible rise through the Marvel ranks. He knew how to market himself far too well.